2 February 2013

Africans Hold the Key to the Continent's Development


Africa is a continent at economic crossroads. Home to about 10 per cent of the world's population, Africa commands less than 4 per cent of the world trade.

It has a land mass 11 times the size of India and about the same number of people as the Asian economic giant. The numerous monied proponents of population control as an economic growth strategy are however yet to justify why India's rapid economic growth vis-à-vis the African poverty in light of this Afro-Indian paradox.

It is against this background that a new school of thought that is emerging in African leadership brings a refreshing perspective. Its bottom-line is that Africa's development will only happen if it is championed by Africans themselves. It is propagated by a new breed of Africans, both from the private and public sectors. It challenges the status quo and will turn the development agenda as we know it on its head. It is also very logical, reasonable and practical.

Among the leading proponents of this philosophy is Nigeria's Tony Elumelu. A banker and philanthropist, Elumelu is one Africa's most respected business leaders. He famously acquired a moribund commercial bank in Lagos in 1997 and transformed it into the $2 billion (market capitalisation) United Bank for Africa (UBA), a Pan-African financial services behemoth with a presence in 19 countries and three continents. He stepped down as CEO of the bank in 2010, and now serves as Executive Chairman of Heirs Holdings, an African-focused investment holding company, and the Tony Elumelu Foundation, a non-profit that promotes and celebrates African entrepreneurship and leadership.

Elumelu points out that "No one can develop Africa but us [Africans]." "We are now the world's fastest growing region," he adds. "There is a social and economic impact to be derived, but it needs to be done with the right approach - with African leadership and with the private sector, rather than from a charitable orientation."

Elumelu also talks of Africapitalism, an economic philosophy that embodies the private sector's commitment to the economic transformation of Africa through long-term investments that create both economic prosperity and social wealth. Those looking to invest in Africa should demonstrate social responsibility even in the pursuit of economic prosperity.

"Investment in Africa needs a different perspective," Elumelu says. "For Africa's economic growth, the private sector needs to take the lead, invest long term, and focus on making both economic and social gains. In my experience, we have made great profits, but we have also touched lives."

Also needed is a lot more cross border trade. Observers point out, with surprise and dismay, that intra-African trade accounts for an average of only 12 percent of exports in African countries. We need to see our neighbours as our customers: Perhaps this is why we seem to have endless conflicts in the continent. The ongoing talks between Japan and China after a bitter dispute over an island is a clear testimony that trade is an effective way of keeping the peace. The conflict has, as always, been bad for business between the two countries and must be resolved. Where neighbours are trading, conflicts are resolved fast.

Through this school of thought, leadership comes, as a service, from various sectors and subsectors. It is the entrepreneurial approach to governance. The main leaders are primarily inspirers that help develop the can do spirit- they lead leaders as opposed to having followers posing as leaders. Simply put, you and I, ordinary citizens, must take charge of running the economy. In our simple ways, we must take the lead and in our daily chores take charge in economically transforming our lives and our communities. This is how we will develop our continent.

The truth is that Africa is wide and diverse that it would be foolhardy to proclaim one panacea for its economic ills. But whatever the development path we take, the fact is that we all must be in the midst of it all. We must run the show.

After all, Africa is for Africans and its development is our primary responsibility. Nobody can develop Africa but us.

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