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Empowering African entrepreneurs at TEF Forum


Participants at the forum

Policy intellectuals, business men, leaders of thought and entrepreneurs across Africa recently gathered at the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship (TEF) Forum 2017 in Lagos and unanimously agreed that public private partnership would drive long awaited development in the continent.

In his speech, founder, Tony Elumelu Foundation, Mr. Tony Elumelu decried the fact that “poverty surrounds us in Africa. Our youth need jobs, plenty job. Our youths need hope, economic hope, hope for a better tomorrow. There is so much uncertainty about the future; we have seen extremism, ethnic tension and social discontent on the rise. In Africa, we have tried different development approaches to deal with these issues of poverty eradication, job creation and creating economic hope for our people. In fact, we know that we have not made much progress. In some areas, we can even say that we have regressed as a continent.

“Our development partners are not left out; they too have tried to support us. Aid inflow into Africa in the past 10 years, 2006 to 2016, is a whopping half a trillion dollars $469 billion, but we all know that poverty remains unabated in Africa and the basic human development index has not significantly changed. At times, the future looks so bleak that our young ones are forced into migration, they want to go to where they perceive economic opportunity to be and we know that they risk their lives as stoways. They cross the Mediterranean or attempt to cross the Mediterranean on canoes and you know the outcome, most of them die, they don’t even get to the destination.”


Corroborating Elumelu, Africa’s richest man and founder, The Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote underscored the “huge potentials” in Africa, regretting non-activation of the potentials to the benefit of Africans. He identified “policy inconsistencies and corruption” as major challenges confronting the continent. Similarly, Zamfara Stategovernor, Alhaji Abdul’aziz Abubakar Yari and his Katsina State counterpart, Aminu Bello Masari shared the roles of jobs creation and enabling environment for business to thrive between private entities and government respectively. The governors asked each entity to embrace their role wholeheartedly.

Speaking further, Elumelu referenced global entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs who founded Apple; Bill Gates of Microsoft; and the Chinese Jack Ma who founded Alibaba and how their companies have remained global brands. “All these great men, what they and their companies have in common is that they have ingenuity, they have creativity, they have ideas and most importantly they have passion.”

While the continent of Africa is not bereft of men with great ideas, Elumelu wondered why entrepreneurs in Africa are not as successful as their counterparts in the developed climes. “The difference why these men succeeded and why it remains a bit of a challenge in Africa is explained by two factors. One, the operating environment, and two, the ease of translating ideas to actions, the mechanism, the transmission mechanism that takes ideas to action is extremely important but it is also tied to the operating environment and tied to yourselves and ourselves who have ideas – who must realize that the easiest thing to do is to dream dreams but the most difficult thing is to translate those dreams into action,” Elumelu said.

He added, “Our people are creative, hardworking, and extremely enterprising. They say, when I interact with them, that they are experiencing a stifling operating environment. They lack support, they deal with neglect, god-fatherism and the absence of meritocracy. They need a hand-up, they need a little push and for so long, we have carried on with a little entitlement mentality that others will develop and solve our problems. These issues and reflections led me to some conclusions and decisions. One, only us will develop Africa and the world should rethink how to engage with and intervene in Africa.”

Advising the entrepreneurs, Dangote stated that they must develop solution driven mindset. According to him, you must ‘think big, start small, be prudent, passionately build good teams, take risks, be daring, failure is a precursor of success. If we turn to Agriculture, there is nothing you cannot achieve. China, 25 years ago, didn’t achieve much. But they are celebrating 36 per cent of the Forbes Billionaires today.”

On his part, Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo urged the entrepreneurs not to allow their past determine their future. According to him, history has a way of tying entrepreneurs down, compelling us to look backwards and becoming a barrier to achieving our goal. The political history in Africa is dominated by wars, famine, failures of the states’.


Speaking on the topic: ‘The Tyranny of the history’, he recalled that economic history of Africa is characterized by poverty, infant mortality, illiteracy among others. Our history can frighten us or cripple our hope. Our failures of the past are tyrannical weapon of history. “History is not only a record of the past, it is past. It is gone.

History of Africa does not determine its future unless we allow it. Hopes and imaginations are more potent than history because your history is not your destiny.”

Chairman, Honeywell Group, Oba Otudeko urged the entrepreneurs to maximize the opportunities at the Forum. According to him, the empires of the future are the empires of the mind. “You have to be committed to your ideas. Today, we speak about Bill Gates and there is a young man I admire so much, the Chief Executive Officer of Face book, Mark Zuckerberg, you can be better than them. I can see a future. The future is an opportunity and an obligation. Have self-belief in yourselves, and this is when you can conquer the world. You must set for yourself excellence as a goal, there is nothing like African standard. You must embrace global standard. Your vision must be combined with venture.”

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