February 23, 2024

Tony Elumelu: The pandemic presents an opportunity to set Africa on path to sustainable future

Dubai-UAE: 9 March 2021: The response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the investment environment in Africa, and ways of fighting poverty were among the key themes of the ‘Africa’s Future Post-2021’ session on day one of the World Government Summit Dialogues today.

Moderated by CNN’s Eleni Giokos, the session featured Tony Elumelu, Chairman of Heirs Holdings, the United Bank for Africa, and Transcorp, and Founder of The Tony Elumelu Foundation.

Speaking about the economic impact of the pandemic, Elumelu noted that people don’t want to rely on government handouts: “People are hard-working and enterprising – they want to go out and fend for themselves and their families. It’s no longer about being locked down, it’s about living with this pandemic – changing our lifestyle and the way we do things.”

He added: “Poverty is a threat to mankind everywhere. Entrepreneurship and support for small and medium-scale enterprises is one of the ways we can address this issue in a fundamental fashion. In Africa, there’s a limit to what can be done to transform the economy if we do not invest in improving access to electricity, because without it, we cannot digitalize our local economy. To me, the pandemic presents an opportunity to rethink, reset, and reprioritize, and set the continent on a path to a sustainable future. Just like we declared war on the coronavirus and polio, we need to declare war on poor access to electricity. This is at the center of poverty alleviation.”

Speaking about his business and philanthropy philosophy, he said: “Our people need to see that you don’t need to emigrate out of Africa to have a decent life. Through business and The Tony Elumelu Foundation, we are trying to be role models and support true entrepreneurship among young Africans through providing financing, mentorship, and a networking platform. This is the kind of intervention we need to pull Africa out of poverty.”

Addressing those who consider investing on the continent, he said: “There’s nowhere else to get the kind of return on investment that you get in Africa. All you need to do is identify credible local partners, invest in their ideas and businesses, and stay with them on that journey. In addition to providing capital, help them with governance and best practices. The time to invest is now. African leaders have realized that they have to create a welcoming environment for foreign capital, and African private investors have also come of age and are investing on the continent because they are confident in the local economy.”

Elumelu highlighted infrastructure, electricity, and digital economy as the sunrise sectors that are driving Africa’s economic growth.

When asked about the secret to his business success, he said: “Where people see risks, we see opportunities, and then we think about how to mitigate the risks. We focus on sectors that are critical for the African economy – oil and gas, power, hospitality, and healthcare – and identify how to support them. We also support governments in all 20 countries we do business in.

“What is important is the impact that we make. Emigration and extremism are here because of poverty and hopelessness, because people don’t see a better future. Instead of having a pyramid of a few billionaires, I’d prefer to have a large piece that has prosperity, happier people, and people whose needs are met. This would address the security concerns we have in Africa and give us lasting peace.”

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