Obama embraces 'Africapitalism': Tony Elumelu emerges as a key ally
OPINION - Elumelu, who is one of Africa’s most well-known billionaires and part of a new generation of African businessmen with a new way of doing business, has a unique philosophical approach to business..
One of the African businessmen who featured prominently during President Barack Obama’s trip was 50-year-old Nigerian investor, philanthropist and businessman Tony Elumelu.
Elumelu, who is one of Africa’s most well-known billionaires and part of a new generation of African businessmen with a new way of doing business, has a unique philosophical approach to business which many American CEO’s could do with paying attention to if they are not doing so already. President Barack Obama is certainly listening.
“Africapitalism,” as he calls it, combines ethics and giving back to society with profits and business growth, emphasizing long-term goals rather than the kind of short-term thinking that gave rise to the economic crisis that the U.S. and Europe have been experiencing for the past few years.
Elumelu believes that “Africapitalism,” in which the private sector uses its entrepreneurial zeal to create businesses that have a positive impact on society, can – and will — lift Africans out of poverty. He has already done it himself, having built the United Bank for Africa, of which he was CEO for several years, into the leading pan-African bank on the continent, creating many thousands of jobs and contributing to the economies and societies of the countries in which those banks now exist.
He is also a strong believer in African self-reliance and self-sufficiency and is no fan of what he calls a ‘dependency syndrome’ which has kept Africa from moving forward. It is this type of visionary thinking that has led Elumelu to become one of the African business people that President Obama pays attention to.
His diverse business interests — which range from agriculture business to medical services — and his philanthropic activities, channeled through his foundation, which focuses on supporting activities that will have a dynamic impact on society rather than just giving out money, have led to him being likened to an African version of Richard Branson.
Another reason Americans are likely to hear much more about Elumelu in years to come is that he is also one of the major backers of President Obama’s Power Africa initiative, which was announced this week. Through the Power Africa initiative, the U.S. will seek to double the level of access to power in Africa and has committed $7 billion to doing so. Elumelu’s company, Heirs Holdings, has also pledged $2.5 billion to the project making him the single largest private investor in an undertaking which has the potential to dramatically transform the lives of millions of African people.
That the White House has taken on the fundamental issue of electricity and power supply as its key project is a significant step and is a move away from focusing just on the tackling of diseases like malaria to taking on the basic infrastructure issues that impact African lives on a day to day basis. More importantly, President Obama has realized that it is through working with the Tony Elumelus of Africa that such an undertaking can actually get done.
It appears that President Obama and Tony Elumelu have found allies in each other, and will use their respective influence and power to strengthen the relationship between Africa and America, and to drive forward African growth.
Considering America’s history of exploiting African people, it’s a beautiful thing to see Africa and America now co-operating in this way in 2013.