The inaugural edition of the Africa Shapers Initiative Summit brought together distinguished speakers who delivered thought-provoking speeches on the future of Africa, writes Solomon Elusoji
On December 17, 2010, 26-yearold Mohamed Bouazizi was getting ready to sell fruits and vegetables in the rural town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. Bouazizi was the breadwinner for his widowed mother and six siblings, but he didn't have a permit to sell the goods. When the police asked Bouazizi to hand over his wooden cart, he refused and, allegedly, he was slapped by a policewoman.
Angered after being publicly humiliated, Bouazizi marched in front of a government building and set himself on fire.
His act of desperation resonated instantly with others in the town. Protests began that day in Sidi Bouzid, captured by cellphone cameras and shared widely on the Internet. Within days, protests started popping up across the country, calling upon President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his regime to step down. About a month later, Ben Ali fled, having ruled Tunisia since 1987.
The momentum in Tunisia would go on to set off uprisings across other parts of Africa like Egypt and Libya, spread to the Middle East, and became what is now known today as the Arab Spring.
The roots of discontent in these countries lay in their poverty.
The first obstacle in discussing Africa as a single entity is the breadth of the uniqueness of its peoples, in terms of culture, economic development or political orientation. However, many experts do believe that most countries in Africa, with the exception of countries like South Africa (to an appreciable degree), belong to the class of third-world nations, with features like high-rate of poverty, low level of infrastructure, and brazenly corrupt governments. This, the curse of underdevelopment, is seen by many as the rope that binds a continent once described as “dark”. Sadly, the statistics support this assertion.
It has been estimated that 75 per cent of the world’s poorest countries are located in Africa, including Zimbabwe, Liberia and Ethiopia. For the past two years, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s second largest country, has also been ranked the poorest in the world with a Gross Domestic Product (based on purchasing-power-parity) of $394.25 in 2013.
According to Gallup World, in 2013, the 10 countries with the highest proportion of residents living in extreme poverty were all in sub-Saharan Africa. Extreme poverty is defined as living on $1.25 or less a day. In 2010, 414 million people were living in extreme poverty across sub-Saharan Africa. According to the World Bank, those living on $1.25-a-day accounted for 48.5 per cent of the population in that region in 2010.
However, it’s not all gloom and doom. In recent years, Africa’s economic pulse has been quickening, infusing the continent with a new commercial vibrancy. Real GDP rose by 4.9 per cent a year from 2000 through 2008, more than twice its pace in the 1980s and 1990s.
Telecommunications, banking and retailing are flourishing; construction is booming, private investment inflows are surging, and a renewed hope, that things could be turned around, is being birthed.
According to the annual African Economic Outlook report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the African Development Bank and the United Nations Development Programme, the continent’s economies will grow by five per cent in 2016.
In 2015, a group of persons decided to come together, to create an initiative that could help foster this rising profile of Africa’s economic fortunes.
From that decision, the African Shapers Initiative was born. The Initiative is a forward-looking action that is set out to acknowledge and engage the people and ideas that are shaping development in Africa towards increasing shared opportunities, promoting innovation and encouraging knowledge transfer on the continent.
The initiative kicked off its activities by celebrating the Global Entrepreneurship Week on November 19, in Lagos, by holding an entrepreneurship conference that was graced by prominent personalities on the continent.
In a statement released before the conference, the Director, Africa Shapers, Lekan Fatodu, noted that entrepreneurship was a key aspect for Africa’s growth.
“Our continent must prepare to meet the opportunities of this century,” he said. “Entrepreneurship will be the driver of change for the entire continent.
That is the reason this conference is
The initiative is a forward-looking action that is set out to acknowledge and engage the people and ideas that are shaping development in Africa towards increasing shared opportunities, promoting innovation and encouraging knowledge transfer on the continent
holding. There must be a platform for exchange of that idea and that is what African Shapers is known for.”
He added: “When Barack Obama visited Kenya recently for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, Geo Poll, the world’s largest mobile survey platform surveyed 200 entrepreneurs per country in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, asking them what resources are most needed to encourage entrepreneurship, what programmes they have participated in to improve their businesses, and what are the biggest challenges facing new businesses, they all talked about financial resources, better facilities and services, and government support to alleviate the challenges new businesses face.
“We know that starting a business is both fun and exciting but at the same time it can be extremely hard and complex. Many first-time founders get discouraged when looking at the survival rates of new startups, and fear the societal pressures of what might happen if they fail.
This is the gap that African Shapers is trying to fill by providing mentors and educators who can help by enabling the founders to regain their self-confidence and providing them with tangible tools to overcome the typical barriers.”
Fatodu explained further that “the event will also create opportunity to discuss the recent adoption of sustainable development goal by the United Nations as a way of ensuring that we create responsible businesses on the continent in our quest for enduring entrepreneurship.”
At the conference, one of the key speakers, Nigeria’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, urged African youths to initiate measures that will rescue the continent from its development challenges.
He said the government should create an enabling environment for youth innova- tion, adding that entrepreneurship was the solution to the poverty ravaging Africa.
Speaking on Africa -The Next Frontier: Fostering Innovations for Growth and Development, the ex-minister said only ideas could change the fortunes of Africa.
While noting that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to Africa increased in the last decades, Ajumogobia regretted that Africa still conducted its trade same way it did 50 years ago. He observed that the net investment in Africa did not increase with FDI, saying the continent still largely depended on the foreign products and aid.
He said through entrepreneurship and innovation, Africa could measure its growth.
Ajumogobia said: “Africa’s rising is a convenient and dangerous one, because it is a challenge for youths to tap into the emerging market for growth and prosperity. Africa, one day, would become the economic power of the world. But, we may not get there with improper planning and bad trade policies.
Africa must create its market to sell entrepreneurship ideas of its youths.” Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Marine Platform Taofik Adegbite said emerging entrepreneurs in Africa must build strong brands and not personality.
He said youths must be non-conformist to successful entrepreneurs.
Founder of BEN TV in London Alistair Soyode, who was also at the conference, said the African youth must rise up to present challenges to survive poverty. Other speakers at the event included the Managing Partner of Red Media Group, Chude Jideonwo and Charles O’Tudor, a brand strategist.
Africa, one day, would become the economic power of the world. But, we may not get there with improper planning and bad trade policies. Africa must create its market to sell entrepreneurship ideas of its youths
L-R: CEO BEN TV, Mr. Alistair Soyode, PPRO Lagos State, DSP Joseph Offor, MD Mojec, Ms.Chantelle Abdul, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia (SAN) and CEO Marine Platforms, Mr. Taofik Adegbite, at the Summit in the Lagos
L-R: Mr. Lekan Ajisafe, Mr. Taofik Adegbite, Hon. Folajimi Lai Mohammed, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia (SAN) and Ms. Thomas
L-R Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, Organiser, The Africa Shapers Summit, Lekan Fatode and Lanre Alfred
L-R: Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia (SAN), addressing participants at the Summit