Shap­ing Africa

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

THISDAY - - FEATURES -

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

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