Changing the Narrative on Africa in a Changing Administration-Tony O. Elumelu



By Tony O. Elumelu, CON,

at the

Opportunity Africa Conference
Wilmington, Delaware, USA

Friday, September 16, 2016

 Senator Christopher Coons

Former State Representative Don Blakey;

Distinguished speakers and guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am delighted to be with you this morning for the fifth ‘Opportunity Africa Conference.

 I want to start by thanking Senator Chris Coons and his wonderful staff for inviting me to his home state to speak with his constituents.  I’ve met with Senator Coons in Washington but nothing speaks more warmly of friendship than an invitation to one’s home.

 I also want to thank you, Senator for your commitment to the continent and people of Africa.

I will start by saying that on the surface, Senator Coons and I appear very different.

He was born and raised in the United States, and I, in Nigeria.  He has spent many years as a public sector leader, while I have focused my career almost exclusively in the private sector.  And we have both achieved much success in our chosen endeavours.

However, if you look more closely, we are not so different.

We were both born in 1963.

And we share a deep belief in the inherent value and dignity of the African people and a commitment to DELIBERATELY and UNAPOLOGETICALLY, unlocking the potential of the continent.

The Senator’s interest in Africa, began as a student when he wrote critically about the Apartheid government in South Africa and the unfortunate U.S. foreign policy of “Constructive Engagement” with this racist government and through his experiences, living in Kenya.

Both of these experiences influenced how he approached the concept of governance including in the United States itself, and caused him to change his political affiliation.

So, Africa CHANGED YOU, Senator, in a very fundamental way, and now you are giving back by using your platform in the U.S. Senate to help CHANGE AFRICA and to CHANGE THE NARRATIVE ABOUT AFRICA!

So, in a word, a key theme in the Senator’s life has been “CHANGE.” In my life, the key theme, in a word is “MADE.”

I was born in Africa, educated in Africa and have spent my whole career working in Africa.  You might say, I was MADE IN AFRICA and I MADE IT IN AFRICA!


For too long and for too many people the continent “Africa,” evokes images of poverty, disease, hunger and backwardness.  Even worse these images conjure a sense of hopelessness!

People believed similar things about China, Brazil and India not too long ago, but now that these countries are economic powerhouses, the narrative has changed.

Senator Coons and I, and I believe everyone here, want the same for Africa’s 54 countries.

And yet it is true that, today, Africa is home to:

-          Two thirds of the world’s HIV/AIDs infected persons and 90% of its orphans;

-          90 million kids who are out of school;

-          Over a dozen undemocratic or insufficiently democratic governments;

-          Millions of people who are caught in civil conflicts and vulnerable to starvation.

Wanting change should not blind us to the current realities; indeed these facts should make us all ever more committed to achieving change.

But that is not the whole story about Africa.

-          Africa is the cradle of mankind and ancient civilizations;

-          it is home to amazing cultures, that have touched the world in music, art and literature;

-          it gave us the extraordinary example of Nelson Mandela;

-          However, most importantly for me, Africa is a continent of a generation of entrepreneurs.  Home probably to the largest group of entrepreneurs on this planet.

Africa is also the home of a young and growing middle-class that has strong purchasing power.  A middle-class that likes baseball caps, iPhones, Kias, CNN and Beyonce.  In other words, in Africa lies a huge growing market for American products.

Clearly, over the last two decades, something has been happening in Africa!

SUCCESS is happening in Africa!

Opportunity is happening in Africa.

And I am living proof of this!

 I’ve enjoyed success in banking, but also in growing agricultural products for our people, providing healthcare, investing in power to drive our economy, resources that can bring value to our continent.

And ALL in Africa!

I have been very successful in these sectors using an economic philosophy I developed called Africapitalism.

Africapitalism advocates long-term investment in strategic sectors that generate both economic dividends for investors and social dividends for society.

So, I am a successful Africapitalist today, but I started out just like one of those young men and women in the clip you just saw of the beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s $100 million Entrepreneurship Program.

The continent of Africa has given me so much!

And I understand and embrace the responsibility to GIVE BACK to the continent by PAYING IT FORWARD and creating more Tony Elumelus to help transform Africa.

Through the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s $100 million Entrepreneurship Program, we seek to INSTITUTIONALISE LUCK and DEMOCRATISE OPPORTUNITY by giving every budding or aspiring African entrepreneur the chance to benefit from it.  It is open to all African citizens, regardless of age, gender, nationality or commercial sector.

We are training, mentoring and seeding 10,000 African business over the 10 years, creating 1 million new jobs and $10 billion in additional revenue across Africa in an effort to ignite the economic transformation of Africa.

These entrepreneurs will achieve financial success while creating home-grown solutions to local problems in core areas such as food, education, health, water and sanitation etc., delivering African solutions to African problems.  Or, in other words helping, to implement the Sustainable Development Goals from the private sector.

This is the story I want to tell about Africa.  This is the new narrative of Africa.

I travel all over the world, preaching that Africa is “OPPORTUNITY.”

And if I am the opportunity preacher then Senator Coons is the Choir Master because for the last 5 years, he has been organizing this conference that could not be more aptly named and reflective of what is happening on the continent “OPPORTUNITY AFRICA.”

He is not only bringing that message to Delaware, he is taking it to Washington DC.  And he is demonstrating it through concrete policy actions.

 U.S. policy towards Africa has largely and steadily been improving since the late 1990s.  It's not been perfect but it’s gotten better with each successive President since William Jefferson Clinton.

Looking back, from the 1960's through most of the 1980s, U.S. Foreign policy towards Africa focused on supporting despots in the Cold War alliances and then, following the collapse of the Soviet empire, wrote Africa off completely in the 1990s.

However, during his second term in the late 90s, President Clinton began to engage with the continent and even came on a state visit to sub-Saharan Africa, something no U.S. President had done in almost two decades.

It was also in the final year of the Clinton presidency that the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act was passed, which helped to lay the foundation for a new US-Africa relationship; one based not on humanitarian assistance, but on partnership for mutual economic benefit – and one that allows entrepreneurship to be the engine of social development.

President George W. Bush built on this with the AGOA renewals and enhancements and the creation of the Millennium Challenge Account which was a multi-billion dollar programme to incentivise African countries to embrace democratic reforms and govern justly, in return for US assistance to develop their infrastructure and commercial sectors.

President Bush must also be credited for the multi-billion global AIDS program that has helped to keep millions of HIV-infected persons healthy and by extension Africa’s workforce and economies healthy.

President Barack Obama upheld the previous initiatives and created the Feed the Future Global Food Security programme to boost agriculture in 20 countries, a sector that delivers 3 times the development gains as any other investment in development and of course, he created the Power Africa initiative, which seeks to expand access to electricity for the 600 million African who lack access to power today, through public and private sector partnerships, an agenda that Senator Coons championed to preserve, through passage of the Electrify Africa Act in the U.S. Senate.

And it had leveraged nearly $150 billion in private capital to address this critical development issues.

That is what I call “Shared Purpose,” a key characteristic of Africapitalism.

And I know that if we get power right in Africa, it will unlock millions of new jobs and economic growth in multiple sectors by reducing the cost of doing business and attracting new investments.

So, U.S. policy towards Africa over the last two decades has been improving, regardless of which party has held the presidency.

As you go into your presidential elections this year, I urge Americans to ensure that the candidates and new Administration seek to build on this progress.

Both candidates are promising change in key policy areas, especially in the foreign policy arena.

But I want to say to you today, that SOME THINGS DON'T NEED TO CHANGE!

What they need is to be expanded and scaled up.

In other words, we need MORE U.S. engagement in Africa through mutually beneficial trade and investment.

 Incidentally, that is exactly what I, and 200 other US and African political and business leaders, will be discussing next week at the US-Africa Business Forum in New York - how to strengthen mutually beneficial economic ties between the African and American peoples.

We also need more security cooperation that protects both Americans and Africans from the undesirable elements of this world – and where the root cause of poverty, that I believe can only be truly fought by giving people the economic tools to better themselves.

 And, very importantly, we need to work in “Shared Purpose” on complex solutions to complex challenges in Africa.

So when you meet, write, call and email your political candidates and representatives, of all races, and the elected President in November, tell them that when it comes to Africa, you want “More.”

By “More”, I mean more engagement, more positively impactful policies and more development and commercial investment in Africa.

In closing, I want to thank you all for coming out today to EXPLORE AND FURTHER OPPORTUNITY IN AFRICA.

I am an unashamed optimist and I believe that working together, in “Shared Purpose” we can help usher in economic transformation that will catapult Africa into a strong regional player in the 21st century global economy.

And going back to the defining themes that illustrate the impact that Africa has had on Senator Coons and myself, I believe that we will collectively be able to look back, in 2030, and know that while Africa “MADE US” or “CHANGED US,” we have together “MADE CHANGE” happen in Africa and for Africans, through a virtuous cycle of opportunity and prosperity.

Thank you.

Tony O. Elumelu, CON
Chairman, Heirs Holdings & Founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation

Twitter: @TonyOElumelu and Instagram @TonyOElumelu
Twitter: @Heirs_Holdings and Instagram: @HeirsHoldings

Twitter: @TonyElumeluFDN and Instagram: @TonyElumeluFoundation
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