At the recent MEDEF Summer University Forum in Paris, the annual meeting of French business and political leaders, Tony Elumelu, Chairman, Heirs Holdings and UBA Plc and Founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, stressed the opportunities Africa offers and urged stronger business relationships between France and Africa; calling for a deepening of commercial relationships based on mutual respect and interest.
The Forum is one of France’s leading gatherings, bringing together over 7,500 business and opinion leaders, including Heads of State, government officials, political and business leaders, academics and over 450 French and international journalists. Elumelu was one of the select representatives from Africa, where he contributed to the opening panel debate, ‘The World is Watching Us’. Moderated by Frédéric Ferrer, journalist, consultant and professor at ESCP Europe, other participants were the President of MEDEF, Pierre Gattaz; Gary Coombe, President of Proctor & Gamble Europe; and Oudet Souvannavong, Executive Vice-President of the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and President of Lao Hotel & Restaurant Association.
As a leading advocate for the African private sector and champion of African entrepreneurship, Elumelu began his speech by thanking France for the cordial business relationship between France and Africa. “When we as Africans look at France, we see a long standing friend of Africa. Looking forward, France and Africa must continue to partner in a manner that brings about positive change.”
Mr. Elumelu is known as the proponent of Africapitalism, the philosophy that Africa’s private sector can and should drive economic change on the continent. Fundamental to this is the role of entrepreneurship, which creates wealth and jobs on the scale needed in Africa. Mr. Elumelu pursued this theme, stating that the solutions to issues of social exclusion are enterprise and entrepreneurship.
He urged France to look beyond its traditional relationships with Francophone countries, important as they are, and to embrace Anglophone and Lusophone Africa. He called on small and large businesses in France and in Africa to seek ways of collaborating in order to deepen economic ties. “France has very strong links with Francophone Africa, and we would like to see you engage more commercially with the Anglophone countries; creating a new form of economic and commercial partnership between France and the whole of Africa,” he said.
Mr. Elumelu has long been an advocate of Africa on the rise and seized the opportunity to encourage businesses to invest on the continent, which has so much to offer in returns. He highlighted the role of Africans themselves investing on the continent, while making a call to the French public and private sector to do the same, stating that there is nowhere else that can give as much return on investment as in Africa.
“There is a reason MEDEF has a new economic interest in Africa. Africa is home to the largest and fastest growing consumer population globally. It is a huge opportunity for both international and domestic businesses – and African businesses are increasingly competing successfully. What we all want to see is Africa growing its own value adding industries; the days of commodity extraction are over.”
Elumelu advised governments to support the private sector, in order to create more value in the society. “What is good for the private sector is also good for society. The private sector is best placed to assist government achieve its mandate. If the private sector succeeds, it creates more jobs, enhances security, and improves living standards”.
Pierre Gattaz added to this statement saying: “Full employment should be on the agenda of any political programme that is worth any value or worth its name. This should take up 70% of any political agenda moving forward. We must encourage and trust those who bring enterprise and create jobs”.
Elumelu himself has an extraordinary track record of job creation, including creating the UBA Group, which now employs over 20,000 people in 19 African countries. And he is giving back, through the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s $100m commitment to support 10,000 entrepreneurs over a period of 10 years. Mr Elumelu concluded the session by encouraging the entrepreneurs present to reach for their dreams. “Entrepreneurs are able to bring their ideas to fruition through the support we give them. This is helping them not just to dream, but to turn their ideas into successful ventures – and create the foundation for broad based and meaningful change in Africa”.
The event was closed by the moderator, Frederic Ferrer, who applied the tag line of the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s entrepreneurship programme to France, “Your ideas can transform France too and not just Africa!”.