Nigerian billionaire Tony Elumelu, an outspoken advocate of “Africapitalism,” last week launched a $100m pan-African initiative to train, fund, mentor and empower the next generation of African entrepreneurs. Elumelu said entrepreneurship was “the cornerstone to African development” – a resounding endorsement of the homegrown private sector, and an implicit rebuke of traditional aid structures that have struggled to cope with crises in Africa and elsewhere in 2014.
The entrepreneurship program will help to grow 10,000 startups and young businesses from across Africa over the next 10 years, targeting the creation of one million jobs and $10 billion in annual revenues. Elumelu argues that a vibrant, African-led private sector is the key to unlocking Africa’s economic and social potential. His program aims to create an environment where entrepreneurs can get the support they need in the critical early days.
“This program brings together my own entrepreneurial experience and my fundamental belief that entrepreneurs – women and men across Africa – will lead Africa’s development and transform our future,” Elumelu said.
The fund was announced at the end of a particularly bleak year for Africa’s international image. After the optimism of “Africa rising”, which posited that consumer-driven growth bolstered by an expanding middle class would herald a new era, news was dominated by war and the spread of Ebola. In the top headline-grabbers – Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and South Sudan – thousands of lives were lost and years of development undone.
On 19 November, as the World Health Organization told reporters in Geneva that the Ebola death toll had risen to 5,420, young entrepreneurs from across the continent met foreign leaders and business people from Africa, the US and beyond at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Morocco. The theme of the summit was harnessing the power of technology for innovation and entrepreneurship.
In a keynote speech, the US vice-president, Joe Biden, asked what could be done to help “brilliant young minds” and enable entrepreneurship to take deeper root. “America’s experience, like many others, teaches us that fostering entrepreneurship is not just about crafting the right economic policy, or developing the best educated curricula. It’s about creating an entire climate in which innovation and ideas flourish,” he said.