I never knew I was going to write such a piece or address it to a respected business leader in Africa and a proud Nigerian, however, the times and his recent moves to develop African entrepreneurs using the AfriCapitalism concept has necessitated this. Without reference or cognizance to any shortcomings of Mr Tony Elumelu or his foundation and many organizations his name is tied to, I will love to express my sincere and deep appreciation for his efforts to give back to the continent of Africa. You are clearly doing what many of your peers are not doing for obvious reasons.
Young people are known to have the elements and energy of recklessness; it is part of most generations (and yours as well) and in our generation, it seems the distractions have increased immensely. Technology has been a force for good but it equally comes with many distractions and it is these factors that make many influential and wealthy Nigerians or Africans to shy away from investing in the younger generation. Any rich man can import the machine used for producing toothpick and install it somewhere but the challenge is which young person can be trusted to manage and give an account of it in a most honourable manner.
With this kind of trust factor and many others that come with the Nigerian or African terrain, Mr Tony Elumelu still boldly is investing heavily on the younger generation and it is laudable on many fronts. We are grateful to you for the TEEP (Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme) initiatives and the many success stories of starting businesses but I have one request to make of you by this letter.
Dear Mr Tony Elumelu, I like to believe that Africa is backward for the basic reason that we have not done our duly diligence in doing things our way. We have not taken the necessary steps to move beyond consumers to the producers of the many things that the continent needs. I believe strongly that the knowledge economy is robbing us of the foundations of nation-building, industries and being self-reliant as a continent. For how long are we going to keep importing machinery to drive our knowledge economy when we can produce them here, using our styles and our way. I am sure the device or the laptop and the features in your beautiful office were all imported and while the knowledge and data economy gains momentum, Africa and Nigeria keep importing and enriching other nations.
My fear right now is what will happen if nations like Japan, Norway, Switzerland, Germany who are known for types of machinery like the cars and what Tesla’s Elon Musk is doing shifting to clean energy and self-driving electric cars. While we struggle to understand how the oil industry works, the world is moving away from oil and seeking better means of energy. How do we want to cushion such shocks when Toyota stops manufacturing fossil fueled cars? This is a risk that should worry all Nigerians and people like yourself and the young people who look up to you. How many Nigerians will be able to afford those cars, have charging points and use them optimally?
The major failings of Africa are that we have neglected the need for research and development endeavours. Nations like Switzerland are keen on research, the UAE and even the ones with limited natural resources still find ways to develop indigenous technology that they can call theirs. This should be the springboard of building sustainable nations and innovations that can drive any kind of development we desire. Our natural resources are lying fallow and the government seems not to care about what happens in the university systems where research is the main goal of university education.
Rwanda has a facility for such and they are making good progress and regarded as an African success story; the African way. I implore you, sir, to look into an investment in research and development and there will be benefits for our entrepreneurs as well. We would be able to make our products here and young businesses owners won’t have a need to import facilities to run their companies. We save foreign exchange and grow our economy.
Nigeria, in particular, is sinking in many ways and economically our people are suffering and I mean everyone feels the heat. The rich and middle-class feel the heat of buying what they can get cheaper abroad or here if they are indigenously produced but they are not. We need an investment in research and development endeavours, we need to start creating solutions our way, we need to start leveraging on the sciences, arts, social sciences to develop what can work for the continent.
Over time we can afford to commercialize these solutions, create products for our people and export to other nations of the world. However, the starting point right would be to create a facility where the creativity of both the young and old, practitioners and academics will be fused together to start the rebuilding process of our continent.
The Africapitalism concept is powerful as it reflects Africa and creating wealth our way. I am by this letter asking you sir (Mr Tony Elumelu) to take it back to the basics of research, development, design, product development, solutions and commercialization eventually. There is no better way to create wealth that can be sustained and retained within the continent.
Thank you, Mr Tony Elumelu for your continued service to make a difference.