African businessman and philanthropist Tony O. Elumelu was recently in Paris on the invitation of the French Senate, Business France and Banque publique d’investissement (BPI). The trip presented several platforms on which he was able to continue to promote Africa as a continent ripe for investment. Elumelu is the chairman of the United Bank for Africa(UBA), Heirs Holdings, an African proprietary investment company, and the founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
The first stop for Elumelu was BPIs event ‘BIG’(BpiFrance inno generation), which witnessed a gathering of over 4,000 French entrepreneurs. There, Elumelu gave a keynote speech sharing his current focus, which is to change the African narrative and perception, especially to the international community.
“For too long, many people when they hear the word ‘Africa,’ they think about darkness and backwardness… I want people to think of Africa and think of possibilities.”
Elumelu has become one of the biggest advocates for Africa today and is making a difference through his foundation’s $100 million endowment in support of young African entrepreneurs with start-up businesses.
“My foundation created the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme to train, mentor and seed 10,000 African businesses over the next 10 years, to create 1 million new jobs and $10billion in additional revenue across Africa.” He asserted.
In between events, Elumelu was able to meet up with Rachida Dati – member of the European parliament and mayor of the 7th arrondissement of Paris – and also with Pierre Gattaz, the president of the MEDEF, to continue discussions which begun last year, on new ways to strengthen business ties between France and Africa. He also caught up with his friend Lionel Zinsou, former Prime minister of the Republic du Benin and also a champion of French companies doing business in Africa.
On the final day of his 3-day trip, he was invited to breakfast with some members of the French Senate. Thereafter, he was a guest speaker on ‘Discover Nigeria,’ a gathering of French investors and entrepreneurs, interested in learning more about doing business in Nigeria. The event was a joint effort of Business France, The French Senate and BPI and was held at the historic Palais de Luxembourg where the Senate is housed.
The senate president opened up the dialogue by reinforcing the relationship between Nigeria and France, “Nigeria is the first destination of French investment and the first partner of France in sub-saharan Africa.” The French ambassador to Nigeria, Dennis Gauer, who was also present at the event buttressed this point by providing insight into the current business climate whilst pointing out the opportunities that exist, including a stable banking system. “Economists say that Africa is the last engine of the world growth and this engine will be driven by Nigeria” Gauer said.
Elumelu on his part, encouraged French businesses to come and discover Nigeria and find the right partners to help them navigate the business environment. He cited the example of UBA – which has been operating profitably and successfully in Nigeria for 70 years – and its subsequent footprint into 18 countries in Africa over the last decade. “The Nigerian economy plays an important role in West Africa and beyond. So when you invest in Nigeria, the benefits spill over to our neighbours in dozens of countries’ he stated.
The chairman of UBA posits that in spite of the challenges faced by African economies and especially of the sharp drop in commodity prices, Nigeria still offers one of the highest returns on investment on the continent and beyond.
Elumelu has begun to change the narrative for Africa and France is positioning to be a part of the story.