Most often much more is learnt from an event when it is reported because so much is stolen from being recorded in memory by the glitz of events and the size of the content.
So much was said and done when the Tony Elumelu Foundation hosted the President Emmanuel Macron of France in a no-holds-barred interactive session with 2,000 entrepreneurs in Lagos recently.
The session described by insiders as a model for Africa-Western engagement has come and gone but people are still chewing on the wisdom of what was said. And for the young entrepreneurs from Nigeria and other African countries, who were told the home truth by a president from a G-7 country, it was a rare learning opportunity.
Macron passionately advocated a new partnership, prioritizing the role of entrepreneurship in driving Africa’s renaissance, highlighting the importance of the private sector and most importantly saying Africa’s future was and should be in Africa’s hands.
Asked, during a question and answer session, if Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg would have accomplished that much if he were in Nigeria, he said, “Don’t tell yourself that it is impossible because you are a Nigerian, if your idea is the right one and you succeed you will be such a role model that you would convince a lot of people in the region and Mark Zuckerberg or any other leader coming from silicon valley would not be a star here, you would be a star.”
Elumelu, the founder of the Foundation, who moderated the session, had earlier this year been one of the global leaders invited to Paris to discuss the relevance of technology in shaping and improving humanity in the 21st century.
There, Elumelu had thanked President Macron for the opportunity to speak on behalf of young African entrepreneurs, who he sees as “the lifeblood of Africa’s transformation.”
“That is indeed the dream of TEF, which has embarked on supporting young Africans with $100million over a period of 10 years to create 10,000 African entrepreneurs.
“We have done 4000, with 6,000 more to go and we believe and we speak to our friends that it takes two things, these young Africans are ready to succeed and they realise that their success is not just for themselves but for the entire continent,” he said during the introduction of President Macron.
He continued: “It would be nice for our political leaders here in Africa to understand the potent powers and importance of people we have in this room and those that are not in this room because our demographic structure we have 60 per cent of our people who are under the age of 30.
“We also like France and the rest of the world to know that Africa in the 21st century, there is a lot more about Africa than the Africa they used to know.”
For the young entrepreneurs, resource persons for the actualization of their dreams don’t come bigger than that.
Africa for Africa
Macron launched straight into the new African challenge, which he described as his first message, without much protocol: “Africa is the one to decide for Africa; to explain about Africa, and to create its own model of entrepreneurship and its own culture, and to explain it to the rest of the world and not just to be part of the globalization where adjustments were always made despite people in a certain way.
“So this new narrative is to be built now and I do believe it’s your responsibility, that its good for Africa and it is good for France because if Africa doesn’t succeed France and Europe will never succeed on the long run.”
The second message was that entrepreneurship and innovation are part of the answer to the African challenge and it is because that is the best way for young people to access responsibility and to change everything.
He sounded philosophical about innovation: “Smart people when they are in charge are obsessed by innovation because they want to reinvent themselves. New players, young people should be obsessed about innovation, because this is the only way when you are not a player or an insider to enter into the game and to succeed to disrupt the insider to be part of the game.”
“Innovation is just about how to invent or reinvent something in which you can succeed and make your life, your family and the life of people around you better and there is no gap for innovation except the one that you have in your mind.
“Innovation is precisely about how to create and is the symptom to destroy past activities that don’t make sense.”
Drawing on his phenomenal success, he said just because he wanted to change a lot of things, he decided to innovate and take risks in political life.
This, he said, he never asked for permission to do because when he asked for advice from insiders to achieve his dream, he was told to bid his time.
Ruling out that option, he urged the young entrepreneurs believe in innovation and take the risk to forge ahead.
“You have massive young people and part of their future would be through this innovation and that’s why we decided to launch this digital Africa initiative, which means to create a sort of African platform for digital and not to lecture people what they should do, I’m not the one to have the best possible idea for Nigeria or Lagos. I have seen some entrepreneurs and have seen the craziest ideas now become reality.
“But you are the ones to have the right decision and idea for your country, for what is good for your people, which kind of innovation would succeed, which kind of innovation could find its market.”
He said answers to that could be found with Digital Africa, where Elumelu is on the advisory board for Africa.
“It is a bag of ideas and money. And what we want to do is to connect people and to allow people with ideas and innovation to scale them because a lot of things are a question of scale, how to accelerate, get access to market, get access to finance, being connected to all the people with the same kind of ideas improve your ideas and innovation, thanks to that.
“It’s a good showcase and precisely to work with large companies with business angles and I want to thank the large companies in this room coming from Nigeria and France.
The questions and answers session of the interaction was as insightful as it was interesting because of Macron’s ability to handle a large variety of issues. Below are some of excerpts:
Questions and answers session
Question: With the new brand of populism sweeping across continental Europe and the ensuing trade wars among competing nations, is global trade dead as we know it? Should upcoming entrepreneurs look only inward at home markets only?
Answer: Your first question is a very complicated one but it is true that today you have a rave of extremisms, not just in the economic science or what you call populism; we have indeed what we should call the bigger end of a trade war between some developed countries largely triggered by the US decision. If you look at the root of these different features and phenomenon I could tell you that it is due to the anxiety of middle classes in Europe.
Let me explain: I think we made a collective mistake during the past decades; we developed a globalization made for everybody because when you look at figures we decrease poverty and inequalities.
On a global scale, this globalization was positive but you had a big acceleration of this globalization in terms of free trade, movements and you have much more financialized and digitalized globalization and the consequence of this new phenomenon in acceleration, concentration of wealth on the top 1% of people and in Europe and in the US.
In the entire western world, those who have the feeling that they were the potential victims of this globalization were the middle classes.
Middle classes became afraid of migration issues, terrorism. They were the first to fertilize that and because of that, you have such a rave of extremists everywhere in Europe.
There is also this push coming from some governments and some people to say now we would build walls and we would close everything. Obviously is not sustainable but they manipulate this anxiety.
I have a strategy for that. It is not just to build a wall; we have to listen to this anxiety coming from middle classes and it means that if we want to fix it, in the long run, we need to provide this new narrative, we need more Africans to succeed in Africa and more Europeans to have a positive view about Africa.
The lose-lose game is to have extremists in Europe playing on fears, and sometimes, on racism and saying Africans are losers, they want to invade us; and to have Africans saying it is impossible to succeed in my country, we have to reach Europe even taking the most crazy risks and by the way making smugglers richer and richer.
It is a lose-lose game. I believe in the win-win game which is to say let’s help Africa to succeed let’s provide new hubs in Africa and increase cross-country experiences.
Trade is part of it and trade war has the same trigger, middle class were the first victims of globalization because it destroyed jobs in industry and I think trade war is a bad answer it is how to close the countries, build new barriers and increase costs and kill jobs which doesn’t fix the issue for middle classes.
So I do believe we can build something much more inclusive for middle classes in Europe and in the Western World. We can reform this globalization to have more people succeed, which is the best possible answer.
To address your second point and the end of your question, I do believe that we would manage to and probably fix at a point in time this trade war but I think that necessity is in the interest of everybody and that’s why I do believe that the right perspective for African entrepreneurs, for European entrepreneurs, is to pursue precisely this cross-market experience – this is access to all the markets and these trade developments.
The new generation of trade developments should be more respectful of social issues and environmental issues.
Obviously, new trade opportunities will not be productive if you choose to take opportunities in the country without developing the people. That’s why I do believe that entrepreneurs like you in your sector obviously must have African perspectives but also European perspectives as well.
If your product is good, it would succeed.
Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t have accomplished all he’s done today if he were in Nigeria. How would you advise Nigerians to achieve their technological dreams despite numerous limiting factors?
We spoke about migrations, we spoke about very bold people and when you are speaking precisely about the American innovation ecosystem, you speak about a lot of people and all of them were not originally Americans – just for you to bear that in mind. It seems that Steve jobs came from a family of Syrian refugees.
I don’t know your particular situation and I’m not here to make a farce between the government and Nigerian entrepreneurs but I do believe that if you think for yourself that being a Nigerian makes you unable to succeed, then you will never succeed.
Wherever you are you will be whatever your idea will be because precisely what you have to promote, what you have to do if you want to succeed is to take the risk. Precisely because you are a Nigerian, because you dare, you can become one of the greatest successes of the upcoming century because it is probably more difficult than in the United States.
To be clear with you, it’s true that when you start as a startup in Nigeria, the preconditions in the ecosystem is less favorable than in the US, in Silicon Valley but if you succeed given this condition, if you dare if you fight, and don’t tell yourself that it is impossible because you are a Nigerian, if your idea is the right one and you succeed you will be such a role model that you would convince a lot of people in the region and Mark Zuckerberg or any other leader coming from silicon valley would not be a star here, you would be a star.
So please what I want to do is not to export my startupers, I’m not teaching you or lecturing you to say I want my startups to be your role models, what I think is good for Africa and for you is to build your own role models.
So I have another way to answer your question, Mark Zuckerberg would never become Nigerian; you live in Nigeria and Nigeria has to succeed.
So please advance in your Mark Zuckerberg being Nigerian, Senegalese and so on, that’s what Africa needs.