By Chioma Obinagwam
During the annual spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington, DC, African philanthropist and entrepreneur Tony Elumelu insisted that prioritizing Africa’s youth by fixing the policy and regulatory issues impeding their innovations would also help attract foreign investors.
Elumelu, who is equally the founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, spoke alongside World Bank President, Jim Kim and LinkedIn Chief Executive Officer(CEO) Jeff Weiner in a fireside chat on advancing the digital economy in Africa.
During the discussion, he sent a strong message on the importance of leveraging entrepreneurship to enable Africa to leapfrog traditional development paths.
“I speak as someone who has supported young African entrepreneurs. I see enthusiasm, intellect, I determination, drive and discipline – you invest $5,000 and indeed they apply this to their purpose,” Elumelu said. “So why don’t we harness all of these people? Why doesn’t government replicate this model?”
When asked about the technological advancements of today, which will be responsible for shifting African development into overdrive, Elumelu was emphatic.
“It is our young people – the 60 per cent of [African] people under the age of 30 who will come up with innovations that might help to pull Africa out of where it is today. We need to prioritize them, to give them support by removing the stifling policies holding them back. If we remove those, we will unleash their creativity onto the world.”
While moderating the discussion, World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, said policy makers in Nigeria and other African countries are ill-prepared to compete in the digital technology space. Elumelu conceded that without critical infrastructure, driving technological advancement would be difficult.
“You can’t talk about a digital economy in Africa without fixing critical infrastructure. Digital connectivity is a major issue in Africa and you can’t fix it if you don’t have reliable access to electricity,” Elumelu said. “So, if we want to truly address the issue of a digital economy in Africa, these challenges have to be fixed.”
Elumelu, who is also Chairman of the United Bank for Africa(UBA) Group, also highlighted regulation, intellectual property and the need to incentivise investors, as other factors that would help drive the digital economy on the continent.
“Let’s fix policy issues and all these issues I have identified and investors will come to Africa,” Elumelu added.