25 Faces of the New Africa

Vladimir Volkov

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Africa is faced with many challenges, and one of the gravest is a negative perception amongst foreign investors, many of whom still consider it to be a ‘hopeless continent’. This thought was recently expressed by Chris Kirubi, one of Kenya’s most successful businessmen and philanthropists, and chairman of the board of directors of Capital Group. He captured an actual state of affairs with which, as it happens, Africans themselves do not seem to be overly concerned. Be that as it may, today the number of people living on the African continent or forming part of the African diaspora who are unwilling to rely on someone else, and stand ready to roll up their sleeves and take control of their own destinies, is greater than ever before. Their successes serve as an example: not only do they help improve the lives of African communities, but they also change the perception of Africa, which is transforming itself in front of our very eyes into one of the most dynamic regions in the world.

In presenting our 25 faces of the New Africa, BRICS Business Magazine does not offer readers an exhaustive list of the many that have contributed, and continue to contribute, to improving Africa’s image. When selecting candidates to be included, we prioritized businesspeople representing innovative areas of the economy, and who operate concurrently in several markets. If there is one thing that all of them know for certain, it is that Africa’s future remains in its own hands.

Funke Opeke

Nigeria

CEO, Main One Cable Company

What does one need to do to win the prestigious CNBC All Africa Businesswoman of the Year Award? Here is one possible answer: you need to be born in Nigeria, graduate from the local Obafemi Awolowo University as an electronics engineer, continue on to your master’s degree at Columbia University, find a job in the United States, return home, mastermind and then head up a huge business project, and then see it come to life. At least, this was the path chosen by Funke Opeke – last year’s winner, and CEO of Main Cable One, the first private African company specializing in telecommunication services in the West Africa region.

Main Cable One’s chief asset is a cable system, laid in deep Atlantic water, which runs for 7,000 kilometers from Portugal to Ghana and Nigeria and feeds into the company’s IT infrastructure on the African coast. This massive project, launched in 2007, was completed within two years. It was delivered precisely on schedule and within a budget totaling $240 million, which Funke managed to raise exclusively among African investors.

The risks and efforts seem to have paid off. Just two years after going into business, Main Cable One has become financially and operationally self-sustaining, while the number of its customers – telecommunication operators, internet providers, public institutions and large commercial companies – already exceeds one hundred, and continues to grow. According to Opeke, in the near future her company will focus its efforts on enhancing communication capabilities in Nigeria and Ghana and continuing to expand in the West Africa region.

“If you look at this part of the world, broadband services have a very low penetration and so does ICT in general. We have played a significant role already and we think we have an opportunity to play a leadership role,” Opeke told Hot Telecom. Technical challenges seem not to stand in the way of these plans – today Main Cable One is utilizing a mere 5% of its total capacity. There will be no lack of leadership either, as long as Funke Opeke continues to take it upon herself to see these plans through.


The risks and efforts seem to have paid off. Just two years after going into business, Main Cable One has become financially and operationally self-sustaining

Dambisa Moyo

Zambia

International economist, board member at SABMiller PLC and Barrick Gold Corporation


Dambisa Moyo’s list of academic achievements alone would be enough to make even a blue blood proud. This 44-year old native of Zambia boasts a master’s degree from Harvard, a D.Phil. in economics from Oxford, and a BA in chemistry and MBA in finance from American University in Washington D.C. Her career achievements are equally impressive and include many years at the World Bank and Goldman Sachs, where she specialized in debt markets, hedge funds and global macroeconomics.

As a popular commentator, and author of several bestsellers in macroeconomics, she also covers an impressive range of topics. However, of all the subjects she deals with, Africa has always held a special place. The fact that her vision of how the continent should develop often runs contrary to popular beliefs – providing ammunition for numerous critics – does not seem to faze Dambisa Moyo in the least. In 2009 she wrote in the The Independent that, “[among] its shortcomings, aid is correlated with corruption, fosters dependency, and invariably instils bureaucracy that hinders the emergence of an essential entrepreneurial class. For Africa to grow in a sustained way, foreign aid will have to be dramatically reduced over time, forcing countries to adopt more transparent strategies to finance development.” This became the leitmotif of her book Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa.

Moyo is convinced that the current economic crisis that forced the West to shift its focus to its own internal issues offers the people of the African continent a unique opportunity to regain control of their own destinies.
As a popular commentator, and author of several bestsellers in macroeconomics, she also covers an impressive range of topics. However, Africa has always held in her coverage a special place

James Mwangi

Kenya

CEO, Equity Bank


How does one transform a dying microfinance organization into the largest banking group in East and Central Africa? James Mwangi has a straightforward ‘no-frills’ answer: train your employees and make them believe in their own power, earn the trust of your clients, foster innovations, implement state-of-the-art technologies and continue to work towards your goal regardless of what obstacles may lie ahead. He has his own experience to show that this recipe really works.

In 1993 Mwangi took over as strategy and finance director at Equity Building Society, a small company specializing in microcredit for farmers, with 27 staff, 27,000 customers, and 5 million Kenyan shillings ($65,000) worth of losses per year, Kenya Yetu reported. Some 11 years later the company launched a private offering, reinventing itself as a banking organization called Equity Bank. In 2006 it followed that up with an IPO at the Nairobi Stock Exchange, organized jointly by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), UK development finance institution CDC, George Soros, and the US-based Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). The latter acquired 25% of Equity Bank shares for $125 million, transforming it into the company with the highest market capitalization in East and Central Africa.

Since that time the company has shown an incredible pace of development.

“Now, building on the IT platform, we launched an aggressive growth campaign. In seven years we increased our branches from 36 to 200, with over 5,000 agencies, and the customer base rose to eight million – nearly half of all bank accounts in Kenya,” Mwangi told Kenya Yetu in an interview last year.

For the year past the bank showed a net profit of 16 billion Kenyan shillings ($208 million), and boasts a 900% increase in market capitalization since the IPO.

Equity Bank – now the largest financial institution in Kenya, also with a presence in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Sudan – employs 8,000 staff. With 250 billion Kenyan shillings ($3.3 billion) on its balance sheet, it accounts for roughly one fifth of Kenya’s budget. It is therefore hardly a surprise that in 2012 Ernst & Young named James Mwangi ‘World Entrepreneur Of The Year.’

One wonders who his role model might be.

“Nelson Mandela,” he said in the interview. “The way he has changed people’s lives inspires me every day. That is what drives me – the feeling that I am changing lives for the better, being an agent of social-economic transformation in Africa.”


How does one transform a dying microfinance organization into the largest banking group in East and Central Africa? Train your employees and make them believe in their own power, earn the trust of your clients, foster innovations, implement state-of-the-art technologies and continue to work towards your goal regardless of what obstacles may lie ahead

Dr. Eleni Gabre-Madhin,

Ethiopia

Founder and former CEO, Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX)


In her native Ethiopia, Eleni Gabre-Madhin earned the title ‘Iron Lady’ – a moniker backed by some equally iron-clad logic: this elegant woman’s steely resolve and remarkable efforts gave her country – one of the poorest on the African continent – a chance to overcome what could well be its greatest adversity: hunger. Dr. Eleni (most Ethiopians are properly addressed by their given name) told Oprah.com:

“In 1984–85, the year of the famine that killed nearly a million Ethiopians, I was an undergraduate at Cornell. At dinner one night, other students started throwing food. And suddenly – shocking myself – I got up on a chair and I screamed, ‘Stop doing this! In my country people are starving!’ In that moment, I knew that I owed my country something.”

Her journey home took a long twenty years. During that time she earned a PhD in applied economics at Stanford University and occupied leading positions in several of the largest financial institutions in the United States. She returned to Ethiopia in 2004 as a program head at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), set up to improve the agricultural production and sales system. Speaking at a TED conference in 2007, Dr. Eleni confessed that she’d always dreamed of creating a market that would protect African farmers from the vagaries of transient trends and greedy middlemen, and remained a firm believer that Ethiopia could be transformed from a country incapable of surviving without outside food assistance into one of the major agricultural producers in the region.

Her tenacity and talent brought this dream much closer to becoming a reality: 2008 saw the opening of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX), the very first of its kind in the nation’s history. The new exchange offered local farmers an opportunity to sell their goods – coffee, sesame seeds, beans, and corn – at prices that were realistic, and much higher than in the past. In just three years the ECX turnover rose from 138,000 to 601,000 tons, and $1.2 billion, while the farmers’ share of the ultimate price for coffee – the core Ethiopian export staple – doubled.

Dr. Eleni is convinced that the right market incentives will continue to drive local farmers to implement new technologies, leading to greater performance, which means that in the near future hunger could once and for all cease to be a part of life in Ethiopia, and in time across the entire continent.

Dr. Eleni is a firm believer Ethiopia could be tranformed from a nation incapable of surviving without outside food assistance into a one of the major agricultural produsers in the region

Remi Okunlola

Nigeria

Co-founder and Executive Director, SeaWolf Oilfield Services Limited


Giving up an incredibly successful career as an international lawyer and reinventing oneself as a petroleum expert? Many would find such a move drastic, but not Remi Okunlola.

Before taking the helm of SeaWolf Oilfield Services – the first oilfield service company in Nigeria, which he helped create in 2007 – Okunlola had spent ten years as a partner in law firm Perchstone & Graeys in Lagos.

There his main task was to advise companies operating in the oil and gas sector. He oversaw several large transactions including the multi-billion-dollar deals that saw the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and the Indian Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) acquire assets in Nigeria. Against this backdrop his part in setting up SeaWolf – itself a critical stage in Nigeria’s strategic drive to strengthen the role of national businesses in the country’s oil and gas sector – looks perfectly logical.

Okunlola’s objective is to transform SeaWolf into a key player in the rapidly growing market for oilfield and drilling services in West Africa, with Nigeria accounting for roughly one half of it today. The company boasts a number of famous successes in this area, having entered into several large oilfield services contracts with international industry giants over the last several years. The most recent was signed in September 2012 with ExxonMobil, for a total of $140 million. On the basis of this contract SeaWolf will make one of its three offshore oilrigs available to the American company, with work scheduled to begin as early as the third quarter of 2013. According to SeaWolf, this deal serves as a sign of the company’s growing success, and validates the strategy adopted by the Nigerian cabinet.

“SeaWolf Oilfields has come a long way since inception. Its signing with ExxonMobil is testament to how far indigenous players have come in the ownership and operation of offshore oilfield assets, and in earning the trust, confidence and support of the world’s most substantial oil and gas companies,” the company said in a press release.

Be that as it may, both SeaWolf and Nigeria have an even longer journey ahead of them, and Okunlola is fully determined to join them on the path.
Okunlola’s objective is to transform SeaWolf into a key player in the rapidly growing market for oilfield and drilling services in West Africa

Mamadou Toure

South Africa

Founder, Africa 2.0


Mamadou Toure is certain that Africa can and must transform itself into a prosperous continent as early as 2020, but first and foremost it needs to outline specific objectives and develop a joint action plan.

“If you think about it, China has an agenda for Africa, India has an agenda, Europe, America. It’s about time we Africans set an agenda for ourselves,” CNN quoted Toure as saying.

Toure is the founder of Africa 2.0 – a pan-African organization that brings together young leaders representing African countries and the diaspora, who share a common vision of the continent’s future. Their primary objective is to find and implement sustainable solutions to accelerate Africa’s development. Toure calls Africa 2.0 a social contract between the private sector, civil society and governments.

Africa 2.0 was created to promote the idea of a free trade area that would span 26 African countries. The group also plans to improve governance and encourage entrepreneurship. Its strategy is based on four core elements: inclusive growth, the upgrading of infrastructure, an enabling environment, and the “uplifting” of Africans.

Toure, who also works as an investment consultant at the International Finance Corporation, believes that it is the last element that holds the key to the project’s overall success. “It’s about building an African ‘can-do’ attitude that would get Africans to take ownership of their own future and to start rolling their sleeves to actually face the challenge ahead,” he told CNN.


Aliko Dangote

Nigeria

President, Dangote Group


A native of Kano in the north of Nigeria, and the wealthiest resident of Africa, Aliko Dangote did not make his fortune of nearly $12 billion from oil, which his country is so famously rich in. The Dangote Group – the industrial conglomerate which he owns – is predominantly made up of companies producing sugar, flour, salt and cement.

Dangote told CNN’s i-List that “Nigeria is really the best place to invest,” although he was one of the first people in Africa to do business internationally. The jewel in his group’s crown is Dangote Cement – a company that operates in 14 African countries and plans to build factories in Myanmar and Iraq in the near future. Dangote is not only a successful entrepreneur but also a generous philanthropist.

“Dangote’s benevolence wears no ethnic or religious garb. Such virtues are rare in an oasis of self-centered rich persons as is the case in our clime”, writes the head of Nigeria’s Human Rights Writers Association, Emmanuel Onwubiko, in a column on allAfrica.com. “Rich persons in Nigeria should emulate the shining examples of people like Aliko Dangote in whom industry and philanthropy means the same.”

Henry Obi

Nigeria and Ireland

COO, Helios Investment Partners


Perhaps you need no convincing that Africa offers wonderful investment opportunities, but you have only a vague idea as to how to seize them? If that is the case, you should turn to professionals such as Henry Obi for help.

Obi holds a Nigerian and an Irish passport and works as a top manager at Helios Investment Partners, a London-based company specializing in direct investments in Africa, in which he is an expert. He prefers stakes to be high. For instance, back in June 2011 Helios completed the incorporation of its second African fund – holding $900 million – which will, according to CNBC, focus on “businesses that are core to the functioning of African economies, businesses that are leveraged to the domestic growth of those economies, rather than broader global factors” – in other words, on the financial and consumer sectors, energy and telecommunications. The investor race is merely gaining momentum in Africa, and Obi seems certain that a professional approach will ensure a win-win situation for all stakeholders.

Patrice Motsepe

South Africa

Executive Chairman,
African Rainbow Minerals Limited (ARM)

 

The fall of Apartheid in South Africa over two decades ago opened the door to business for millions of the country’s black citizens. However, few of them have managed to match the successes achieved by Patrice Motsepe in capitalizing on these new opportunities.

In the early 1990s he bought at a discount from the government several gold mines that were considered low potential, and managed to turn them to profit. Today Motsepe is at the helm of one of the largest and most diversified mining companies in the country. He became South Africa’s first (and only) black billionaire, whose net worth Forbes magazine estimated at $ 2.7 billion.

In late January Motsepe publicly announced that half of his fortune would be earmarked for charitable causes, a move inspired by The Giving Pledge campaign initiated by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

“I decided quite some time ago to give at least half of the funds generated by our family assets to uplift poor and other disadvantaged and marginalised South Africans. It has always been part of our culture and tradition to assist and care for less fortunate members of our communities,” Motsepe said in a statement.

His decision is a manifestation of a simple thought addressed to the rest of the world: Africa is not only capable of seeking help from the international community; it stands ready to help itself.

Bright Simons

Ghana

Founder and CEO, mPedigree Network


Bright Simons – a native of Ghana – studied astrophysics and political science at European universities. However, after reaching the conclusion that they were “not sufficiently practical”, as he told The Observer last year, he decided to return home and reinvent himself as an entrepreneur.

He decided to take on the problem of counterfeit drugs – a widespread phenomenon in Africa. Under his scheme an embossed code is placed on each pack of medicine. Consumers send this code via regular SMS to a dedicated number, and receive a response authenticating the product. Today nearly seven million packs of pharmaceuticals have been coded, and the system developed by Simons’ mPedigree is now standard in three countries. After success in India, it is being extended across other Asian countries.

“It’s the first time that innovations from Africa are going to other parts of the world. It’s changing the traditional story about the continent. This is a genuine reversal of the usual narrative,” he told The Observer.

Hapsatou Sy

France

Founder, Ethnicia and Hapsatousy


Born near Paris into a family of immigrants from Senegal and Mauritania, Hapsatou Sy was only 24 years old when in 2005 she opened Ethnicia, her very first ethnic beauty parlor, on the Île Saint-Louis in Paris. It opened its doors to people of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds. “I wanted to provide a solution to black and mixed-race women’s beauty issues, but not only them. The idea was more to group together around the values of sharing, respect, tradition and open-mindedness,” the Beyond Beauty blog quotes her as saying.

Her idea worked. Today the company that now bears her name – Hapsatousy – has 17 locations in France, Switzerland and Angola. Sy told the blog she has already achieved much of what she dreamed of; a dream not of material wealth, but rather of values – and chief among them the idea of human solidarity, ably exemplified by Hapsatou Sy and her business.

Reginald Mengi

Tanzania

Executive Chairman, IPP Group


Should you expect pennies from heaven if you are born into a poor family in the north of Tanzania, if you rarely had more than one meal a day, and had to walk long distances to school barefoot?

Reginald Mengi decided that for him the answer would be in the affirmative, especially if he could take his destiny into his own hands.

Mengi’s journey is nothing short of a miracle: he studied accountancy in the United Kingdom, returned to Tanzania and was employed by the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand. In 1989 he started his own business. He made his first million dollars selling ballpoint pens, then went on to set up IPP Group, an industrial conglomerate with a broad variety of assets, from print and electronic media, to soft drinks manufactured under license from Coca-Cola, to mining.

How did he manage to do all that?

“You must believe in yourself, that you have power to make things move”, he told international students in 2008.

Mengi’s word of advice to the young people of Africa is not to be afraid to take risks and dream big. He told students visiting IPP Media in 2012 that, “in fact, life is full of risks. Even crossing a road is risky. So, there is no need to hesitate. If one wants to succeed, one must take risks…Youth must always learn to dream big because when you dream big, you will never be worried about the risks in your life”.

Mo Ibrahim

Sudan

Head of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation


Before becoming a philanthropist and heading up his eponymous foundation, Mo Ibrahim was a successful businessman who – it wouldn’t be a stretch to say – transformed Africa.

In the early 1990s the Sudanese-born entrepreneur was the first to introduce mobile communications in Western Africa, instantly improving quality of life and creating new opportunities for millions of people in the region. Today, Ibrahim’s former company Celtel, which he sold in 2005 for $3.4 billion, operates in 23 African countries. Meanwhile he himself is striving to transform African leadership with the $5 million annual Ibrahim Prize for democratically elected leaders who have governed well. Regrettably, last year was the third in which no award was made – there were simply no worthy candidates who could meet all of the criteria. Yet Mo Ibrahim, quoted in an Ibrahim Foundation statement, was as uncompromising as always:

“You make your bed, you have to lie on it. If we said we’re going to have a prize for exceptional leadership, we have to stick to that. We are not going to compromise.”

Kunlé Adeyemi

Nigeria

Founder, NLÉ


A three-story triangular structure on a floating platform made up of several rafts bound together – this is what Kunlé Adeyemi, a 37-year old avant-garde architect, believes a school should look like in Makoko (an infamous slum on stilts off the coast of Lagos, where he himself was born).

Adeyemi, who now lives in Amsterdam where his architecture firm NLÉ is headquartered, is convinced that this project should not only improve the life of a particular Nigerian community, but also become a conceptual prototype for hundreds of similar settlements along the African coast.

“The building can be adapted for other uses, such as homes or hospitals. Ultimately, it’s a vision that can be used to sustainably develop African coastal communities,” Adeyemi told The Guardian last year.

This visionary spirit permeates Adeyemi’s architectural designs in London, Doha, Seoul, and Lagos. One would be hard-pressed to find a better poster child for the New Africa.

Rupert Cruise

South Africa

Founder and Managing Director, Texchange


Rupert Cruise’s working life has been dedicated to one particular calling: developing the technology behind linear motors and generators: electromechanical devices which can convert electrical energy into mechanical linear motion, and vice versa.

He started his career as a scientist and experimentalist but there came a day when Cruise realized that his academic knowledge was insufficient to successfully promote his designs on the market, which drove him to apply to Oxford’s Saïd Business School. One year later Texchange was born. Its hoisting designs have since become a fixture in many unexpected places across the planet – from deep-water gold mines, to silos on the American aircraft carrier USS Gerald Ford. “I would never have been able to set up my own small, yet truly global, business – UK-based, manufacturing in South Africa, partners in Europe, and customers in the USA – without the MBA,” he said in an interview for the Saïd Business School.

Today Cruise continues to work on improving Texchange technologies, which he hopes will serve mankind by capturing the energy of sea waves. He is convinced that his technologies will find applications not only in the UK and South Africa – his company’s chief markets – but around the planet, if for no other reason than because ocean energy – unlike petroleum – is a resource that cannot be depleted.

Chris Kirubi

Kenya

Chairman, Haco Tiger Industries and Capital Group


The entrepreneurial successes that Chris Kirubi – one of the wealthiest people in Kenya – can show for his 71 years are hard to argue with. His business empire includes: a patchwork of assets in several West African countries, including many residential and commercial properties in Nairobi; Haco Tiger Brands, which manufactures household appliances; investment company Centum; and insurance company UAP. Kirubi also owns the DHL franchise in Kenya, and Capital FM – Kenya’s most popular radio station, where he doubles as a DJ on a regular basis.

Kirubi is one of the most consistent advocates for the development of trade and economic reforms in the East Africa region. He seems convinced that over the next century the African continent will offer the best opportunities for investors. He admits, however, that one of Africa’s biggest issues is the negative perception held by foreigners, many of whom think it is the “hopeless continent,” as he told a discussion at the Global Forum in Cape Town in 2010. His greatest hopes for the future of Kenya and Africa lie with local youth. He said on Twitter, “I am on a mission. I want to get more involved in mentoring and working with young great minds. Kenya belongs to us and we need to help each other.”

Koos Bekker

South Africa

CEO, Naspers

 

Koos Bekker didn’t inherit his fortune, and has never collected a paycheck or annual bonus for the work he does, yet that has not prevented him from becoming one of the most influential and wealthiest residents of the African continent. Most of his fortune, estimated at $450 million, comes from his share of profits in Naspers. Over the last 15 years his hard work and talent has transformed Naspers from a local player into a diversified international media group with a market capitalization of $25 billion and a presence in 129 countries, including the BRICS.

Under Bekker, the Johannesburg-based company’s interests have expanded far beyond its traditional areas of publishing, newspapers and magazines. Today the group’s presence is rapidly growing in pay television and internet, with interests in a number of large companies including Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings and the Russian Mail.ru group.

Shaun le Roux, PSG Asset Management portfolio manager, was quoted on MoneyWeb as saying that “this combination of pay-TV and internet is unique.”

Bekker himself seems eager to invest in promising ideas and talent in Africa and other developing markets, regarding such investments as Nasper’s ticket to prosperity for the years to come.

Hannah Acquah

Austria

Founder and CEO, The Knowledge Channel


For millions of young Africans the dream of getting an education that will enable them to find a decent job and start their own successful businesses is coming closer with the arrival of The Knowledge Channel (TKC), officially inaugurated last spring in London.

TKC is a platform that provides e-training resources and programs online, on television and through mobile applications.

Hannah Acquah, founder and CEO, is a trained economist specializing in business and economic development strategies in Africa. Describing the channel’s goals and objectives she told ThePeoplesHub.com, “We are looking to bridge the education gap for students, young professionals, entrepreneurs in Africa as well as diasporian youths of African heritage.”

The channel that opened representative offices in Ghana and Nigeria targets primarily Africans under 25, who account for roughly 60% of the continent’s population – around 600 million people. According to Acquah, her company plans to reach out to “at least 1%” of this audience by 2014 – an ambitious goal for the TKC and its founder, which opens unprecedented horizons for Africa.

Elikem Kuenyehia

Ghana

Founder and CEO, Oxford & Beaumont


Dare to dream, but don’t dream unless you are willing to live your dream. This was the best advice ever given to Elikem Kuenyehia, a native of Ghana whose entrepreneurial fortunes have been on the rise up until now.

He was only 32 when in 2006 he started his own law firm, Oxford & Beaumont, specializing in corporate and commercial law.

“I had been disappointed and frustrated by my last job prior to Oxford & Beaumont. I had a boss with whom I did not share the same values and this affected my job significantly. As a result of that, I was keen to start an enterprise where I could imprint my own values,” he explained in an interview with Kate Douglas on the website How We Made It In Africa.

Kuenyehia’s clients certainly seem to share those values. Today, Oxford & Beaumont is a leader in its area of expertise, with offices in Accra and London. It has advised clients such as Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, Shell International, Vodafone and Citibank. Kuenyehia, who is no stranger to awards, was named a Young Global Leader in 2010 by the World Economic Forum. Young, yes – but this wise entrepreneur believes in a bright future for Africa. His words of advice to the continent’s youth?

“I’d like to encourage Africa’s young aspiring businesspeople and entrepreneurs to focus on the things they are passionate about and to pursue those passions with integrity,” he told Douglas. Kuenyehia seems certain that this formula can help make any dream come true.

Mitchell Elegbe

Nigeria

CEO, InterSwitch

 

“A lot has been said about electronic payment but perhaps the most important things we must realize is that a robust electronic payments system enhances the commercial reputation of any country, improves the investment climate, strengthens the image of the banking sector and provides the much needed vehicle for increasing economic growth, and improving welfare. Our company is committed to seeing Africa in global payment landscape,” said Mitchell Elegbe in a 2011 interview with Marketing World. As the founder and CEO of InterSwitch Limited – the largest integrated electronic payment system operator in both Nigeria and West Africa – these comments accurately mirror his entrepreneurial attitude and the nature of the business that has been the focus of his efforts over the last several years.

Today Nigeria feels too small for his company – some time ago InterSwitch started expanding into neighboring markets. For instance, recently it acquired a controlling interest in Bankom, the only licensed inter-bank settlement operator in Uganda. It also struck a partnership deal with Helios Investment Partners, a direct investment fund with a strong position in the West Africa region. This talented and ambitious entrepreneur is obviously not going to rest on his laurels.


Henry Bonsu

UK and Ghana

Co-founder and lead presenter, Colourful Radio

 

Henry Bonsu, a native of Manchester, England, has made a stellar career as a journalist in the UK, but the co-founder and lead presenter of London’s Colourful Radio makes frequent trips to Ghana, where his roots are.

“Yeah, I do hang out on the beach for some of the time and check out the night clubs and other interesting retreats”, he said, speaking to NewAfrican. “But, more seriously, I also take the opportunity to visit my relatives, which I love doing, and do some work.” Bonsu is not alone. According to him, lately many representatives of the African diaspora have moved back to their native countries from Europe.

“They do not want to become a clerk or a lower middle-manager for this or that public sector in the UK. After serving for 35 years, they do not want to retire with little more than a pension that is barely adequate”, he explains. “They actually make the conscious decision of wanting to do something in and for their country of origin,” he told the magazine.

When it comes to Bonsu’s own mission, he believes that he should serve as a bridge between Africa and African Diasporas no matter where they live. With fans and listeners on the African continent and in Europe, he has done a fantastic job so far.


Nvalaye Kourouma

USA and Ghana

CEO, Afric Xpress

 

You no longer need to be one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world to use modern mobile banking to pay for goods and services, buy prepaid air time, check your account balance or transfer money using your mobile phone.

Mobile users have recently become beneficiaries of these services in Ghana, where in 2008 Afric Xpress (AX) launched its txtnpay service.

Nvalaye Kourouma, CEO at the New York-based AX, is convinced that txtnpay is capable of transforming the lives of millions of Africans by, for example, giving them access to a system of microcredit.

Today AX is engaged in negotiations to expand its geographic coverage and business opportunities in Africa, with numerous partners including Vodafone, IDT and DSTV. If these plans come to fruition it will mean Kourouma has inched closer to realizing a dream which he formulated as a student at Harvard.

“I am dreaming of making life a little bit easier for my fellow Africans. I am scared of this challenge but I am committed to living my dreams rather than dreaming my life. I know only this will make me very happy,” he says on the Harvard Business School website.


Strive Masiyiwa

Zimbabwe, South Africa

Chairman, Econet Group

 

Strive Masiyiwa had to work hard, and spend five years in litigation, to get a mobile operator license in Zimbabwe for Econet – the IT company he founded in 1993 – ultimately shattering the state monopoly. Today Econet is a leading telecommunications operator in Zimbabwe and in neighboring Botswana, as well as in Kenya and Burundi. It is the only African company that has managed to acquire a telecommunication license in the UK and the right to build a 3G network in New Zealand.

Yet business is not Masiyiwa’s only passion. The richest man in Zimbabwe – now a permanent resident of South Africa – founded Capernaum Trust, a charitable foundation that today extends a helping hand to 28,000 orphaned children in Zimbabwe. Last year Masiyiwa donated $6.4 million towards scholarships enabling gifted African orphans to study at the Morehouse College in Atlanta, USA.

One scholarship holder, Nadjena Hamim from Burundi, is dreaming about coming back home to make life in her country better. “I have a dream of fighting ethnic divisions in my country and I am encouraged to realize my vision… After all, I believe that I was born at a time like this to serve and develop my community,” she told the Morehouse College website.

Wale Tinubu

Nigeria

CEO, Oando

 

If one is born in West Africa’s oil capital Lagos, and grows up to specialize in corporate law in the oil industry, one cannot help but become an oil trader. Wale Tinubu is Nigeria’s uncrowned oil king.

In 1994 the 27 year-old Tinubu and two friends founded Ocean and Oil Limited, the first company in Nigeria to export petroleum products abroad. Within the next several years Tinubu and his team acquired various assets, managing to transform the company now known as Oando into the second largest oil trader in Nigeria by revenue, and one of the leading local players in oil exploration and oil field services.

Oando also became the first Nigerian company to be listed beyond the borders of its country of origin. According to Tinubu, this will help implement his development plans for international markets.

“A foreign listing is the logical step for Oando to achieve its pan-African objectives,” he told CNN International.

Tinubu’s company has already gained traction in achieving this objective. Today, apart from in Nigeria, it maintains a market presence in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Benin and Togo.


Naguib Sawiris

Egypt

Former CEO, Orascom Telecom Holding
and Wind Telecom

 

In May 2011 Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris announced that he would be giving up his role as executive chairman of Orascom Telecom Holding in order to pursue his political ambitions:

“Personally, I have decided to be more focused on social and political work, aiming to play a role in the transformation of post-revolution Egypt into a civil democracy,” Forbes quoted him as saying.

The announcement came one month after the long-awaited merger of Sawiris’ Wind Telecom with the Russian VimpelCom. The newly formed company became the sixth largest mobile operator in the world, with 186 million subscribers in 21 countries. The Egyptian entrepreneur now controls an estimated 18.8% stake.

Last year he co-founded the Free Egyptians party, winning seats in the parliament. But politics, his public calling and philanthropy have never managed to stifle Sawiris’ entrepreneurial spirit. In an interview with Reuters in February, the 57-year old billionaire unveiled new plans to sell non-core assets and acquire new interests in mobile services operators and telecommunication licenses in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.




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