Tony Elumelu, chairman of Heirs Holdings, says the stereotypical image of Africa portrayed in the media is the continent’s greatest challenge as it discourages investors from investing in the continent.
Elumelu made this statement while speaking at a gathering of policymakers and development experts hosted by UK’s foreign policy institute at the Chatham House.
He said: “I believe that the greatest challenge Africa has as a continent when it comes to attracting investment is in the way it is portrayed. Information presented about Africa is neither holistic nor properly contextualized, and has led to the kind of narrative that we have had for so long on Africa.
“As an investor, when all you have heard about Africa is corruption, how would you pass a positive investment decision to go and invest in the continent? The result is that the vicious cycle of neglect continues and is even reinforced.
“We must reset the way we see and discuss Africa. People do business with people they are comfortable with. Investors who repeatedly hear horrible things about our people and the continent will never invest here.
“We will continue to host national gatherings and seminars to discuss unemployment, poverty and income inequality if we do not fix the existing information asymmetry, the poor quality of information that is put out.”
Elumelu, who is the founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, encouraged public and private sector stakeholders to increase support to African SMEs, describing them as “the lifeblood of our economy”.
He called for targeted support to grow small businesses into structures that are capable of becoming big corporations in the future emphasising that only 700 companies generate over $500 million in annual revenue, which is half the number in other regions of the world.
He said SMEs should be prioritised because of the relationship between security and prosperity, “when there is prosperity, security is not an issue, but when there are fewer jobs, insecurity heightens”.
Elumelu urged multilateral institutions and developed nations in the West to rethink the effects of sanctions and other policies meant to serve as a deterrent to certain leaders as the masses bear the brunt.
“Developed nations must look at the efficacy of sanctions and who truly bears the brunt of these policies. You will find that the masses are the ones who suffer most,” he said.