Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Tony Elumelu: The 'Africapitalist' who wants to power Africa

From Earl Nurse and Jill Dougherty, CNN
November 12, 2013 -- Updated 1018 GMT (1818 HKT)
Nigerian businessman Tony Elumelu is the founder and chairman of Nigeria-based investment company Heirs Holdings. Nigerian businessman Tony Elumelu is the founder and chairman of Nigeria-based investment company Heirs Holdings.
HIDE CAPTION
The Africapitalist
'Power Africa'
The Africapitalist
The Africapitalist
<<
<
1
2
3
4
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nigerian entrepreneur Tony Elumelu is pioneering the concept of Africapitalism
  • He says long-term investments in key sectors can create both commercial and social wealth
  • Elumelu founded in 2010 Nigeria-based investment company Heirs Holdings
  • It has pledged to invest $2.5 billion to back the "Power Africa" campaign

(CNN) -- You've probably heard by now about the Afropolitans and the Afropreneurs -- but what about the Africapitalists?

It's the term created by Nigerian entrepreneur Tony Elumelu, one of Africa's most successful businessmen, to describe what he believes holds the key to the continent's future well-being.

According to Elumelu, Africapitalism is the economic philosophy "that the African private sector has the power to transform the continent through long-term investments, creating both economic prosperity and social wealth."

Elumelu champions the idea that long-term focus on key sectors such as infrastructure and power does not only offer high returns but, in the process, can also help Africa deal with pressing problems such as unemployment and food security.

Can 'Africapitalism' transform Africa?
How Elumelu's father inspired him
Nigerian economist's bold investments

"The information people have about Africa in America and the western world is one of aid, one of squalor, one of poverty, one of religious crisis," says Elumelu, who first found success after turning a struggling Nigerian bank into a global financial institution. "They need to begin to see that Africa is a continent of economic opportunities -- a lot of potential and the returns on investment in Africa is huge."

Read this: Africa's mega projects

Backing his words with actions, Elumelu, the former chief executive of the United Bank for Africa, who went on to create investment company Heirs Holdings in 2010, has pledged $2.5 billion to U.S. President Barack Obama's "Power Africa" initiative -- a campaign aiming to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.

CNN's African Voices spoke to Elumelu about Africapitalism, doing business in Africa and his goals for the future. An excerpt of the interview follows.

CNN: What is Africapitalism and how does it work?

Tony Elumelu: From interacting with customers, with communities, with local governments, state governments and national governments, I started to see a pattern that indeed we can as a private sector help to develop Africa in a manner that's truly sustainable. I also, as a good student of economic history, have observed the development of the African continent and come to realize that despite all the aid inflows into Africa and despite our sovereign government commitment to develop in the continent, not much was achieved.

But ... if we can mobilize the African private sector and non-African private sector operating in Africa to think long-term, to invest long-term in Africa in key sectors, then we might end up creating economic wealth, economic prosperity and social wealth. That is Africapitalism.

CNN: Which areas does the private sector in Africa focus on?

TE: The private sector in Africa was largely dependent on government patronage, government contracts. But today, it has changed significantly. You have the private sector in Africa today that is adding real value to the economy through engagements in payment systems; through engagement in key infrastructure projects; through engagement in manufacturing and processing of raw materials in Africa and exporting this within the continent.

Read this: Ghana plans $10 billion tech city

So it's a significant shift from where the private sector was before to where it is today and we're beginning to see a new crop of private sector people in Africa who believe under the sun that they have a role to play in the development of the continent.

We're beginning to see a new crop of private sector people in Africa who believe ... that they have a role to play in the development of the continent.
Tony Elumelu, Heirs Holdings

CNN: Why did Heirs Holding decided to commit $2.5 billion to the "Power Africa" initiative?

TE: Because we understand as Africapitalists the importance of power, access to electricity, in unleashing the economic potential of Africa. Because of that, we felt since we preach that the private sector should do long-term investment in Africa in key sectors, there is no sector at this point in time to us that is as strategic as power sector in dealing with the issue of economic empowerment, democratization of economic prosperity across the continent than power.

CNN: Looking ahead, what do you think is going to be the most important source of power?

TE: Africa is coming from a deficit position -- only 20% of 1.2 billion people have access to electricity. So we need to think of the kind of projects that will help us create the quantum leap we need in power. And I think that that is what should guide the options that we take.

Read this: Can Africa unlock solar potential?

So for me, I believe that we need five years of sustained, massive billion dollar investments (in the) power sector in Africa before we come to the level where we need to discriminate, is it this kind of power or that type of power? But let there be light first in Africa.

CNN: What are your goals for the future?

TE: My goals for the future are twofold -- one is personal and two is about the continent. For my personal goal I would like to continue to impact my team. Because you get to a certain level where you wake up in the morning not necessarily because you want to earn a living -- you wake up in the morning I think about impact, about legacies, what impact am I going to leave behind?

And so I decide to look at the African continent and I tell myself this is a continent that is about to explode but lacks certain vital ingredients. And so what role can I play in making sure that some of those challenges are addressed in my lifetime, so that my children will not as a kind of question I asked of my parents and grandparents, where were they when the war started?

So that's important to me. And that is why we invest in power. Not just because I want to make more money, which is good, but because we touch lives significantly making that money.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
African Voices
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Australia's Tim Cahill appeals to the linesman after a disallowed goal during the Group B match between Chile and Australia at Arena Pantanal on June 13, 2014 in Cuiaba, Brazil.
Kenya's national football team may not have made it to the World Cup Finals in Brazil -- but one man will be there for his African nation.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1044 GMT (1844 HKT)
African contemporary art is thriving, says author Chibundu Onuzo.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1239 GMT (2039 HKT)
Mulenga Kapwepwe
Mulenga Kapwepwe has single-handedly created an explosion of arts in Zambia.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
Wegkruipertjie, a short film playing at the Durban International Festival
From Ghanaian rom-coms to documentaries celebrating 20 years of South African democracy, festival-goers are spoiled for choice at this year's Durban Film Fest.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Kalibala with one of the children she supports.
In 2010, Ugandan journalist Gladys Kalibala embarked on a mission to bring attention to her country's lost and abandoned children.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Sunset at Camps Bay with one of Andrew van de Merwe.
A trip to the beach is usually for lounging in the sun. But for Andrew van de Merwe, the sand stretches in front of him as an enormous blank canvas.
June 17, 2014 -- Updated 1240 GMT (2040 HKT)
Esther Mbabazi, Rwanda's first female pilot
Esther Mbabazi wheels her bag towards the airstairs of the Boeing 737 sitting quietly on the tarmac at Kigali International Airport.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1122 GMT (1922 HKT)
Jun 1978: Filbert Bayi #42 of Tanzania rounds the bend during the 5000 Metre event at the AAA Championships in Crystal Palace, London.
He's smashed world records and revolutionized running during his career. And yet the name of Filbert Bayi has largely been forgotten.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1249 GMT (2049 HKT)
Nelson Mandela
Adrian Steirn and the 21 ICONS team have captured intimate portraits of some of South Africa's most celebrated. Here he reveals the story behind the photographs.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 0926 GMT (1726 HKT)
Explore a series of artistic street portraits designed to pay tribute to the people of the Sudanese capital.
August 5, 2014 -- Updated 1557 GMT (2357 HKT)
A growing list of popular African authors have been steadily picking up steam --and fans -- across the globe over the last several years.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1835 GMT (0235 HKT)
South Africa Music Legends stamps
Artist Hendrik Gericke puts a spotlight on iconic musical legends from South Africa in these incredible monochrome illustrations.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
David Kinjah njau and Davidson Kamau kihagi of Kenya in action during stage 2 of the 2007 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race.
He's one of Kenya's premier cyclists but David Kinjah's better known as the man that trained Tour de France champion Chris Froome.
Each week African Voices brings you inspiring and compelling profiles of Africans across the continent and around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT