Meet the ‘Africapitalist’ who wants to power Africa

newsroom@tri-statedefender.com | 11/12/2013, 9:11 a.m.

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.

"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."

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.

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.

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.