LSE Africa Business Summit
After a stressful week at work, rising at 6:30 am on a Saturday and racing to Holborn must sound unideal right? Wrong – at least insofar as you’re up and out to hear the brightest minds in business and politics discuss development issues and their solutions vis-à-vis Africa. I arrived at LSE’s New Academic Building, caught up with the Movemeback team and was shown to the LSE Africa Summit forum by a lovely Urbanisation and Development Master’s student named Susannah. I hadn’t even been in the premises for ten minutes when I realised what a diverse and rich audience would be present at this event that I had been looking forward to for weeks.
LSE Director and President, Professor Craig Calhoun, kicked off the event with a warm welcome before passing the stage onto Nigeria’s new Vice-President-Elect, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Osinbajo interestingly touched upon what his perceived essentials for governance, including good values and ethics in government and the need for Nigeria’s new presidency to embrace the aforementioned. In addition, Osinbajo spoke about the importance of policy makers operating transparently and committing to and maintaining high standards. Osinbajo also highlighted the government’s plans to improve living standards. The example he provided was that of power extension: power extension = more light = longer hours at work = more trading = more business = more jobs = less unemployment and so on. Moreover, he admitted that the greatest escape out of poverty is education, underlining the positive correlation between education and economic prosperity.
As a believer in education being the root of all good – or bad – I agree with Professor Osinbajo and hope that his government does improve Nigeria’s economic prosperity and living standards through educating its population.
I hope that by doing this innovatively the country acts as an example for other African countries and the developing world. As, however, some audience members rightly enquired: What about Nigeria’s poor infrastructure? What about healthcare? What about engaging the electorate in the government’s new opportunities? Whilst Professor Osinbajo provided satisfactory answers to all of the questions, I practice patience when it comes to politicians and their promised policies… We’ll have to wait and see but at least we know that Nigeria’s Vice-President-Elect understands what is required for further development in this country.
After a round of applause we were presented with our first panel. The topic was African governance and all three speakers, active citizen, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, Founder of Mandela Institute for Development Studies, Dr Nkosana Moyo and Governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, discussed issues with rigour, personality and context specific examples. I initially thought I’d be most impressed by Dr Ramphele, who started by highlighting the important role of the citizen in influencing governance: ‘The citizen needs to assume his role as the owner of the democratic system.’ However As the conversation turned and twisted, I found myself equally attracted to all three speakers. The Governor was perhaps correct in claiming that, ‘Democracy is a joke to a man under grinding poverty’ – the poor who took to streets of Syria might have an alternative viewpoint on this topic. And, on the theme of the Arab Spring, Dr Moyo made the well-received point that, ‘Revolution is not natural, evolution is.’ This point is preceded by his claim that ‘When you destroy something, it is very difficult to rebuild it’.
Nonetheless, the first panel were interesting and passionate. They provided the audience with insight and some entertainment too – although I wasn’t sure about Fawaz’s, who mediated conversation, referring to one of the audience member’s question as a ‘Hamlet-style monologue.’ A tad harsh no?
After some coffee and biscuits we returned to the lecture room for the second conversation. It was somewhat disheartening to notice the fall in numbers but I suppose it was only to the loss of those who left because this panel was enlightened and correct in its estimations. It included Obinna Ukuani, an entrepreneur in the technology space who founded an academy in Nigeria called Exposure Robotics Academy. The panel also included Dr Patrick Awuah, the Founder of Ashesi University, Thierry N’Doufou the CEO of Qelasy and Dr Chinwe Efiong the President of Junior Achievement Africa.
The first milestone thought that crossed my mind did so whilst N’Doufou was talking about the backpack-less generation he envisaged: “school pupils need nothing but tablets to go to school or in fact, study.” I was thinking, ‘okay, cool, but what happens when your tablets get wet?’ As if we were telepathically connected N’Doufou justified his position stating: “‘the Qelasy tablet is waterproof, heatproof, dust-proof…”’ basically life-proof and maybe maybe it does provide a relevant solution for mobile learning. Either way, I do like picking up a pen and being able to see my own handwriting sometimes.
The pervasive theme on the topic of ‘Harnessing the potential of Africa’s youth’ was one of instilling integrity amongst Africa’s students. Dr Awuah claimed that ‘Students need to own the integrity system’ after describing an incident in which one of the professors at his university had caught children cheating. It made me think: if young people understood why cheating is wrong and applied this wisdom it would be impossible to have anything but a transparent government. As students self-regulate, integrity in education will become integrity in the workplace which can only serve to enhance the credibility of Africa organisations.
On the topic innovative ways for inspiring the youth, Ukuani correctly pointed out that it’s important to engage children (in technology) from a ‘position of curiosity and a love of doing it’ and that this can be applied to every aspect of education in the developed and developing world. Finally, Dr Effiong reminded us that it’s never really too late: just because somebody doesn’t come from the most advantageous background and ‘lacks [the] critical foundations,’ they can still be caught ‘slipping through cracks’ and turn their lives around. Here’s to more organisations like Junior Achievement Africa or Young Enterprise, as it’s known in the UK, catching falling kidsand helping them to tap into their potential!
After panel two – and a happily received lunch – it was time to talk about Public Health with philanthropist and Founding-President of the Well-Being Foundation Africa (WBFA), Toyin Saraki. Bright Simmons, president of the mPedigree Network, who have he pioneered a system which enables users to check the authenticity of their medication by sending a free text message, also joined the panel. if that isn’t innovation I don’t know what is!, Dr. Ola Orekunrin, a medical doctor and founder of Flying Doctors Nigeria, oh, and a trained helicopter pilot provided interesting analogies and humour! Finally, the panel also hosted Dr Michael Elelstein, also a medical doctor and a research fellow at the Centre for Global Health Security, Chatham House.
I enjoyed Dr Orekunrin’s (centre left) analogy for functionality v. quality qua Primark heels in favour of finding the most cost-effective way of delivering healthcare in Africa through innovating. She wowed me in discussing her putting an intensive care unit in a commercial airline and thereby somewhat mind-blowingly reducing the price of treating a patient from £10,000 to £300. However, Simmons (far left) stole the show for me. I have since quoted him: ‘We don’t want a sick-care system’. UK research also evidences this point – read Sir John Holden’s ‘The Whole Patient’ for more. The great thing is that in Africa there is the chance to ensure that a health-care system does prevail.
The panel also discussed the taboo of even discussing sexual health in Africa as regards women’s health and child-birth mortality rates. The importance of destroying its surrounding stigma was expressed by Saraki (centre right) and agreed with by the other panellists – ‘We need social re-engineering’ said Dr Orekunrin – as well as audience members. Dr Elelstein (far right) reminded us that ‘any dollar you invest in health will bring you a better return (than any other venture)’ which was as relevant for the need to focus on mental health, brought up by Simmons, in addition to sexual health.
The day ended with the Business and Finance panel in which we were firstly reminded by Hon. Jean-Louis Billon (far left) of the importance of a stable economy for development: ‘without a strong economy, we go no-where.’ He stated: ‘You can’t have business if you don’t have security and you can’t have security until you have growth’. The panel also included the very animated and encouraging Charles Robertson (far right), a leading emerging markets specialist and Renaissance Capital’s Global Chief Economist and Head of the Firm’s Macro-strategy Unit. His push for young people to research and tips – e.g. ‘You have to compare countries in terms of their per capita GDP relative to their development – made me wish my student card was still operational!
The conversation took a turn from indirect research tips to farming chocolate to visas to taxes with Dr Frannie Léautier (centre left), the Chairperson and Co-Founding Partner of Mkoba Private Equity Fund, highlighting capacity that must exist for new ways to make and market chocolate, and getting the farmers involved in processes, unlocking their ‘entrepreneurial spirits!’ Also discussed the excellent opportunities that are available through regional integration in Africa, getting rid of the excessive visas Africans need to travel around the continent! Acha Leke, who heads McKinsey in Lagos, Nigeria drew our stimulating day to a suitable close in responding to a cheeky question from an audience member: ‘What’s your winning sales pitch that persuades foreign companies to invest in Africa?’ Leke avoided leaking any McKinsey secrets and responded: ‘I tell these companies the Africa growth story…too many people think of Africa as a challenge and I say, look at it as an opportunity’. And I guess that’s what the LSE Africa Summit and MoveMeBack are both about: the opportunity in Africa.
I’d just like to end on a final note about the chairs of the day, Mimi Fawaz a contributor on CNN and freelancer for the Pan-African TV channel Voxafrica TV, Afua Hirsch a broadcast and print journalist, specialising in social affairs and West Africa. Imad Mesdoua is a political analyst and consultant specialising in the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa and the multi-lingual BBC World Service Africa Editor is Solomon Mugera. All of the day’s chairs were charismatic, engaging and asked the right questions – again Fawaz … a tad harsh.
Praise is due to the LSE for hosting and ensuring the day ran smoothly in spite of the African timing!