How Adewara and Oresanwo confronted Africa’s socio-economic myths at the UK-Africa Summit
The UK-Africa Investment Summit, held late January 2020, witnessed many personalities and events. High on the agenda of the summit was how to empower African women in order to boost Africa’s economic potential. There is no doubt that there is an encouraging number of African business women and workforce that are making the continent proud.
Funmi Adewara (founder and CEO of Mobihealth International) and Lolade Oresanwo (founder and Director of West Africa ENRG) were some of the Nigerian female entrepreneurs at the summit. Apart from Adewara, the four other winners of the Female Tech Founders programme from Nigeria also graced the summit after winning, last December, the African-UK Female Tech Founders 2020 Award for their innovative contributions in leveraging digital skills for inclusive and sustainable economic growth across Africa.
At the event, Adewara and Oresanwo, in a video conversation, confronted and demystified some socio-cultural and economic stereotypes about Africa.
Here are some of the myths they addressed.
Africa is one big homogenous country
Lolade Oresanwo chuckled before saying African is not one country. “Africa is a continent like every other continent—Europe, South America…” Adewara added that Africa has 54 countries with 2000 diverse languages and over 3000 tribes.
The only thing Africa has to offer is oil and natural resources
Adewara was the first to object this. “We’ve much more to give. We’ve much more to offer. We offer technology, we offer academic excellence, and we’ve human capital we’re exporting to Europe, to the US and all over the world.”
Nigerians are the most educated immigrant population in the United States. “We don’t rely on commodities alone,” she said. “Ethiopia is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with little commodity wealth and is growing at over 15 per cent.”
Oresanwo quickly jumped in. “The doctors, the architects, the engineers, they’re all over the world.” She noted that they are not just from Nigeria, that they are everywhere else from Africa. “And that’s amazing. I want us to get to a space where we see the individual, and that being an individual, not because that person is African, but because that person has something fantastic to offer.”
“Correct,” Adewara added. “Absolutely correct.”
All African businesses are corrupt or unreliable
“So far from the truth,” Adewara argued, emphasising that corruption is not just an African narrative or phenomenon. “If you do a simple Google search and you look around, the largest fraud cases are from the West not Africa.”
She agreed that corrupt businesses do exist in Africa as there are in many other countries, “but most African governments are committed to tackling corruption and strengthening of institutional capacities through economic reforms to boost investors’ confidence.”
Oresanwo agreed with Adewara. “But because our population is so large, because sometimes we come across as a little bit aggressive,” she said, “it’s convenient to name that black person as being the problem.”
Africa needs to be saved
“Africa needs to be saved, and by who?” Oresanwo asked, laughing. “Africa is going to save the world, if you ask me,” Adewara said.
“Let’s be fair. Let’s not be too cocky, because we’ve seven continents across the world and everyone is contributing to their own quarter,” Oresanwo said.
Adewara elaborated on this. “Seven African countries made the list of the top 10 fastest-growing economies in the world. The combined GDP of the continent is over $2.6 trillion dollars.”
She noted that Africa boasts the most youthful population with over 60 per cent of the population being under the age of 25 years. “This is a great asset that’s sure to advance sustainable economic growth for the continent.”
Oresanwo agreed with Adewara’s submission on the matter. “I think you’re right. I think we need to tell the right stories.” She stressed that African story from the perception of: They’re poor, they need help, they need UK aid, they need US aid, needs to stop. “What Africa needs is investment and collaborations with other continents.”
Women rarely hold positions of power in Africa
Oresanwo quickly took exception to this. “Again, everywhere else in the world, there’s a fight for gender equality, another Sustainable Development Goal. So, it’s not just in Africa.”
She emphasised that there is gender equality problem all over the world. “I proudly want to say that the current president of Ethiopia is a woman; the president of Liberia from 2005 to 2011, another woman. We’ve amazing women in Nigeria doing amazing things,” she added.
“Absolutely on point,” Adewara cuts in. She noted that gender inequality is a global issue, which is not peculiar to Africa. She also noted that Africa has made tremendous progress in this regard. “It’s a work in progress, and we’ll continue to advocate this,” she said.
It is not worth investing in Africa, we should turn to China or the US instead
Adewara succinctly explained that investors would always see risk, but people like them see opportunities, enormous opportunities. “I think the greatest risk for investors is not jumping on the ship right now to invest in Africa,” she said.
She noted that by 2050, one in four global consumers will be an African. “We’ve a strong growing middle-class of over 313 million people and African entrepreneurs are developing innovative solutions that are addressing these markets as well as the mass market.”
Oresanwo elaborated on this. She stressed that it is worth addressing the myth. “The myth is that there’s a lot of corruption, and businesses can’t survive if they invest in Africa. But businesses are doing well, and that’s what’s more important.”
She gave examples of foreign-owned investments and companies in Nigeria and Africa. “These are companies that have taken time, moved to these countries in Africa, and are thriving and are doing well. And that’s the story that needs to go out.”
Adewara cut in. “There are businesses in Africa that have consistently posted 30 per cent return on investment.”
Oresanwo asked what the contributions of these foreign-owned companies are to the GDP of African countries, even when their businesses are booming. “And if it’s not worth investing, why’re they still there?” she asked. “Why are solar companies now looking to invest in Africa? Why is America, why is China looking to invest in Africa?”
Sustainability and climate change solutions are not a thing in Africa
Oresanwo took this head-on. “Again, this is overgeneralisation. In my opinion, the population, the GDP tells it all. Yes, there’s an energy deficit in some parts of Africa, and these energy deficits are being resolved by other sustainable means of energy.”
She gave an example of how her waste management company is helping to solve energy and climate change problems. “Our company, for instance, is developing the first waste-energy facility to cater for critical services like the hospitals and schools in West Africa,” she said. “So, that’s a climate change issue because we’re taking waste that’s going to cause greenhouse gas emissions and we’re converting them to energy and ensuring that what goes into the atmosphere is clean, what people use in their homes is clean.”
Other Nigerian women who won the African-UK Female Tech Founders 2020 Award and their respective tech-driven businesses include Keturah Ovio (Limestart) that helps small informal business digitalise their businesses by helping them access credit facility, health insurance etc.; Damilola Emuze (ScholarX) is a fintech company providing education loans to Nigerian students and helping them secure jobs after their graduation; Ifeoma Hope Uddoh (Shecluded) is helping women gain access to finance to help grow their businesses; and Damilola Olokesusi (Shuttlers Mobility) is tackling traffic congestion in Lagos by providing professionals comfortable rides to and fro from their work places.
Adewara noted that the summit was impactful and rewarding. She appreciated the UK government for shining more light on the amazing innovative solutions developed by African female entrepreneurs who are often marginalised in a highly patriarchal society.
“Although Africa boasts the largest percentage of women entrepreneurs, most of them start from the base and are locked in a slow-growth for many years,” she said “The cultural biases, lack of access to capital, network and skills are major barriers to scaling up their ventures. Yet, women have been shown to deliver more value both in immediate and in long term.”
Dr Funmi Adewara is a UK-based medical doctor and the founder of Mobihealth International, a United Nation endorsed telemedicine company deploying affordable quality healthcare through an app that enables people anywhere in the world, but particularly in Africa, to connect with medical doctors globally through their mobile devices and solar and sitcom equipped mobile clinics.
“The summit gave us the opportunity to showcase our work, network, pitch to investors and to prospective clients, and also to connect with mentors that can help us scale up our businesses,” she said. “We hope other young girls and women can find some inspiration through us, to think big and shatter barriers. Importantly, the summit will help to grow the economy for African countries and the UK.”
On the other hand, Lolade Oresanwo left her banking career in 2012 to set up West Africa ENRG, a waste management company based in Nigeria that manages more than nine landfills in the country, thereby returning waste to the production cycle. Interestingly, out of the three thousand people that work with her company, seventy per cent are women.
“That’s a deliberate move,” she said. “We deliberately employ women. It helps them, it helps their children. And I say to them: It doesn’t matter if you’re educated, as long as you show me that you’ve the drive and tenacity, I’ll make you a business manager. That’s our ethos.”