Africa Day: A seat for corporates on history’s table

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Over 500 years ago, an estimated 25 to 30 million Africans including men, women and children embarked on a perilous journey on the Atlantic Ocean, betrayed by their kin and sold as slaves to foreign merchants from different parts of the world. Today that history may be a distant memory to millions of the new generation but it still contributes significantly to the narrative of Africa as a continent with the most need for human capital development.

It was that narrative the progenitors of the Africa Day sought to change. Africa Day is the annual commemoration of the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) on 25 May, 1963. 32 countries came together to form the organisation, with the goal of bringing total freedom to African countries who were still under colonial rule, defend their sovereignty, uphold human rights and restore the dignity of the African people.

However, many years after, the burden of African development and unity still weighs heavy, largely because the responsibility of taking Africa into the next level of development is seen primarily as a problem of the political leadership.

Growth and developments in other continents has however shown that it is more a collective effort. It will require government, citizens and even businesses to care enough to look at yesterday, do something about today in other to have a better tomorrow.

Being the drivers of capital that make development possible, corporate entities have even bigger obligation to history than many people will think. The rise and fall of any nation has often had a direct link to the role movers of economic activities played. The foundations of economic power of countries like United States, China, United Kingdom and many others lend themselves to trade activities involving companies. These activities have also led to some of the major and deadliest wars fought by mankind.

Today in Africa, United Bank for Africa (UBA) is arguably the biggest corporate entity that has sought to toe the line of great organisations in the past that shaped the trajectory of history of their societies.

At a recent Africa Day celebration, Tony Elumelu, chairman of the bank said Africa deserves to look forward from its inglorious past, learn from its mistakes and create a new tomorrow that its children should be proud. For him that task should not be left to the government alone.

He also believes that the involvement of corporate entities would fast-track the unification of the African continent. Although corporate entities, like UBA operate within a geographical territory, they nevertheless have the propensity to go beyond borders and through recruitment unite people of diverse cultures, languages and orientations. The cost of development projects in most African cities is very huge and could seem impossible for any African nation to undertake. However, this could become an opportunity for businesses to leverage with the right leadership.

UBA’s footprint seen in many countries in Africa demonstrates what is possible if private sector play an active role in Africa’s developmental project. For instance, the bank’s developmental strides in Cameroon – a francophone country – go as far back as 2008. It has been involved in financing projects which touch on agriculture, energy, transport, manufacturing, telecommunications, infrastructure and other fabrics of national life.

For specifics, the bank released over $125 million (over FCFA70 billion) to refinance the shareholder loans used to pre-finance Dangote’s cement operations in Douala. The result is that the quantity of cement produced in Cameroon grows by 1.6 million metric tons per annum and significantly lower the price of the product in the country. The bank also provided over $12 million to energy company, Gaz Du Cameroon to finance its capital expenditure program in 2017. It is also involved in financing the construction of two stadiums in Cameroon – the 60,000 seat Olembe Stadium in Yaounde and the 50,000 capacity Japoma Stadium in Douala.

The bank also has so far invested over $80 billion in Gabon, a central African country with rich natural resources and a population of 1.7 million people. In 2015 for instance, UBA helped finance Gabon government’s budget deficit to the tune of $8.3 million, while $1.67 million went to the acquisition of a power station from Wartsila of Finland. It had earlier invested £3.04 million in a road maintenance program comprising of different kind of works such as restoration of roads without bitumen.

In Ghana where UBA has created employment through its 28 branches and over 50 ATM terminals, deposits for the past four years rose from GHC350 million to the GHC1 billion mark through 2016 figures of over GHC3 billion. In return, the bank provided GHC274.6 million facility to the government of Ghana for routine maintenance and rehabilitation of major roads in the country. It also facilitated the completion of the second phase of a 1,300 bed-capacity SRC hostel accommodation for students through a GHC2.3 million syndicated loan.

In his Africapitalism theory (an economic philosophy that embodies the private sector’s commitment to the economic transformation of Africa through investments that generate both economic prosperity and social health), Tony Elumelu noted that “Africa’s renaissance lies in the confluence of the right business and political action.” In other words, political will must meet private sector for there to be meaningful development across Africa.

The table of change is set, but for Africa to look to tomorrow with hope, the corporates must be given a seat on the table in order to create a history that Africa’s

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