Africa’s Titans And Rising Stars: On Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Wealth

Despite the many challenges that the continent faced in 2014; the kidnapping of 276 school girls in Nigeria, Ebola outbreak in the West African epicenters of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone and conflicts in various African countries, there were also significant strides and gains; the continent continued to make economic headway with several African countries seeing growth and significant economic transformation, particularly Mozambique, Rwanda, Ethiopia; expansion of the middle-class and rising incomes are also driving growth; the wealthy are becoming wealthier in Africa and increasing in number; innovation from the continent was at an all-time high this year despite minimal global recognition; democracy and better governance is seemingly taking root across the continent with the majority of elections in various African countries taking a more peaceful tone.

As the world turns to Africa, dubbed the last frontier, particular attention is paid to the emerging group of political leaders, industry captains and entrepreneurs who are shaping the direction and narrative of Africa. They are a tour de force in their own right; running corporate behemoths (Dangote Group, Econet Wireless, Heirs Holdings, FamFa Oil Ltd), creating new industries and businesses (, MeTL Group, Tiossan, Java Foods), amassing wealth for some (Folorunso Alakija, Aliko Dangote, Tony Elumelu, Mohammed Dewji) or simply turning their national economies around (Rwanda, Ethiopia, Botswana, Ghana). They defined our year in business, politics and culture and we close out the year, we turn to them for our reflection on the continent’s past performance and where it is headed in 2015.

Mr. Strive Masiyiwa, Founder & Executive Chairman, Econet Wireless Group (Courtesy: Facebook)

Here are some salient business insights and advice from Africa leading business men and women that best exemplify Africa’s promise and showcase the strides and gains made in 2014.

“When will Africa catch up? We won’t, we will lead the way.” – Ashish Thakkar, Founder & CEO, Mara Group, Uganda

We are the custodians of the dreams of the middle-class of Africa.” – Sim Shagaya, Founder & CEO,, Nigeria

The good news is that the quality of leadership in Africa has been improving. We have had three generations of leaders. Generation one brought independence to Africa; they freed us from colonialism. Generation two brought nothing but havoc to Africa; warface, corruption, human rights abuses. Generation three, the stabilizer generation, cleaned up much of the mess of generation two; they are much more accountable to their people and they have improved macro-economic policies. Generation four has the unique opportunity to transform the continent. The first thing they need to do is create prosperity for the continent. The second thing that this generation needs to do is create our institutions.” – Fred Swaniker, Co-Founder & CEO, African Leadership Academy, Ghana

The state of our nation (Rwanda) is strong but to maintain the pace of progress we cannot afford to get complacent. We must work harder to protect the value of each individual life and livelihood. We have only just begun to address challenges; we must resolve to make Rwanda a self-reliant and middle-income country.”President Paul Kagame, Head of State, Rwanda

I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young (African) girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade to that beauty.” – Lupita Nyong’o, Oscar-winning Actress, Kenya

“So I am 63 and I am not yet done. What is your excuse? I never went to university and I am proud to say so because I don’t think I have done too badly. You do not have to have a university education to be able to make it; so count yourselves privileged to have education as part of the feather in your cap.” – Folorunso Alakija, Executive Vice Chairman, Famfa Oil Ltd, Nigeria

“My thoughts on wealth generation is….making money is a step by step process; a block by block process. There is no magic in being very wealthy. It is hard work, it is vision and you have to do it ethically. It is a very slow process that will get you there.” – Mohammed Dewji, Group CEO, MeTL Group, Tanzania

“If there is anyone that is going to make a difference to Africa, it is us. Africans need to tell their own stories and take control of their own fate. By nurturing our continent’s future leaders, we are gradually reaching this goal.” – Acha Leke, Senior Partner, McKinsey & Company Africa, Cameroon

“I had an opportunity to join another firm, another bank in New York and to stay on but it was a time in South Africa when we had the dawn of  the new democracy. I thought to myself, where else in the world would it make sense for a Black woman to be? There could possibly be no other place than South Africa. And really for me, the opportunity to come back and to be involved in commerce and in business in South Africa was far more appealing than anywhere else in the world.” – Phuti Mahanyele, CEO, Shanduka Group, South Africa 

The opportunity and challenge in Africa is scale – in our people, our resources and our horizons. In my business and philanthropic journeys, I have always sought ways to help inspire a generation across our continent…my fundamental belief that entrepreneurs – women and men across Africa – will lead Africa’s development and transform our futures,” – Tony Elumelu, Chairman, Heirs Holdings Limited, Transcorp PLC, & Founder, Tony Elumelu Foundation, Nigeria

“Entrepreneurship is the cornerstone to African development and the key to local value creation in Africa. I am determined to ensure that Africa’s next generation of entrepreneurs have the platform they need to turn their entrepreneurial aspirations into sustainable businesses that will drive economic growth and job creation across Africa.” – Tony Elumelu, Chairman, Heirs Holdings LimitedTranscorp PLC, & Founder, Tony Elumelu Foundation, Nigeria

“Having a great product or unique invention that the world has never seen before, is not enough for you to succeed. You must be able to build an organization and for you to manage it as it grows. Get into management and become skilled at it. Adopt best practices, benchmark yourself with the best in the world.” – Strive Masiyiwa, Founder & Executive Chairman, Econet Wireless Group, Zimbabwe

“Based on its rate of infection, experts have been projecting that Ebola could infect over 1-million people by January 2015! Ebola kills! We can stop the spread of this disease, but it requires each one of us. Yes, this is not a problem that is going to be solved by the United Nations, or the United States, or the Europeans. It can only be stopped by each one of us, acting as a global citizen. I say global citizen, because Ebola does not know borders, or race or age, or skin colour. It will kill anyone who gets infected; rich or poor, old or young. You and I must take responsibility to stop Ebola.” – Strive Masiyiwa, Founder & Executive Chairman, Econet Wireless Group, Zimbabwe

“I enjoy myself a lot but I derive more joy in working. I believe in hard work and one of my business success secrets is hard work. It’s hard to see a youth that will go to bed by 2:00AM and wake up by 5:00AM. I don’t rest until I achieve something.” – Aliko Dangote, President & CEO, Dangote Group

“It’s true that Zambia does present a number of business opportunities… but it’s also especially true that there are not enough Zambians actually stepping up and becoming entrepreneurs and running their own businesses.” – Monica Musonda, Founder & CEO, Java Foods, Zambia.

“Many are excited by improved growth rates in Africa. Growth rates in Africa are distorted by oil, gas, and mineral wealth that tends to benefit elites while creating modest numbers of jobs.  An Africa that produces value-added goods and services is the only path to large-scale job creation. I want to see Africa become respected for contributing its wisdom, beauty, and humanity to the world through the development of world-class consumer brands based on indigenous African traditions. Up until recently, all African brands sold in the West were based on tribal, safari, or pity (“buy this to help a poor African”) themes.  The slogan “Africa Rising” will mean something when we have dozens of companies respected globally for producing high quality goods and services based on our own cultural traditions.” – Magatte Wade, Founder & CEO, Tiossan, Senegal

Though tragic, Ebola has forced Africa to rediscover its own inner capabilities and find novel ways of harnessing it. The way ahead will involve closer interactions between government, business and academia. It is a new beginning for Africa.” – Dr. Calestous Juma, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Kennedy School

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