SESSION 9 in the webinar series Crisis Management for African Business Leaders
A moderated discussion on how the current crises, health and economic, have focussed a bright light on numerous social issues facing Africans including inequitable access to healthcare, the economic vulnerability of workers, occupational safety and wellbeing, temporary improvements in air and water quality resulting from lockdowns, police brutality and excessive use of force, disparities in access to technology, and more.
This panel explores what next-generation leaders expect from business leadership today. Social movements can organize overnight, and many brands are caught off-guard if they have not demonstrated leadership on these issues, or if they do not address the issues in ways that are perceived as genuine and impactful.
Intro Remarks: Sim Tshabalala, Group Chief Executive, SBG and Executive Director, SBSA, Standard Bank Group
Special Guest Speaker: Jide Zeitlin, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Tapestry, Inc. (parent company of luxury brands Coach, Kate Spade, and Stuart Weitzman)
Moderator: Kamil Olufowobi, CEO, Most Influential People of African Descent (MIPAD) 100 Under 40
- Tara Durotoye, Founder & CEO, House of Tara International
- Vanessa Nakate, Activist, Climate Change
- Diallo Shabazz, Co-Founder, Birthright AFRICA
- Vusi Thembekwayo, CEO, MyGrowthFund Venture Capital
- Phyllis Wakiaga, CEO, Kenya Association of Manufacturers
- Adebola Williams, Co-Founder & CEO, Red Media Africa
For more information on the speakers in this session, please visit VirtualConferenceAfrica.com
The following transcription begins at the point where Sim Tshabalala introduces Jide Zeitlin.
Sim Tshabalala: Thank you ever so much Teresa and good afternoon from Johannesburg. I have the great honor and privilege of introducing our keynote speaker today Mr. Jide Zeitlin, Chairman and Chief Executive of the Tapestry Group and Chairman of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority. Jide is a great American, a great African, a great international business leader and a fundamentally great human being. Some of his political consciousness and commitment was formed during his time in South Africa and apartheid; a very dark time. He is a shining example of what hope, courage, solidarity and commitment to universal human rights can achieve.
This morning, I saw a photograph of George Floyd’s young daughter. Her sad eyes just visible above her loss and I was filled again with unspeakable sorrow. As Jide has said, and as Dr. Martin Luther King has said before him, it is intolerable that African-Americans are still subject to such routine gratuitous brutality, and are still stuck at the bottom of every social and economic ladder. It is 400 years since the first enslaved people were abducted from their homes in Africa and shipped to North America. 244 years since the Declaration of Independence insisted that all people are created equal, and 56 years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act. And yet, here we are again.
Here in Africa, we too have seen casual brutality by police and military against citizens they are meant to protect. Too often, we have seen the great founding documents of our states and our African Union apparently ignored. And we too have experienced what often feels like halting progress in the fight for justice, equality and human development. We would be less than human if we did not sometimes feel the temptation to give way to despair, to surrender to cynicisms and to preach revenge and practice destruction. But if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that the path to despair leads only to more despair. That cynicism is bad, and the choice to destroy leads only to more destruction.
This is why thoughtful and hopeful voices like Jide’s are so important. Why his example is so crucial, and why we have so much to learn from the fact that he is an iconic figure. A Fortune 500, Chief Executive of African heritage. As Jide says, the only path forward is to reinforce the great founding documents. Indeed such as the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. I have to quote it. Quote Article 4 thereof it says, “Human beings are invaluable. Every human shall be entitled to respect for his life and the dignity of his person.” We must take the documents at their word. Whether or not yet obeyed we must woe them into reality.
We do so by insisting on our changed humanity and our equal dignity. We do so by active anti-racism. We do so by building and supporting strong transparent rule bound institutions in government, business and in civil society. We do so by identifying and approaching the underlying causes of inequality in our countries and in the world. And we do so by creating paths to inclusion and opportunity for everyone. The road ahead is long and there will be many more verses and retreats along the way. We have many friends and many allies of all races and backgrounds throughout the world. Our rights were sometimes neglected and more often secured by our country’s laws and by solemn international covenants. None of it was true when Dr. King or Nelson Mandela or Ruth First or Kwame Nkrumah or Graca Machel were young. It would insult the memory of our great fathers and mothers not to use the immense resources at our disposal as corporate leaders to both the institutions that make rights real. To pursue equality of opportunity and above all to keep creating hope. In fact there’s much to be hopeful about. This is a dark month in a dark year, probably the hardest of our lifetimes. But it is inarguable that we’re far closer now in 2020 than we were a generation ago to extending the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not merely to members of favored nations or races or genders, but to all of humanity. Ladies and gentlemen, it is now my great honor to invite Mr. Jide Zeitlin to address us.
Jide Zeitlin: Thank you for including me in this important conversation. I’m particularly grateful to you Sim for such powerful words of introduction. So thank you very much. As I thought about this conversation, one of the questions that turned in my head was, “What does the discontent that’s playing out on the streets of America have to do with Africa? Why is it relevant if one is sitting on the African continent particularly as a business leader?” I begin by saying that, what’s happening in America is systemic. There is a lot of discussion in America around, “Well, it’s just a few bad apples.” It’s not really systemic either in an American context or in a global context. I’d argue otherwise, that it clearly and it’s as Sim mentioned in his opening comments.
This is not a new narrative. This is in an American context a 400 year old narrative. It’s a longer narrative down in African context, but it’s one that began in Africa with the removal of Africans from the continent and being taken to America. It’s one that at its part is based on economic exploitation. Until one really gets underneath the systemic processes and systems that have been put into place in America, it’s actually hard to begin changing many of the outcomes. Talk about Chinedu and others, the types of outcomes, the types of events that we’re seeing in America. That said if one thinks about for example, what’s happening with Africans in China throughout this pandemic. One realizes, “Okay, it may be happening in a very viral and visible way in America but it ultimately ends up having an impact in other places such as China.” Because a lot, and I’m not picking on China at all because it also was all talk about in a moment, also has real ramifications on the African continent. But the thought process, the systemic denigration of black people, has been launched throughout the West. Has been exported to Asia, and frankly it’s also very, very visible and very present on the continent itself.
Sim mentioned that one of my roles as chair of the Sovereign Wealth and Fund in Nigeria… And it’s all striking to me that prior to the pandemic; I’ve been spending a lot more time on the continent and in Nigeria in particular. But even now as we have board calls via Zoom, I’m always struck by the degree of the same type of systemic issues that I see in America in many ways, a different form of it taking place in a Nigerian context; whether it’s religion, whether it’s different ethnic groups. A lot of it was captured in the sixty political zones. You see many of the same types of dysfunctional, inefficient types of behavior taking place. Nigeria would be so much more powerful if many of the lines that were artificially drawn in terms of orders, many of the lessons taken, were not present there. Many of you know we can have that conversation across the continent in so many different countries.
So for me, as I sat a little bit over a week ago and I watched a lot of my peers in other corporations start making statements, I saw a lot of statements that to me felt relatively typical safe corporate. Where they would say that they are unhappy with the events taking place, but wouldn’t really talk its core about what were the causes of the events taking place. So I sat down on a Sunday morning and I began writing. I wrote a note to our 25,000 or so employees around the globe, and I felt that this was the moment as a corporate leader to recognize our humanity. Each of us as individuals to be willing to be vulnerable to our people by sharing what I really thought. And to hopefully enable our people to feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their thoughts with their colleagues, and so many more conversations than I could have. And a lot of it came back to something that I do think is also very relevant in African context, but in an American context we talk about diversity and inclusion. Diversity meaning, “What’s your mix of people of different ethnic backgrounds, and across gender and other metrics of sexual orientation etcetera?” And an inclusion being, “Real focus on what’s the culture.” Is there a culture that celebrates, that rewards people who come really as themselves to various conversations internally?
And my belief is that ultimately, if America is going to get through this, ‘not just this current period but what has been known as the same culture on a 400 year process’ it’s going to get through it not despite its diversity but because of its diversity. And because of the foundational impact that black Americans and Americans of African descent have had on the country and will have on the country. And very much from the perspective of that, the more you have different perspectives, different voices in any conversation; the stronger the solutions, the stronger the insights are that you are going to bring from that. And then when I think about across the African continent, amount of diversity that is Africa, the amount of strength, resources and insights that are represented across the continent, I believe that one of the great, real untapped strengths of Africa and African businesses in particular, is tapping into that diversity of perspectives, of insights, of experience. And that particularly is one thing from a corporate perspective, the resources that African corporations marshal.
You just heard that the Standard has got a $10 billion market cap and gotten a substantial amount in capital. If you reflect that across so many of the companies that are represented here in this meeting, the impact that corporations can have as a force for good across the continent both in terms of supporting your employees, supporting their ability to come to work, bringing their full selves to work and bringing their insights that will be different from the person to their left, to their right, to solving not just the problems of the corporation about, how to grow your top-line? How to grow your margins and profitability? But ultimately realizing that, “Corporations exist within an ecosystem. Within a community: a community of people, a community of behaviors.” And that to an extent, we as corporations can model certain behaviors. That we can act again as forces of good in our community. Often in communities where there are fewer good examples of that even at a government level than one with hope.
So I do very much believe the old fashioned where we said corporations only real requirement or responsibility was to its stockholders. It’s just that it’s old fashioned to the extent that we look at ourselves as leaders in a broader community. Literally, the communities, the towns, the country that we do business in, our people, our employees, more broadly to our consumers or customers as importantly as ever, the more successful we’ll ultimately be as businesses. But also the more we can really have a systemic impact to the extent that the environment we’re in, economy that work, the countries that we’re in, economies that were part of, are larger and growing. That’s only going to benefit us as corporations. So we just say thank you for an opportunity to share a few words, a bit of perspective. But I would ask you not to look at your television screens, at your smartphones, your ipads, and read what’s going on in America as though it’s something that’s going on in a faraway land that is not so relevant to what it is you do each day. The roots of what’s going on in America began clearly on the African continent. But importantly, the lessons that we learn, the insights to be taken, are lessons that are as relevant on the African continent as they are on the North American continent. The more we all model certain behaviors, certain vulnerabilities, as we listen to and bring in the full intelligence, the full experience of our employees, the greater of a positive impact we can have on development, on advancement, on the way of life in and across so many countries on the African continent.
I’d say this Teresa, the fact that I’ve been on the board, that I was chairman of the board before I became CEO, ‘it’s a little bit upside down in terms of the way that went’ actually doesn’t play in as much. I was thinking about it as you said. You said that Standard Bank has a 10 billion market cap. Tapestry has a $5 billion market cap, right? When I first joined the board at Tapestry, we had a $25 billion market cap. So we’ve gotten to find the long way, and part of the reason I’m CEO is because I was brought in to turn around this business and take it back to another level. But as I often say to my colleagues, I fired one CEO. I know how easy that is to do. I now serve at basically the comfort level, the support level of my board, and my stockholders. So I make decisions based on what I believe is right. Not based on some sense of comfort because I was on the board, or I came from the board, that somehow I’m protected. I’m not and I shouldn’t be protected. I should ultimately have to stand on my own two legs in terms of commercial performance and impact broader performance.
So, long way to say the following: First, ‘and it’s something that both you and Sim said’ these are historic times. Let’s make sure there’s no mistake about this. 50 years from now, 100 years from now, people are going to be writing about this moment in time with the global pandemic impact that we’ve had. And then now clearly in the US, but also in many other parts of the world; the social discomfort that is playing itself out. So if you can’t speak up and speak honestly now about what you believe, what you’re experiencing, whenever are you going to speak out? This is the moment that I think enables and empowers one to be outspoken. But I also do believe that if you focus on doing the right thing or what your best intentions believe is the right thing, while it may not be well received in the near-term by some people, in the long-term I really do believe it will be well received by your corporation, by your colleagues.
I laugh in these two brief anecdotes. One was, after I wrote my letter I sent it to our head of corporate communications and to my executive committee. And I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to get back. We all sat at home, and it’s not like the old days. It was here in New York where you would sit around the table and maybe share things. And I wasn’t sure whether they’re going to come back and say, “You’ve lost your mind. You cannot send this to all of our employees.” And I was burdened that they came back and said, “This is an important message and we’re very supportive of it right now.” At the same time, I noticed that a number of the suggested line edits were to take out certain things that would make it a little bit more comfortable from a corporate perspective. And that would include things such as the specific line I put in there which said, “Black lives family.” And it was important for me to say that; to just acknowledge it very directly. And then also, a couple of lines where I called out certain specific geographies of the US as historically not being as strong and I said, “I think these are important. I want to put them out there.” So it’s a chance, and there’s no right answer in terms of exactly where you land. But I would argue you’re not pushing your sense of what is the right thing to do. Particularly, in moments such as this you’re not likely to have as much of an impact as you might hope to have.
The second thing I’d say, I was on a call with my executive committee last night where somebody took us through some of the reactions that we’ve seen out there. And they walked us through, particularly social media. And the number of subscribers who have cancelled their subscription, whether it’s our Instagram page or some of our other pages is noticeable. In the last week since I wrote my letter, we’ve seen a number of people just unsubscribe. And as I laughed I said, “I think we should put a posting up there of a doorknob with the statement, ‘Don’t let it hit you in the rear end on your way out the door’.” In the long run, we will be stronger for this. That I’m certain of. Particularly, just given the broader response that we’ve gotten back. And I think that as a corporation, we’ve got to be less trying to walk this really fine line as long as it’s very clear that what we’re saying and what we’re doing isn’t ideological. It’s trying to do the right thing.
Uzo Iweala: Hi Jide, and thank you Teresa for having me on. Jide I just want to first of all say a profound thanks to you for making that bold statement that you made. And for setting an example, not just for corporate CEOs but for all of us who are up and coming. And as somebody who has been a beneficiary of your wisdom and your mentorship, it really pardons me to see that stance made so clean for everyone. Teresa you actually took the first question, you like kind of read out of my mouth. But I do have a second one for you Jide which is, you’ve spoken a lot about the United States. But there have been comments about how some of the actions taken against African-Americans or black people in the United States would not be possible if there was a stronger Africa; essentially if African countries were able to advocate better for global blackness. I just wanted to get your thoughts and your comments on that and how leaders on the continent whether they’re young or more established in corporate decisions and in government, can actually speak more boldly in support of Africans and African-Americans here in the United States and around the world.
Jide Zeitlin: Yeah, that’s a great question and a very profound question. The core cause of the issues in America, are Americans. So, somebody can’t get off the hook by saying, “Well, if there was more outspoken leadership from Africa, things might be better in America.” I suspect that the example that they use may be their relationship with groups such as AIPAC in the US which has been advocating for the interest of Jews in America. And while that’s great and that’s a powerful relationship, I’m always wary about somehow taking the heat off the systemic issues in North America. At the same time, I do believe that there is a real role for African leaders, corporates, civil society, policy makers, to be very clear about some of the core issues here on the continent. Which as I alluded to in my opening comments, in many ways share the same roots. Not completely, but there’s more overlap there than any of us would hope for. And through that, hopefully we can have an impact on countries on the African continent to the extent that there are appropriate venues. But I don’t think that it has to be systematic. Yes, speak out to what they’re seeing take place in America.
Partly, the relevance of what happens in America more broadly is as a country that clearly is highly visible, what happens in America often does ripple through to the rest of the countries across the globe. And so the ability for African leaders to show their support, to express their views is important. The ability also to ‘As Teresa said, I’m proudly Nigerian-American, born on the continent, a son of the continent who now spends the majority of his time in America’ know that the African diaspora whether in America, whether in Europe, whether in Asia is extraordinary. The ability both for leaders on the continent and through their friends, and through their platform, to have an impact more broadly is really important. So long way to say, I agree with the sentiment, but I’d be really careful about in any way suggesting that focus should come off of the core causes of discontent in America. Thank you Teresa, thank you everybody. Teresa, your leadership clearly matters immensely and broadly, and here in particular today and throughout these series of conversations that you’re convening. So thank you for what you’re doing. Take care everybody. Thank you.
Kamil Olufowobi: Thank you very much Teresa for having us on this call. It’s a pleasure to be here. Good morning, good afternoon and good evening from wherever you’re dialing in from. I’m happy to be here with MIPADian’s. As Teresa already mentioned, MIPAD is an organization that works for the United Nations to recognize the people of African descent all over the world as part of the international decade of people of African descent. Teresa once said in her Ted Talk that, “Nothing better than success. It brings us together .” So today for example, we are here with our keynote speaker Jide Zeitlin who is one of four CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. When he is successful; success to that level is something we can all attribute and say it’s our own.
I’ve had the privilege of doing this for the last three years; recognizing success. Black excellence from all over the world, and today we are joined by an amazing panel with a good distribution globally. We have Diallo Shabazz, the Co-Founder of Birthright AFRICA who sits in LA. So he’s up very early, thank you Diallo for being here. I appreciate you for that. Also in the panel today, we have a leading business woman here on the continent, Tara Durotoye who is also joining us from Lagos, Nigeria. Also on the panel, we have Adebola Williams from Red Media Africa. He is the CEO and Co-Founder of Red Media Africa. Thank you Adebola for joining us also from Lagos. From East Africa, we have Phyllis who is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers. Thank you very much Phyllis for joining us; another MIPADian. Happy to have you on the call with us, and of course my very good friend, dear friend Vusi from South Africa. You find that a number of the panelists that we do have go by their first names. When I say Vusi from South Africa you know who I’m talking about and when I say Tara from Nigeria or Adebola from Nigeria, you know who we’re talking about. Finally, we also have from Uganda, Vanessa Nakate, thank you Vanessa for joining us.
I’ll go straight into it and it’s interesting. When you look at the chronological order in which we started the year, the first time we had about Vanessa and The Climate Action Movement was Davos, which was in January. If you all recall, we started the year all on the mantra of The Climate Action Movement. And Vanessa is a young lady who was cropped out of a picture in Davos if you all recall when we started this year. So it’s a pleasure to have you here Vanessa so we can have a conversation. Just to put it in context for the audience, we are talking about social movements today. Social movements are birthed from social issues. Issues that are amplified by the power of social media, and they lead to social movements where people are seeking for change. Like I said, we started the year big on climate change. What we wanted to discuss during this conversation is, how corporations have actually responded to these movements inside Africa; especially business leaders inside Africa. And when we look to find examples, we find a lot of examples outside of Africa. So when you look at what Nike did with Colin Kaepernick, you look at what Amazon, Ben and Jerry’s and Tapestry, many of them have jumped on the bandwagon of the Racial Inequality Movement that’s going on in the US right now.
So this is the conversation we’re going to have today. About the power of social movements to change society and how business leaders in Africa will best respond to these social movements. My first question today is going to go to Vanessa, talking about The Climate Change Movement. As I mentioned Vanessa, Davos, that was when we met. We met right after Davos when the controversy of you being cropped out from the picture and as you can see COVID came and took the wind out of The Climate Action Movement. So the question to you today is, how has the current crisis ‘which is COVID crisis’ positively or negatively impacted The Climate Action Movement? So, over to you Vanessa. Thanks for joining us.
Vanessa Nakate: My name is Vanessa Nakate, and yes I’m a climate activist from Uganda. With the COVID 19 pandemic, of course a lot is going on with the different lockdowns in various countries. Many activities have been put on hold and that has not exempted The Climate Movement. The pandemic has caused some kind of negativity to some of the activities that we used to do as activists; the climate strikes that we’ve been doing every Friday while going to the streets and in front of government buildings, in front of the parliament. But then with the lockdown, many of us decided to stay at home simply because as activists we believe in listening to the guidelines of science. We believe in the guidelines that have been given by the WHO to try and reduce the spread of the virus. And if people were told to stay at home, we were also included. We had to stay at home. We had to practice social distancing in order to stop the spread of the virus.
We as young people, we wanted to keep on speaking up and demanding for action. But now what had to happen? We had to leave the streets and take the climate activism online. We started doing climate strikes online whereby you make your placard, take photos and share them on social media every Friday, organize quite a number of webinars with different climate activists from different parts of the world, doing podcasts and interviewing activists. Basically, as an activist I’ve been trying to keep the conversation going even in this period of COVID 19 pandemic. Because I clearly understand that many people right now are not so much involved in what is happening when it comes to the planet. They want to hear information about the pandemic. They want to know the recovery. They want to know the deaths. They want to know every update about COVID 19 pandemic.
So it’s a very hard time to talk about the climate message, and yet it is important for us to keep telling people about the importance of conserving our environment and making sure that we secure the future for the coming generations. Because we’ve clearly seen that even in COVID 19 pandemic, other people have been experiencing devastating impacts of climate change. People have been battling two challenges at the same time especially in the African continent. There are families that were already hit by food scarcity as a reason for climate change. And now with COVID 19 pandemic, they cannot go to work because of the lockdown. So most of them are struggling to find something to eat. I remember reading an article that was talking about how people in Algeria chose to rather go out and die because of the disease than dying because of hunger. So it is an issue that people have been handling two problems at the same time.
I personally believe this is the time for climate activists to speak out more. Though of course it is very challenging at such a time when the media coverage is very little when it comes to the climate issues, the climate disasters and reporting about climate activists and the work that they are doing. The focus is so much on COVID 19 pandemic. Then you find that in the African continent, how we’ve been doing the climate activism, ‘I’ll speak from my perspective in Uganda’ it is very hard to organize large strikes or large matches especially if you are not attached to any big organization. So we would go to schools and speak to students sometimes and do the strikes within the schools. But now that is impossible because the schools have been closed.
Then when it comes to online activism, not every student has a phone. Not every student can access the internet. It’s kind of different when it comes to the students in the African continent. Most of them get to have phones at maybe 18-years or 20-years, and this complicates the coordination and running of climate activism online. We’ve had quite few voices speaking up and demanding for action using their phones and the internet. The voices have been limited, and then the fact that the media is so focused on the pandemic. Then people’s voices are not being amplified; even the few voices are not being amplified. So that has been challenging to the climate movement. Recently, I saw an article that was talking about a minister in Canada saying that, “We should continue with the extraction of a certain mineral because the activists will not protest since they’re told to practice social distancing.” It’s very disturbing to think that in this period when we cannot do the protests on the outside, some of the leaders are using this and taking advantage of the situation to continue with investments in the fossil fuel industry.
Kamil Olufowobi: Thank you very much Vanessa for that. The message I hear is the fact that the media is not following up on The Climate Action Movement as it was in the beginning of the year which is understandable. I’ll now move to talking about the move to inequality Movement. Diallo, you had what Vanessa said in terms of the media losing momentum with The Climate Action Movement when you look at when we started the year. It moved very quickly to the COVID crisis.
Diallo Shabazz: Absolutely. Thank you both and thank you for having us. This is a timely conversation and a serious conversation. Good morning, good afternoon and good evening depending on where you are in the world and where you’re joining. As a Co-Founder of Birthright AFRICA, I want to let you know that Birthright AFRICA is a 5 year-old organization that is committed to providing a free educational trip to Africa for every young person of African descent in the United States. We’ve sent young people to Ghana, Mali, Togo and South Africa, and continue to work with many partners throughout our work.
In addition to talking about The Climate Action Movement and the shift to the current Racial Equality Movement that Kamil referenced, there is mediational context that we need. When COVID first appeared, people talked about how it was a 100 year anniversary of the Spanish Flu from 1918. But there are some other 100 year anniversaries that we also have to consider because it shows us how we’re in a cycle right now, dealing with multiple issues at the exact same time. The Spanish Flu came out in 1918, in 1919. 1919 in the United States is also known as the Red Summer of 1919. It’s when we had one of the largest instances of lynchings of the killings of black men and women in US history in the summer of 1919. In 1920, we often talked about the Civil Rights Movement in terms of the Civil Rights Act that was passed in the 1960s. But the 1920s is really when the Civil Rights Movement started with Marcus Garvey. It was also the start of the Harlem Renaissance. And so you really have the convergence of health, politics and arts, and we have the exact same thing happening now in 2020.
Social movements have cycled and it’s important that we all, particularly businesses understand that black people comprise only about 2% of corporate board executives in the United States. At Birthright AFRICA, we believe that youth and young people of African descent in the diaspora need to feel like they can seek opportunity and thrive outside of a system of racism and oppression. Africa presents that opportunity, and Birthright is exposing them to the possibility to explore what the continent has to offer in terms of business and innovation. African leaders and businesses can sponsor Birthright scholars for these life changing experiences as one of the ways when they visit the African nations and companies, so the young people can realize that possibility. And we are already hearing from some of our Birthright alumni that have visited Ghana and South Africa; that they can already see themselves living and working on the continent.
In the midst of the social and political upheaval happening right now, many black people in the US are having exploratory conversations saying, “I’m done with the US. I’m so ready to live…” One of the conversations they’re having is where could they possibly go? And the African continent is one of the places that they’re looking at. In the United States right now, black people have an annual buying power of over $1.2 trillion. Black people are 20% more likely than the total population to say that they’ll pay extra for a product that’s consistent with an image that they can identify with or that they want to convey. So one of things that African businesses should be looking at now, is thinking about how they can directly appeal to black consumers in the United States. They’re looking to put their money someplace else.
When Jide was here earlier, he is what we call in the hip-hop community ‘a true boss’ as a leader with his brilliance and courage. There are board members like him here who can serve in a board capacity that can support African companies on the continent. We spend half of our lives right now on zoom anyway. So even though they’re in the United States, they can still support and guide African companies there. And obviously from an investor standpoint, we have people who are looking to invest in companies as well. So now is the point, now is the time for African businesses to begin appealing to in a much more sophisticated way partnerships with black people in the US.
In terms of other things that the African businesses leaders can adopt, there are four things I’d throw out. One of them is to be more sophisticated in terms of your structure and social development goals. I spent some time in Nairobi and the social development goals… Break these down in terms of economic, environmental and social ranks. We need to be more sophisticated. We’re no longer just talking about revenue and social movements from a financial bottom line. Social movements sometimes as businesses will go like, “How much money am I going to make by getting involved in that?” The financial bottom line is no longer just the bottom line. It’s a triple bottom line. It’s environmental, socio and economic. So we need to be more sophisticated in terms of how we think about appealing to impacting social movements.
Many of the companies that have begun to support social movements recently in the US, are doing it through corporate philanthropy or corporate social responsibility structures which have been born out of the sophisticated triple bottom line approach. We recently heard about Nike. Nike has made a commitment to invest $40 million in the coming four years to support the black community and investing in organizations that are engaged in social justice and education, which is unprecedented for a company to offer that much money. Hennessy is a French company that has made a commitment to invest directly in the Black Lives Matter Movement. So that’s also a transition.
The last thing I’ll say is, it’s important for companies to partner with young people. We know the make-up of the largest percent of young people are on the continent of Africa. Movements are led by young people who are in the streets, that are redefining the values, our social values, they’re inventing new art forms. If you are a business that wants to be innovative, that wants to be at the tipping point of innovation and reaching out to consumers, and designing products, and engaging new markets, you have to engage young people. It’s one of the things that Birthright AFRICA is doing by taking young people to the continent of Africa. We’re looking forward to working with you as we move forward. Thank you.
Kamil Olufowobi: Thank you very much Diallo, I really appreciate that. It’s interesting how when you look at the chronological order, COVID came, took out The Climate Action Movement. Now, the Racial Inequality Movement came and it’s taking out COVID. It’s like COVID never happened. The whole focus of the media is now on that. So we can expect that 2020 is a year of crisis, so there’s still more to come. That’s why today we’re talking about social movements and what to expect as the year continues. We are only half-way in.
The next social movement we are going to talk about is about gender inequality. I’ve always said that sexism is the oldest form of discrimination. I’ve no one better right now to talk to us about that than Tara Durotoye, who is a successful leader and business woman in Nigeria. The question to you Tara would be, just to share with us your journey and your rise in becoming a leading business woman. I know you have participated in a number of social movements for women and also political change. What have you seen on your journey or heard that has left an impression of being genuine or impactful or other? I’d love for you to just lean in into your journey and share with us focusing on the Gender Equality Movement. So, over to you Tara.
Tara Durotoye: Hi everyone, I founded a company called House of Tara over 20 years ago, and our entire business model has been built around helping women to find financial independence. In my journey I’ve realized that women are unlikely to get funding, and this is one of the reasons why we have inequality around opportunities for women. I’ll tell a story of, I went into a bank to ask for a loan. And the MD of the bank immediately asked me to ask my husband for collateral. Then I asked him, “Sir, with all due respect, if my husband came into the bank to ask for a loan, would you ask him to ask me for collateral?” And that’s an unconscious bias. But he immediately retraced his steps. But I had to bring that to his attention. These are some of the issues that women are facing across the continent. Not being able to find funding for their businesses to grow. We have built an entire business model, helping women to find financial independence.
The other issue I’d like to raise is around sexual harassment. We’ve seen a lot of conversations around that last year in Nigeria and across the world. But I think that a lot of things need to change. I feel that CEOs now have to raise their voices in the same way that Jide has done. Send out an email, write a letter to the team to let women know that we care and we’re concerned about them too. When we create policies around sexual harassment, many of those policies were created without women in the room to even discuss. Many of those policies are created just out of wanting to just write and say, “This is something we’re thinking about.” I think that needs to be redesigned. And the way to redesign it is to ask the women within the organization to say, “What do you think we should consider?”
We already have a culture of silence for example, when people do speak up on their sexual harassment. We have a very celebrated story I’d say, last year in Nigeria. And we didn’t see the response from leadership across religious bodies, leadership across corporations, we’re not seeing that. But I’m very happy, just last week the CEO and Co-Founder of a tech company in Nigeria was accused of sexual harassment. And I think the progress that we’ve seen is that the board immediately asked him to step down and said, “You know what? There needs to be investigation.” Unfortunately, in the very well celebrated case last year, the pastor was not asked to step down. And that’s because we haven’t gotten to that place yet, and I’m happy to see that we’re making progress.
I’m hoping that the CEOs who are listening will say to themselves, “These are real issues for women. There is inequality for women.” You recognize that and begin to create products that respond to that genuinely. The issue around sexual harassment needs to be addressed in terms of how the CEOs respond. For us as an organization, we’ve created lines before where we take out funding from within our business to support organizations who speak, and who have centers for people who have been sexually molested or harassed. Organizations like Wallace that’s funded by Kenny Ebro, Sisierra, are some of the examples of organizations that have been created to help where within the organizations women are not able to stand but they’re silenced, culture silenced. And get feedback to say, “My organization is going to be supporting Sisierra for example or Wallace.” That speaks volumes to the women in that organization to say, “This is not lip service. This is something where there’s more that we need to do.” And I’m hoping that this is my time to execute the entire context on the continent.
Kamil Olufowobi: Fantastic. Thank you Tara for that, that was brilliant. It’s very important that we do leave that charge with the business leadership community here in Africa. For us to see what’s going on in the world and adapt that locally. In that context, I think it’s perfect to bring in another young leader who has been on the forefront on changing the continent. Adebola Williams is up next. And the question for him that I want us to explore is, what does he expect to see from corporate leaders across the continent in terms of including generation X? As you can see from the poll that we took today, the majority of the audience today is generation X, Y and Z. What are they doing as business leaders to include them on their boards and in their leadership rank.
Something very interesting I want Adebola to of course also talk about is, if a video similar to Amy Cooper in New York where she weaponized her privileges as a white woman, if a video showed up in Africa today of an executive being tribalistic or sexual harassment, would they be terminated from their work similar to what happened with Amy where her company, a major company; Franklin Templeton, actually fired her? Adebola, over to you. Always a pleasure to have you on. Let’s talk about that in terms of millennials, generation X, Y and Z and what business leaders should do to include them in their leadership ranks because they know social media. They know social movements. When you look at the social movements that are happening around the world, they’re being led by young people. You’re one of those phenomenal young people on the continent, so it’d be good to hear from you.
Adebola Williams: Thank you Kamil. Our company Red has spent the last 15 years focused on young people on the continent. And my vision is to reach and inspire the largest number of young people on the continent. To empower them to make enlightened choices. We’ve built several platforms from Television, to radio, to physical events, to help young people commit to their role. And the idea of doing this over 15 years is to create a pool of credible young people who can take that leadership position, and fill those roles from government, to top companies, to top MBAs and parastatals amongst others.
Indeed the continent is blessed with young people who are capable of adding value on boards and in leadership. Born diversity is key to any organization to thrive, and so having young people on a board is not even a conversation any more. Particularly because many businesses are having to deal with a youth population customer base. So, if your target audience falls largely within the millennials like many of the global chains, many of the businesses we see today, then you need to have the wisdom of that generation on your board. Our continent is also the youngest with a beaming population of young people who are coming out of school into the job market or who are already in the job market. So the workforce for many organizations are young people. For you to be able to help those guys to thrive, for you to be able to work with them and build systems and structures that can help them be productive for the success of your business, you also need to have their voice on the board.
For example, in our company because we’ve been working with young people for this long, we have been doing work from home for five years. So before work from home became a cool thing, after the 22 working days in a month, we do eight work from home. So by the time the world had to shut down into work from home, we were already there. And that’s because our company is being led by young people, the management board of young people, and we pay attention to that demography. It is also very dignitary to serve the world. It’s a tech-driven world; the Internet, social media is such a powerful tool today. For you to be able to navigate that space, you need to have the voice, the sound, the energy of those who understand it.
Finally Kamil, for legacy, a new generation means a new way of thinking. Means fresh perspective in a fast changing world. Means energy, means vision sharpening, and means legacy transfer. For your business to be relevant today where we’re talking about artificial intelligence, robotics and creating newer platforms like Tik Tok, you need to have that generation that understands that space on your board. And finally to answer your question on Amy Cooper, the internet has empowered the public court. Even when organizations do not want to do the right thing, the internet forces their hand to the right thing. So the example target earlier was also forced because there was an outcry on social media. We have seen people lose jobs in 48 hours. In the last 3 months, I’ve seen two people who I know personally lose their jobs because of the social media outcry. Justified or not, but the point is it shows the power of the public court. When you then also leave in a world where the public court is so powerful, it means that you also need people who understand that space on your board. So that they can help you pre-empt, prevent and manage. Or you can simply hire my company which has all the experience to help you navigate and thrive.
Kamil Olufowobi: Adebola, thank you so much for that. That was brilliant. We look forward to seeing more work from Red Media in supporting African business leaders to respond effectively to pressures that come from social media and social movements that result from that. One thing Adebola I’d love to talk to you about during the question and answer session just to explore further, is how our culture in Africa also impacts the results we get from social media. If you know what has happened in the past where a crisis got online. This issue got online, so a lady got raped and it got online. Then we made progress on social media. When it was time for us to get results our culture came in and we went back again, because we’re in a culture where silence is really the way we handle things here. So it would be interesting just to hear from you how we can overcome our culture in an era where social media is amplifying these issues. Thank you very much.
Alright, let’s move to East Africa and talk to Phyllis. Phyllis is the head of both local and global corporations who are part of her association. I understand Phyllis is also managing Global Compact which is a UN private sector arm of corporations. Phyllis, thank you very much for joining us. It’d be good to hear from East Africa. Just from your experience, I want to hear from you, we all want to hear from you. What are the responses from corporates in Africa and around the world that you see, that have come across as genuine or impactful in response to social movements that we see around the world today? One that stands out for me actually comes from East Africa where based on COVID, students don’t have access to data to log online for education, and Telkom is actually stepping up to actually do that. So that’s an example of how a company is actually responding in times of crisis and how that has actually helped consumers to patronize their business. Over to you, so the question is about ethics and moral values of consumers that can influence purchases. What are the examples that you’ve seen? It’d be good to hear about local and global examples.
Phyllis Wakiaga: Thank you. Thank you very much Kamil for the good questions and for all the speakers who have gone before me. I’m from East Africa, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers. That is a body representing the manufacturing sector in Kenya. I also Chair the Global Compact Network, the UN Global Compact local chapter which brings together businesses that want to drive a responsible and sustainable business.
I’ll speak a little bit about COVID and some of the responses we’ve seen. I think all of us know that COVID has been very unprecedented and has been evolving quite rapidly, and has caused a lot of destruction within the world and Africa has not been left behind. And with our constrained health care systems, the insufficient infrastructure and sometimes the weak economies in some of our countries, this has been a challenge that has required the business and government to come together to address. We have seen a lot of responses globally and I’ll speak more about some of the things we’ve seen happening in East Africa and locally in Kenya. And one of the examples has been the COVID fund that has been set up in Kenya. This is a private sector run fund that is putting together initiatives to support the response towards COVID. I sit on that fund, we are about 11 members of the fund and we are looking at the health response and how we can deal with the issues of welfare and livelihood.
One of the things that we are also looking at is, how can leaders go beyond the financial contributions and do the needful in addressing the crisis that is before us? I’ll share five areas that I think are important as we do this for companies across Africa, and then share examples of initiatives that we’ve seen. One of the things is the need for leaders, business leaders, to pay special attention to offer protection and support to workers in the informal economy. A lot of economies, at least in Kenya and a number of East African countries, are informal. And what happens is a lot of people survive on daily incomes, and there’s a need for social safety nets to be put in place to support such workers. This includes things like ensuring that they have basic healthcare, they have their hygiene items and products that they require during this crisis, PPEs, and any items that will assist them to navigate the crisis.
The other thing would be to see how we capitalize on the skills of the informal sector. We’ve seen that happening in Kenya for example, where we’ve seen a lot of the informal sector players capitalize and repurpose their businesses towards meeting some of the market needs, and corporates supporting the purchase of those items from the informal sector. The second response that we expect to see from business leaders is to recognize and address the many challenges that women are going to be affected by this crisis because obviously they’re disproportionately impacted by the crisis. This includes providing healthcare and hygiene support, and ensuring that women as breadwinners and caregivers are supported. Creation of funds for example, would be one of the ways to do it, and supporting women owned businesses and entrepreneurs to ensure that they’re able to sustain their businesses through this crisis. Also, dealing with certain specific issues that are able to support them. Like provision of diapers, formula and other items that are required within their homes.
The other thing is recognizing that human rights is at the heart of any successful business response that we will have to undertake. And that businesses everywhere regardless of the country or the size, have the responsibility to support the workers and communities that rely on them. The human rights based approach requires that businesses recognize the specific and unique needs of the vulnerable groups we’ve talked about, and that these needs are addressed.
The fourth thing is about collaboration and communicating openly with communities and stakeholders during this crisis. And lastly, ensuring transparency and accountability in the management of any resources that are being put towards these crises by businesses. How do we handle the current crisis and what are some of the big challenges that it has created? How have we responded to them as businesses? As we know, COVID 19 is a health problem. But it also has human, economic and social problems that have come up. And what is happening is that the most vulnerable in society are most affected. These are the poor people, the homeless people, refugees, migrants and other vulnerable people in society. To mitigate the impacts of the virus, there is a need to put in place comprehensive universal social protection systems that will support the vulnerable people during this crisis.
I’m going to share a little bit of examples of some of the things that we have seen in East Africa towards dealing with the crisis. I’ll start with the Association of Manufacturers. One of the things we’ve been able to do as a business membership organization, is ensure that our members remain ethical in pricing. As you can imagine, there are a number of essential products like hygiene products required during this season. We have ensured that we communicate to our members the need to ensure that they do not unfairly or disproportionately increase prices during the COVID crisis. And we got feedback from our competition authority yesterday that they’ve been monitoring pricing, and pricing has actually remained the same and in some cases gone down for some of these key products.
We’ve also seen manufacturers repurposing their manufacturing to produce some of these critical products like: hand sanitizers, masks, protective footwear and gear, protective gloves and other items. The automotive sector and Kenya Association of Manufacturers have also been very innovative and have developed a ventilator that is developed locally, and this ventilator has been presented even to our bureau of standards. We’ve had about three different players also within the automotive sector do the same.
The businesses have also been supporting communities by providing soap, hand washing kits, water storage tanks and other products that have been critical during this crisis. We have offices around the country and a number of our members have been very key and at the forefront of providing some of these items. Through the COVID fund, we’ve also seen businesses support and have contributed considerably. Organizations like Airtel Kenya which is a mobile service provider, providing free internet. Longhorn publishers which is a publishing company, also enabling students to continue learning. And our mobile service providers waive transaction charges during this season. Those are some of the examples, and as responsible businesses we want to continue to lead the way and support communities as we go through this crisis. Thank you very much.
Kamil Olufowobi: Alright, thank you very much Phyllis. So good to hear from you and to see the work that you’re doing in East Africa. And I think it’s very important to continue to share these best practices with each other as we continue to work together especially as a MIPAD community, also as a global African family. I’m going to give my final question to someone that I admire very much, and he needs no introduction. I say Vusi and everybody knows who I’m talking about. The one thing I want Vusi and I to kind of agree on is my experience of him, he always has the ability to help quiet all the noise and just help us make sense of it all. So Vusi, thank you so much for jumping on this call with us and being here with us. No pressure, but I’m going to ask you to do what you do best. Just help us put all of this into context. And what else can we expect as this crisis continues to come? It’s just like a snowball effect. What’s going on in 2020? Without further ado, Vusi.
Vusi Thembekwayo: Thank you Kamil. I really appreciate you having had me on this. For the fellow MIPADians in this conversation, I’m a MIPAD class of 2018 which is the best class of MIPAD based on results. But I also did want to say to the team at Africa.com that they do phenomenal work. We’re privileged that they continue to create these kinds of platforms where our voices at least to each other, we can clarify where there are spaces of greatness. Tara, I’m a huge fan of where you work. I’ve been following your brand forever and I just wanted to let you know that it may be quiet, but you are appreciated.
And then on the question that you’ve asked here Kamil, one of the things we can’t do as business people is to imagine what’s happening for the first time. And there is this terrible habit by society to think that when these things happen they’re happening for the first time. It’s not the case. Communities are constantly in a battle for space and that’s where we are. There was a time in the ‘80s when the battle for space came from the gay and the queer community. In the ‘60s it came from different communities, particularly Asian communities in the US. In South Africa we’ve had our own stories, first of colonization then of apartheid. So there’s a consistent and a constant struggle that communities will always have for space. That’s good because what people are saying is that they want to live in an environment where the community both business and social, reflects them. And that’s an important place to be.
One of the things I find interesting is when business leaders imagine that they can sit on the sidelines of these things. Almost as if they can sit on the curb of the freeway of social movement. What should happen? And then join the conversation of the instance of which it’s settled. That’s never the case and can never be the case. If you study the history of South Africa and how we managed to overthrow the system of apartheid, a big part of the offensive was forged exactly by the business community who made it clear around the world that the system of apartheid and the government of apartheid was illegitimate, was not going to be supported. And so business has to be a part of the solution, it can’t sit on the sidelines and wait for the solution to happen.
And then I did just want to say this, one of the interesting things for me is to watch which leaders have courage and which leaders have positions. And it’s interesting to watch how you can have a leader that is courageous, stands up and is clear about their voice, about their tone, and is clear about the position that must be taken. Because let’s just be clear about a couple of things here, there can be no argument about what is just. You can’t argue what is just. So when you’re an organization choosing to remain silent when somebody’s life is lost or choosing to silence your clarity when a social movement is there around a sought for justice, there’s no argument about what’s just unless you want to say as an organization that you see nothing wrong with the murder of a black person anywhere in the world. I think the point about it is that businesses the world over are going to have to find it in themselves to be more courageous at this time.
As a firm, as you know I run a venture firm. We’ve invested in companies all around the continent. We’re in series A and series B. Typically, that’s the space we finance and invest. We’re in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and in New York. But as a firm, we issued blank statements all over our portfolio companies saying that if you want to make a statement, you don’t have to look for our endorsement. We will stand behind you if you want to make a statement as long as the statement is clear, and as long as the statement is just, and as long as the statement ‘and this’s for us was what we thought was the most important guiding principle’ is one you’ll be able to justify to your children and your great-grandchildren. That can be the single most important way to bring people towards understanding what is just.
Kamil Olufowobi: Yeah, Vusi the last we spoke you said something very profound. You said, “This could not be a coincidence.” When you look at the snowball, we started the year with climate action, we moved to COVID and now the racial inequality movement. What do you foresee as we go forward? We’re just halfway through 2020, officially declared the year of crisis. What do you suspect we can expect going forward?
Vusi Thembekwayo: Well, let me just say we’re not putting a crystal ball or giving the framework. And here’s the framework. Oppression needs a system, exclusion needs structures. That’s how it works. So if you want to exclude a particular group of people, what you do is you institutionalize the exclusion. In the institutionalization of the exclusion, often you use what looks like completely innocent scientific measures. So Tara goes to ask for a loan and you say, “ Where is your husband?” Behind that you would say, “Well, where is your husband? Because I imagine you’re married and you’re therefore a community property, and the bank would need you to have your partner here.” But that structure of oppression is precisely how it works. So you institutionalize these structures. And then you have a system which embeds institutionalization.
NOW, the system tends to be a lot more quiet. It tends to be a lot more subtle. But the system is communal and it’s social. It’s where our children go, it’s where we socialize and it’s the people we keep in company. It’s the subtle conversations we have in South Africa at the bribe. In the US it’s at the barbecue. And we have these systems. It’s who we welcome into our universities. It’s who we have publishing academic papers. Here is an even more powerful one. It’s the media and the stories we tell in the media. It’s how we reflect people to themselves. So black people can only be reflected in Hollywood as slaves until somebody goes, “Why can’t we have a genre of horror that reflects black people and the movie ‘US’ is made?” And why is the movie ‘US’ important? Because all of a sudden, black people are seeing themselves in the imagination of a horror. Why was Tyler Perry important? Because all of a sudden, black people saw their own stories reflected. True to Spike Lee.
It’s very important here to understand how the system of oppression works. It’s subtle but it’s very, very deliberate. And because it’s subtle, and because it’s so deliberate, it’s hard to tackle it. Because when you tackle it they’ll say, “No, no, you’re imagining this. Tara, come on. You’re being the loud black woman now. You’re completely imagining it. Vusi, there’s absolutely no problem with young black people in this company. We’ve got it sorted out.” I imagine, I expect and I support that there’s going to be even more people who’ll say, “These structures don’t work for us.” They’ll be young, they’ll be marginalized, they’ll be from different communities and they’ll be from all over the world. Watch out. I just want to say very quickly as a final point. Watch out for the uprising that’s going to come from the East. Watch out for the young people in the East, in Tibet and in many of those other countries who are going to want to have their voices heard and are going to want to become a part of this new generation.
Kamil Olufowobi: Absolutely! Very well said. Like I said, you never disappoint when it comes to these conversations. So thank you so much for bringing your style to the conversation. It is time for us to open it up and go back to our panelists, all of you. I would love for us to leave today with a charge to business leaders across Africa. There was a reason why we took the poll in the beginning. What you find is that Africa based on culture, you find that ageism, baby boomers and generation Xers are still the ones in a position of power. So we need to diversify that and start to include the generation that’s leading these social movements. So we’re going to open up the conversation to the audience who dialed in from all over the world. Thank you all so much for joining us today.
Vusi Thembekwayo: I’ll try to answer the question broadly. Which is to say this, if privilege wasn’t real, there would be no need to protect it. So when people are offended at a movement that seeks justice, what they’re in effect doing is affirming the very point that the people who are seeking justice are making. Which is that, privilege endures. My expectations and I want to come at this at a different angle. But my expectation is this, that as more and more people don’t see themselves reflected in the communities they live, don’t see themselves reflected in the businesses they buy from, don’t see themselves reflected in the media they consume and don’t see themselves reflected in the aspirations that they have, more and more people will begin to question that. And more and more businesses will have to come on the fold of understanding, “How do you build a business that is inclusive in the new era?” Unfortunately Kamil, many of us aren’t trained in that. I myself can’t remember attending an inclusion class at business school. It’s just not something that’s in the literature. So we have the literature about almost everything else but we don’t quite yet have the literature about, “How do you build an organization that is current to the time, inclusive to the temperament and agile to the movement of the people?”
Kamil Olufowobi: Let me bring Tara back into the conversation because she led the political movement and Adebola yourself too you’ve supported governments into getting to office across Africa. So, this is a political system that you believe can lead Africa into the future. What are your thoughts around that? I’m giving this to Tara and Adebola if you want to chime in.
Tara Durotoye: Thank you for that question even though I told you not to ask me any questions. We have to wake up as a continent and not sit on the sideline and imagine that anything’s going to change if we don’t make that change. And that change is participating in politics, and it includes voting, and includes being a card-carrying member of a party, and also speaking up when our leaders are not doing what is right for us. I think we’re very silent and many times we’re silent. Awkward, we may be vocal on social media but when it’s actually time to take action we’re not looking. So my charge to young people out there is to say, “We can’t sit on the sideline and think that things are going to change if we do not participate.” So we need to participate in politics. We need to become card-carrying members of parties. We need to actually vote. We saw that happening in the last election in Nigeria where a lot of people were talking on social media, but the day of the election they actually didn’t come out to vote. And that is a shame.
Kamil Olufowobi: Okay, Adebola you want to chime in?
Adebola Williams: I think Tara has said it all. The citizen is no longer a bystander. That’s what everyone must realize. It is time for you to put your skin in the game. There are many things, many mix up that politicians have built around the process of elections and politics that deter you from getting engaged. So please research, pay attention and understand. I’ll give you a quick example. Lagos, Nigeria, in the last election had about six point something million people registered to vote. 5.5 million people collected their PVCs, their voting cards. But by the time the numbers of those who came out to vote were released, it was 1.3 million. What that meant was that 4.2 million people sat in their homes and did not come out to vote. So many times when people on the continent both young and old say, “Oh, election, they’ve cheated. It’s not for me, it’s for them.” You are really the problem because you are part of the 4.2 million people who are sitting at home out of an assumption. So get knowledge. Knowledge is the GPS of life’s maze. Once you have the knowledge, you can navigate politics.
Kamil Olufowobi: Fantastic. You leave it to Africans and Nigerians to talk about politics, we’ll be here all day. But a direct answer to that question for me would be to look at socialism, because you find that Africa as a society we don’t have social nets for the less privileged or for the bottom of the pyramid. And for me what I believe, political systems should be very conscious of what I call inclusiveness in building a perfect union which is inclusive with the right founding fathers and mothers who are Muslims, who are Christians, of all ethnic groups and working together to build an inclusive and equitable society. Not capitalism, because I don’t see that helping based on our culture which is too individualistic for Africa. So if that was a direct answer to that question, I would lean more towards socialism.
Diallo Shabazz: Kamil if I may, this is actually a very popular conversation among black people in the US, about economic development in Africa and what type of economy would be the most successful. Just a few things, one of the things that we talk about within our own circles in Birthright AFRICA is the possibility of African countries developing more regional economic development. Working together more to build economies. Also understanding that in the past 100 years, we’re talking about the beginning of the Spanish Flu etcetera, the 100-year cycles. Capitalism now looks very different than capitalism looked 100 years ago. Different models, there are different financial instruments that didn’t exist. It’s possible to reinvent socialism or capitalism in a new way that didn’t exist before. That is designed in a way to specifically benefit African people. Because many of the ways in that system are not only designed but are regulated around some of the people in power to manipulate the system in ways that benefit their particular country economies and disempower African countries.
The last that I’ll say is, we’re talking about economic models. We should also be talking about currencies as well. There’re regional currencies that have been created. We all know about the Euro, there is no reason why in the 21st century there should not be a conversation among the African Union about African countries creating their own currency. Digital currencies are being created all the time. They’re going to end up disrupting the way the traditional-national currencies are managed and exist. I think it’s a good question and this is obviously something that’s going to continue to develop as we move forward.
Vusi Thembekwayo: We are talking about black lives matter. We’re touching into this narrative of black lives matter. That black lives actually have value. That means that black communities, black societies, black indigenous knowledge, all of those things have value in the world. If that is the case and my argument, similar to yours Diallo, is that it is. Then we need to have a conversation about why many ‘and I hate to use the word but I will. Francophone West African countries continue to have their currencies controlled by France and Belgium. If we can’t discriminate the economic reality of Nigeria from the social status of the people of Nigeria to the fact that that country is in effect run out of Belgium. Just wanted to make that point quite broad.
Kamil Olufowobi: Yes. Vusi, let’s do this, that will be the next crisis and social movement to jump off in Africa, yes? Let me run this one, to get the knee of colonialism off the necks of African countries, we need to begin that in francophone Africa. So Vusi, good point for bringing up francophone Africa. Adebola go ahead.
Adebola Williams: Yeah, tell you the story. We know you need to take questions, but just to quickly say that I get tired when people ask what kind of government, what kind of structure will work on our continent. What we need in Africa are leaders that just care about the people. Leaders that care about the wellbeing of Nigerians, of Ghanaians, of Kenyans. Leaders that treat their people like the Emirates have shown their own people. Like the Chinese have taken their country, where we used to look at Nigeria as the place where you get rejects and inferior products. And today in Nigeria, the Chinese are building our roads for better quality. Nations like Canada that have taken their people out of poverty. For me, African leaders and everyone listening as CEOs of companies, it is really to care about our continent, about our people. And that will force us to also stand up to vote and be part of the process of governance.
Foluso Phillips: I was wondering whether we need to start looking at how Africa itself can connect with the African-Americans, because at the moment there’s a huge movement going on where we are trying to reconnect from a more cultural and social point of view, and yet there’s a lot that we should be able to do from an economic point of view. So can we use economics as a basis for pulling the two races ‘if I can use that word with African-American and African races’ back together again? Africa has money, we have wealth, we have capabilities and we’ve shown that we have competencies even based from those who are out there in the States.
It might just be a new kind of paradigm to look at the possibility of Africa taking leadership for the black race. Pardon me to say that sometimes Africa itself has disappointed the black race in the sense that we are not where we should be for various reasons and we’ve all debated that. But if Africa can stand up and say, “You know what? We are taking responsibility.” And therefore let the whole black race around the world come together and use Africa as a foundation for moving forward. It’s just a question, it’s a possibility, a whole change in mindset. It’s beyond cultural, it’s beyond music, it’s not about really putting money where your mouth is. Can we invest? I saw recently in the news about a lot of African-Americans now shifting their money into black banks. Why can’t we have a very strong global black bank even in America itself? It’s going to be a portfolio investment, and if a few African countries put money into America to try and get the banks to be able to fund African-Americans, create a basis for us to connect together again. So my question is can Africa as a global continent do something in taking leadership with the new narrative?
Kamil Olufowobi: Fantastic. Let me embarrass you uncle and call you uncle on this call, right? Uncle Foluso, good to see you and good to hear from you. Your question is spot on and this for me is so clear about my fight. My fight is Africa’s role and leading this clear voice of a billion people on the continent and over another eight hundred plus million across the diaspora, and us showing up on the global stage speaking with one voice. So you’re spot on about that. Africa needs to be louder in this conversation about black lives matters. Because if black lives matter in the diaspora, that also means it matters here on the continent. So the connection with the two is that racism in America when slavery was banished, they moved inside Africa and said, “Okay, since we cannot take you from your home and enslave you. We will enslave you in your own home.” So, colonialism is also a knee that’s on the neck of Africa to deliver on its possibilities. So yes, I’m with you on that thought process. In Africa playing a stronger role.
My final thought to you would be, for me I feel like it’s hypocritical of Africa to ask the diaspora to bring its money, to bring its expertise and competency to help develop Africa. But when they’re dying on the plantation, where are we? Where are the African governments? Where are the foreign ministers in Africa? Where is our foreign policy towards our diaspora? So yes, it’s a very valid point. I’m going to throw this back to the audience. Vanessa if you’re still there, Phyllis, Tara, Diallo, what do you think of the question? Diallo, you’re in LA, how would you love to see African governments play a role in these black life movements, these racial equality movements in America right now?
Diallo Shabazz: Well, that’s a great question and I’m going to call you uncle Foluso as well even though we just met. There’s a quote that, “We are not Africans because we were born in Africa. We are Africans because Africa is born in us.” I think for hundreds of years there’s been a rebirth of African culture and spirituality, and black people in the US even if they’re disconnected intellectually and culturally from what that means, some of the practices that we still incorporate in our churches and in our social lives now, never left even though we’ve been disconnected for five hundred years. So even though there are continental, regional and ethnic differences, many of us still think of ourselves as part of the same people. I think Ghana for one led that effort last year during the year of return when they invited black people in the diaspora to come back to Ghana in 2019.
My father was in Ghana around 2007 for the first time, which I think was around when Ghana had celebrated their 50th anniversary of their independence. And he called me from Ghana and told me two fascinating things. He said, “ Some of the people in the Ghanaian government and some spiritual leaders in Ghana who are part of the Ashanti people, got together and issued a global apology to black people in the diaspora for some of their ancestors collaborating with the Europeans during the transatlantic slave trade and said, “I’m sorry that my ancestors helped to kidnap and take you to America.” And there’s a level of atonement that we need to go through as a people to begin to reconnect as a very spiritual principle.
And then the second thing he said was, “Ghana’s going to begin creating opportunities for black people to repatriate. If you want to move to Ghana permanently or come and have a home here, a business here, part time, we’re going to create mechanisms for you to do that.” And so my father got land and built our family’s first compound in Africa. My father called me and said, “ For the first time since we left hundreds of years ago we have a home to go back to.” And I think one of the things that African governments can do is begin to reach out and create programs and protocols that allow people to reconnect to the continent strategically. Ghana did it for tourism yesterday. There are business certification programs that would like to do businesses in these countries. I think if you figure out some of the tax rates, people are actually doing that. Investors are trying to figure out whether to put money in Africa. There is an old conversation like an old stereotype that, “Investors if you put money inside Africa, it’s hard to get your money out.” But African economies and businesses have become much more sophisticated and mature in recent years and that’s definitely no longer the case. It’s definitely an opportunity for American investors and businessmen and women to invest in African businesses. So I think that we’re at the precipice of doing a lot of that. And that as African governments create policies and infrastructure that’ll allow those bridges to be developed, there’ve always been bridges in Arica just that the years that the bridges were built people took resources out and didn’t put the resources back in. But now we’re at a point where we could be much more collaborative.
Tara Durotoye: I would just like to contribute. Kamil and I run civil society, I would say. Unfortunately, Nigerian government needs to do much more to make Nigeria more attractive. I’ll give an example, that the size of the entrepreneurs and the class, the size of your businesses compared to the other African countries, we were surprised that this institution was being domiciled in Ghana. And the reason why is simply because Nigeria is just not attractive enough. Ghana could solve an entire event in December ‘The Return’ and it was attractive to Americans to come because Ghana is much safer. And until we have more solutions around poverty, more entrepreneurship, government investing in businesses. I mean, speaking of COVID for example, how many Nigerian businesses have gotten funding from the Nigerian government? We’ve been paying taxes for years, right? How many of these Nigerian businesses have been getting support? We have to think about the government. The people who are in government here, you haven’t done enough. We haven’t been open for three months. Our entire business has been shut down for three months but we haven’t gotten any support from the Nigerian government even though we were a business that has been paying taxes. And until the Nigerian government fixes Nigeria, makes Nigeria more attractive even in terms of just safety, I can understand why everybody will rush to Ghana because Ghana is cleaner. I know my husband is going to be very upset in hearing this but that’s the truth. Nigerians, we have to fix Nigeria.
Kamil Olufowobi: The fact about bridging the gap between the diaspora and one of the initiatives that we are running is, “My roots in Africa.” Which connects with The Climate Action Movement. And one of the things we’re trying to do is to symbolically help those in the diaspora to begin that reconnection to the continent by planting a tree. Which in other words supports The Climate Action Movement. I think Diallo’s comments just triggered that in my mind. That’s something that we need to get out there for people of African descent from all over the world, sometimes from unexpected places to do come, plant a tree in Africa and simultaneously be a part of The Climate Action Movement. I just wanted to put that out there, that our struggles are connected. And earlier we recognized that our unification is what’s going to lead our emancipation. The sooner we will get to the promised land. That’s my final thought and just wanted to say thank you to all the panelists and to all the guests who joined us and of course to the Africa.com team. Thank you very much. God bless you.