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Africa must open up its economy to grow

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 8 – African countries need to open up their economies if they hope to significantly increase the amount of intra-regional trade, a globally renowned entrepreneur has advised.

Heirs Holdings chairman and former Chief Executive Officer of United Bank of Africa Tony Elumelu said while the business climate in most of the African countries have improved and brought with it increased investment, many of these states are still not trading amongst themselves.

“We need to free up our economies; we need to remove this mindset and level of distrust amongst ourselves and we need to begin to engage in terms of regional cooperation,” the industrialist told participants at a premier conference for entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders.

While observing that many companies are venturing outside their borders as they seek to grow their operations and make a good return for their shareholders, this expansion he said would only many a positive impact only if it is backed by political will.

Political leadership, he added was especially crucial at a time when the world economy is in shambles with the eurozone crisis continuing to unfold and recession uncertainties hover around the American economy.

It is time for Africa as it continues to prove its resilience but more still need to be done to ensure that the continent claims its rightful role in the world economy.

“Everybody has said that Africa is the last frontier but this is not going to happen if Africans first do not realise that truly we hold the key to this,” he said while challenging business leaders to demonstrate their commitment to the continent by having confidence and investing more in this economy.

“It is happening now but a lot more can happen if we believe that no one else but us will develop Africa; if we invest in Africa. It is a momentous occasion for this continent,” Elumelu declared.

This conviction was reinforced at the inaugural Convergence Africa Conference which brought together entrepreneurs from across Africa to share knowledge and insights on how to grow their business.

Organised by a private international investment group Legatum and a philanthropic investment firm Omidyar, the one-day meeting provided a platform where budding entrepreneurs got tips on how to survive so that they can in turn fuel Africa’s continued growth.

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“Given the importance of entrepreneurship in fuelling Africa’s continued growth, we believe Convergence Africa is a perfect complement to the Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship,” Legatum Head of Corporate Communications Hamish Banks said.

He was referring to the awards which are in their fourth year and which recognise business leaders who embody the entrepreneurial spirit and qualities required to succeed in business and who are inspirational role models.

The conference attracted big business moguls with Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson being among the mentors.

While reinforcing the view that Africa has a lot of untapped potential that need to be exploited by Africans themselves, he challenged African governments to eradicate corruption saying that would be the only way that the continent would unlock its great potential.

Businesses, he said have a responsibility to fight the vice and therefore have to rise to the plate and take action that would be effective. While doing so however he said, they should not only focus on making money but also show concern for the communities they operate in.

In addition he said organisations to adopt strategies that would ensure that they hire and retain the best employees who can in turn help to drive the firms to greater heights.

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