Kennedy Uzoka, GMD UBA

…moves to create Africa’s Alibaba, ebay

By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA

A stunning edition of the UBA Market Place 2019 climaxed in Abuja at the weekend with a new record in visitor and exhibitor numbers from across Africa.

The exhibition, an entrepreneurial fair, which held at the UBA Pavilion inside the prestigious Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, was organised by the bank to boost the growth and development of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SME’s) in Africa. The fair was the first  of its kind in the country

Featuring over 5,000 exhibitors from over 20 African countries and welcoming over 250,000 visitors from several countries, the two-day fair was the biggest, boldest and best yet staged by an organisation in the history of the nation.

Apart from the usual entrepreneurs from far and near who won free retail stalls at the event, entrepreneurs who were beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Foundation also got the opportunity of pitching their businesses with other to challenge for the grand prize of a grant, courtesy of UBA.

The fair was held on the sidelines of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Forum, the largest gathering of the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Africa, which took place in Abuja.

With a dazzling array of exhibitors along with superb shows reflecting the hottest trends in food, fashion, beauty, arts, home/interior and gadgets, the exhibition was the place to be for everyone.

The pavilion was divided into five major sections for easy accessibility, namely: the Food Court, Red Zone, Games area, Fashion Runway and the General section.

Apart from the colourful display of products by exhibitors, the glitz and glamour from side attractions introduced by the organisers to lighten up the event were simply breathtaking.

On hand was the bank’s award winning online network, REDTV, which kept visitors and participants entertained during the two-day event with exciting acts, including fashion shows, movies, and live interviews with celebrities and industry players.

Ten leading African labels, including The Fashion Show and Belores, were on hand with beautiful models who graced the red carpet to showcase their eye-catching designs.

During one of the life interview sessions on REDTV, Star musician, Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, popularly known as Wizkid, sat with UBA’s Group Managing Director, Kennedy Uzoka, in a fireside chat with the theme: ‘Stars & Suits: Afropop meets High Finance’.

Later in the day, top Nollywood icon, Richard Mofe Damijo, was paired with Cote D’ivoire’s darling; Cynthia Nassardine, top movie producer/director, Tunde Kelani to discuss ‘The Big Picture: Business of film making’ and how entrepreneurs from Africa can benefit from the enterprise during a movie panel session. The panel was moderated by REDTV’s Executive Producer and Group Director for Communications at UBA, Bola Atta.

Also on hand were Dj Cuppy, Dj Neptune and Pheelz the Producer who spoke on the theme ‘Booth to Bank: How the beat becomes the profit’.

The Executive Director of Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Mr. Olusegun Awolowo, chaired one of the plenary sessions where he discussed on the small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) sector and the relevance of financing.

While speaking at the event, the Group Managing Director, UBA, Mr Kennedy Uzoka, said the bank aims to create Africa’s version of Alibaba and ebay by supporting the entrepreneurial potential of African youths.

He said Africa’s youths were full of ideas that could change the standard of living and reduce poverty on the continent and that was why the bank was passionate about supporting Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs).

“UBA Market Place has brought together under one roof more than 5,000 SMEs from across Africa. We want to create a platform in Africa similar to Alibaba and ebay.

“We bank a lot of customers across the continent and in doing that we have discovered that there is a gap in the business value chain.

“That void we discovered is how to bring more buyers and sellers together and that is what we have done today.

“We are bringing a long standing operations over the years because we are systematically important in the countries we are operating in,” Uzoka said.

In order to do this, the UBA Group boss disclosed that the bank had offered to free up more funds to support the growth and development of SMEs in Africa.

He said that the desire to make more money available to SMEs by the bank was taken with a view to stimulating and deepening the African economy.

Also, the UBA Group Head, Retail Banking, Mr Jude Anele said that 10 per cent of the bank’s total balance sheet has been earmarked to support SMEs in countries where the bank operates in Africa.

The countries are Nigeria, Chad, Cote D’ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Congo Brazzaville, France, Guinea Conakry, Kenya, and Mali.

Others countries are Sierra Leone, Zambia, Cameroon, Congo DRC, Gabon, Mozambique and Tanzania.

Anele revealed that about N50billion had been set aside from the bank’s portfolio for SMEs financing.in Nigeria alone.

Meanwhile, some of the participants who spoke with Business Hallmark, judged the exhibition a landmark success.

According to N’deye Bineta  Leye, the brain behind EBENO Couture from Senegal, the fair presented her the opportunity of showcasing her products to a very large audience, as well as the chance to meet and network with other entrepreneurs in her line of trade.

“My trip to Nigeria is not a wasted effort. Apart from been able to get large orders from buyers, I also got the opportunity of learning new innovations from fellow exhibitors at the fair, By and large, I think the event was a success. I would not mind to attend the next edition if given the opportunity, N’deye said.

Also, Mariama Kaba, the CEO of Miranasstourisme from Guinea, gave the fair a pass mark, noting that  she got more than what she bargained for.

“I was overwhelmed with the crowd that thronged my stand. In fact, it got to a stage that I almost could not cope again. Nigeria is a very large market with huge resources and I am ready to tap into it. The organisers did a fantastic job of organising the event. It can’t be better than this. Apart from the fact that I was overwhelmed by the deluge of visitors to my stand and ran out of stocks, which was a good thing, overall, it was a fine outing” said Mariama Kaba.

Meanwhile, the Tony Elumelu Foundation and the United Bank for Africa have pledged to keep empowering young entrepreneurs through the provision of finance owing to their importance in job creation and poverty reduction.

The commitment to provide more support to entrepreneurs was made in Abuja at the TEF’s 2019 Entrepreneurship Forum.

Speaking at the event, a trustee of the foundation, Dr Awele Elumelu, said the need to increase the level of support for small businesses was borne out of the conviction that entrepreneurs held the key to unlocking the potential of the African continent.

“Our young African entrepreneurs must be prioritized if we must develop our continent. They must not only prevail, they must strive to be successful. Those ideas and innovations that came as a dream must be realised as a business that will transform the continent.

“The youths are the backbone upon which the future lies. Therefore, the government and private actors must support them.

“It is not always easy to be an entrepreneur. You need to raise the capital, have the nice people around you, navigate all the obstacles among other things.”

She said ideas could come in the shower, in the office, and gradually transform into something tangible, while also maintaining that empowering African youths must be prioritised if the continent must move forward.

“When young men and women do well, they lift their families out of poverty. With the right push, the right resources, our entrepreneurs will compete on the world stage. Young Africans, there is excellence in you. The world awaits you.”

The first plenary, which focused on tackling challenges and seizing opportunities, was held after Dr.  Elumelu’s speech. It was moderated by Jennifer Blanke, the Vice President, Agriculture, Human and Social Development, African Development Bank. (AfDB).

A panelist, Papa Sarr, Minister and Presidential Delegate for Entrepreneurship in Senegal, said his country got a funding of $50 million a year to support young entrepreneurs. He said they have opened up about 78,000 bank accounts in 2018 to try to encourage entrepreneurship.

Mohammed Yahya, UNDP Africa Regional Programme Coordinator, said Africa is also struggling with structural impediments such as energy impediment.

Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, a former World Bank country director in Nigeria, said access to finance is a challenge and remains a stumbling block.

“We need to segment the problems and we need to look at the young enterprises. There is a need to move to a new phase of seed financing and early capital financing. To provide them for young entrepreneurs,” she said.

While speaking during the session, the CEO, Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Olusegun Awolowo, said Nigeria just signed the African Free Trade Continental Agreement and entrepreneurs should take advantage of it.

“It is the largest free trade area in the world. The AfDB said in a report that 22 percent of Africans are starting new trades, the highest in the world. 85 percent of the jobs that are going to exist in 2030 have not been created yet.”

He said 60 percent of farmers are elderly people and there might be a need to build a wall to stem rural-urban migration of young people. He says one way to make agriculture sexy is to have dollars attached to it.

The moderator, Ms Blanke, reiterated that one of the panelist’s point that young businesses should focus on creating impact first and the funds will come afterwards.

Another panelist, Mr. Ahmed, said the money he got from winning the TEF award in 2015 overcame the risk of using his own money to invest in his mobile solar pump.

During the question and answer session, a panelist responded that entrepreneurs should make more use of the LinkedIn platform to connect with one another.

In the second plenary, with the theme: Africapitalism: What next and when?, a panelist, Mr Kallon, stunned the audience when he disclosed that over the next few years, about 54 million jobs will be created in Africa but those who need the job will be over 120 million.

He said the concept of Africapitalism has given an opportunity to focus on the concept of entrepreneurship.

“Our shared destiny requires a knowledge-based economy. Our reliance on natural resources is not taking us anywhere.”

The Chief Information Officer at UBA, Onyebuchi Akosa, said the bank had provided Marketplace, a platform to enable the inter-connectedness of entrepreneurs. He said the bank also provided Open Place, a marketplace for tech entrepreneurs.

The First Lady of Guinea, Djena Kaba Conde, said TEF has given a lot of hope for African youth and should be commended.

UBA Chairman, Tony Elumelu, told the youthful audience that the future of Africa is indeed in their hands. “The journey has indeed begun. You are more educated, you are more exposed, you are more socially connected.”

He, however, said that for the youths to take that step, they must be supported. “Let our presidents who are here know what you need as African entrepreneurs to survive.

“I believe that if our leaders understand the rationale for you to succeed, they will do everything within their power.”

During a question and answer session, Elumelu said he “can never hire someone because of ten years experience. If my boss wanted ten years experience, I’ll never have become a branch manager at 26.”

A mild drama occurred when a French-speaking participant struggled with English and finally switched to French to thank Elumelu for his kindness.

A participant from Nigeria noted that the TEF grant ($5,000) is not enough and asks if it could be increased, drawing the ire of the audience.

Another Nigerian noted that since the TEF has a global outlook, local governments in Nigeria should key into the programme.

Elumelu replied by saying, “My philosophy is you don’t know it all. Two heads are better than one.”

On the second day of the exhibition, the vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, made a loud entrance with his entourage, after sitting out the first session of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Forum (TEEF) in the main auditorium of the Transcorp Hilton. He was accomapnied by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the President of the African Development Bank, Akinwunmi Adeshina, Chairman of UBA, Tony Elumelu and UBA GMD, Kennedy Uzoka, among others.

The arrival of the dignitaries enlivened the atmosphere as many participants abandoned their businesses to catch a glimpse of the august visitors.

Earlier at the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme, the first plenary for the day was moderated by CNN anchor, Fareed Zakaria. Members of the panel included Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation; Akinwunmi Adesina, AfDB President; Benedict Oramah, Director-General, AFREXIM Bank; Sidi Tar, DG, BADEA; Koen Doens, the Deputy DG of the EU Commission; Gilles Carbonnier, VP ICRC and Mr Elumelu

The first speaker, Mr Adesina, said Africa is no longer arising but has risen. The AfDB president said 12-13 million people enter the market every year and cannot find jobs, warning that Africa will have about 800 million young people in 2050 and a billion people by 2060.

“We can’t keep postponing our liabilities into the future,” he said, while proposing that African leaders should begin to change from youth empowerment to youth investment.

The second session opened with the presidential session and a keynote speech by Prof. Osinbajo. He told the audience inspiring stories of some entrepreneurs making a difference across Africa.

He advised that school curriculum must also emphasise entrepreneurship and not just science, technology and math that is currently done.

He lambasted those that always talk of the good old days, maintaining they probably suffer from memory loss.

“Today the smartphones in the hands of our young people have more power than all the computers in the Apollo that landed the first man on the moon.”

Speaking about the impressive ease of doing business in Rwanda, President Kagame said his country looked for ways of doing things differently from what people were used to.“Development is what we must do, prosperity is what we must achieve,” he said.

The CEO of The Tony Elumelu Foundation Forum, Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu, in her remarks, said the event is the beginning of the rise of African entrepreneurship, noting that the movement is creating jobs and generating revenues in their millions.

She explained that $5 billion will create one million entrepreneurs who will, in turn, create 25 million jobs.

Those in attendance included Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Felix Tshisekedi of the DRC, and Akinwunmi Adesina, the president of the African Development Bank.

Others are Isa Jibril, senator representing the Senate President; Alhassan Doguwa, Majority Leader, House of Representatives, representing the Speaker; and the Head of Service, Winifred Oyo-Ita.  The governors of Niger, Ekiti, Kwara, and Kebbi states also attended the event.

At exactly 5.30pm on Saturday, the curtain was drawn on the 2019 edition of UBA Market place with a big musical show, tagged: Party Like Never Before”. Popular musicians, including Wizkid, DJ Cuppy, Niniola, DJ Neptune and Shody thrilled guests and participants to various hit tunes.

 

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