African business leaders ‘must understand integrity’, says ALN boss

A new generation of dynamic and influential leaders has emerged in Africa in recent years influencing growth and development in various sectors.

Isaac Kwaku Fokuo, CEO of the African Leadership Network

Isaac Kwaku Fokuo, CEO of the African Leadership Network

From technocrats to business leaders and influential artists, more and more Africans are having a noticeable impact through innovative initiatives to drive positive transformation and directly confront perceptions of Africa as a continent in a leadership crisis.

The Africa Leadership Network (ALN), an invitation only network with over 1,200 leaders drawn from various sectors across the continent, has a mission to drive Africa’s prosperity by creating linkages and forging substantive partnerships among the continent’s new generation of leaders to unlock game changing opportunities.

Isaac Kwaku Fokuo, CEO of ALN, told How we made it in Africa that the network was founded with a singular focus on leveraging the collective influence of the new generation of leaders to drive the continent’s economic transformation.

“ALN is a platform geared toward driving prosperity in Africa and to that end the ultimate goal of the network is to bring together people who are drivers of change in Africa. The tangible output of that is to catalyse growth in critical sectors in Africa, create jobs, build wealth and transform lives.

“The people who are in this network are already doing that as entrepreneurs, business leaders, thought leaders, innovators and public sector leaders at the helm of transformative initiatives. Our focus is to marshal the collective influence through creating collaborations and partnerships among these leaders.”

The ALN membership list boasts the who’s who in business, government, sports, entertainment and philanthropy from across 47 countries.

These include leading Nigerian businessman Tunde Folawiyo, top South African entrepreneur Wendy Luhabe, CEO of Kenya’s Equity Bank Group James Mwangi, king of the 150,000-strong Royal Bafokeng Nation Kgosi Leruo Molotlegi, renowned author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, music producer Don Jazzy (Michael Collins), managing director of Carlyle Africa Marlon Chigwende and Hannah Tetteh, Ghanaian minister of foreign affairs.

“In any society, being in a position of leadership can be a solitary experience. It’s lonely at the top they say. So you need a network of people in a similar position who understand what you are experiencing, the challenges you are facing and your vision, and are therefore in a position to support you, even if only morally. ALN provides a network where these influencers can get support but also motivation and inspiration from peers.”

According to Fokuo, the ALN has been successful in creating collaborations among entrepreneurs and investors, thereby promoting best practices and boosting cross border investments and partnerships. Pan-African relationships, he adds, are crucial in boosting intra-Africa trade which currently sits at about 15%.

“How do you increase intra-Africa trade? It’s not about having a big project. It’s not just about trading blocks and building infrastructure. It’s about relationships. It amazes me how much Africans don’t know about each other.”

Central to the ALN agenda is the role of entrepreneurs in solving two of Africa’s biggest problems: unemployment and poverty.

“When youth don’t get employed, bad things happen. If you look at rebel groups and conflicts in Africa, the fighters are mostly youth. I guarantee that if they had something more productive to do with their lives they would not be fighting.”

Leadership crisis

African leaders have often been cast in bad light with political and business leaders being viewed as a power hungry, greedy and corrupt lot. Many pundits have offered advice on how to solve Africa’s leadership crisis.

Fokuo argues that while Africa’s leadership in business and politics is changing for the better, there is a need for strengthening governance to manage vices such as abuse of office, corruption and misuse of public resources.

“The perception in Africa is if you have money you probably stole it. Is it true all the time? No. Is it true sometimes? Sure, as it is the case everywhere else in the world. But we should not let the sins of the father affect the sons and daughters of Africa. Today’s business leaders must understand integrity, they must understand that they are a steward of the people and if they are in the private sector they have a responsibility to the community through job creation, fair wages and good working conditions.”

The Africa rising narrative

Fokuo noted that Africa’s governance has improved with fewer countries experiencing civil war and more African economies working together through regional blocs to solve problems while driving prosperity in their countries and regions. While the continent’s booming middle class and increased investment in natural resources are a source of hope, widespread unemployment is a major concern.

“If you are a country that is focusing on extractives and you are not creating jobs for people, you will have difficulty sustaining any short-term gains.”

To remedy this, Fokuo says African countries should continue to encourage sustainable entrepreneurship while building local industries. Specifically, government should create an enabling environment for business to thrive.

“My dad tells me that when Ghana acquired independence in 1957 everyone was very excited. This Africa rising we talk about is cute, but he has seen it before. The data supports that African economies are growing. The question is what is Africa rising to?” Fokuo asks.

“It is the mandate of this new generation of African leaders to make sure that 50 years from now, we can look back and be proud of the continent we have built and that we were good custodians of the continent our parents fought so hard to become independent.”