By Mbom Sixtus
Cameroon Journal, Lagos, Nigeria- November 13 – Only 44 Cameroonians are among the 2000 Africans who have benefited from the decade-long $100million entrepreneurs programme of Tony Elumelu. 19 of this number were part of the first batch of 1000 beneficiaries in 2015 and 25 were selected this year.
Observers say the low rate of participation of Cameroonians could be blamed on the fact the country lacks a friendly business environment, an issue, which they say, has forced many young geniuses to rely on the state and multinationals for somewhat decent employment. They point to the country’s ranking on the World Bank’s Doing Business report which leaves much to be desired; according to Wan Shey Emmanuel (not real names) an unemployed Cameroonian who has written the competitive entrance examination into the Higher Teachers Training colleges in the country for four years.
Cameroon is however among the most involved countries of Francophone Africa as regards participation in the programme which provides youths with seed capital of up to 10, 000USD, trains them and provides mentors to help them grow their businesses.
Statistics revealed at the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) Entrepreneurs Forum which took place recently at the Nigerian Law School in Lagos, that Cameroon is among the top five countries in terms of applications registered and beneficiaries selected. The statistics indicate that countries, from which higher numbers of applications were received, equally had higher numbers of beneficiaries.
Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon, Ghana, and Uganda registered the highest number among the 45, 000 entries for 2016. Nigeria topped the list with 13,276 entries, while Kenya came second with 1000 submissions. Ugandans, Ghanaians and Cameroonians submitted 539, 492 and 410 business ideas respectively. These countries also recorded the highest number of beneficiaries, with Nigeria alone gathering 591 beneficiaries.
Elumelu, the Founder of the foundation, in his address during the second day of the two-day event, urged young Africans from Francophone Africa to submit more applications when the call for entries for the 3rd batch of 1000 beneficiaries is launched in January 2017. He wondered whether the low participation could be a result of lack of information. He also promised that the programme would be fully extended to North Africa as from next year.
Cameroon beneficiaries express gratitude
The Cameroon Journal caught up with some of the entrepreneurs from Cameroon shortly after the close of the forum. Alvine Mirrielle Ghomsi Tchuente, one of the 25 beneficiaries from Cameroon, said she had invented a rub – a mosquito repellent. “I created this product when I was student at the Catholic University in Buea. I was using the school laboratory for my work.” She said, adding that “I am very grateful to the Tony Elumelu Foundation, because with the seed Capital, I will be able to open my own laboratory which will not only help me realise my dream, but employ many Cameroonians in a near future.
Another beneficiary, Tshafack Albert, invented a mechanism of conserving bottled palm wine that can be exported. “I am part of the Cameroon’s national handicraft association. I invented this technic to facilitate commercialisation of palm wine. My invention would have amounted to naught without capital to promote it”, I don’t have the words to express my gratitude to the TEF. He runs the Industrial Stabilisation Palm Wines Unit in Douala.
Augustine Fogue, a traditional ruler in Cameroon’s West region, was equally present at the forum. He told The Cameroon Journal that his project, an innovative method of construction in urban areas that would curb floods in cities, was also selected for the grant.
High level panel
Apart from Tony O Elumelu who doled out words of advice and encouragement, a high level panel of speakers in both public and private sector thrilled the prospective business leaders
with their success stories. They also took part in discussions on identifying policies to strengthen the enabling environment for entrepreneurs, moderated by BBC anchor, Lerato Mbele.
The panellists included Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone, President Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President of Nigeria, Former Prime Minister of Benin Republic Lionel Zinsou, Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture and Folorunsho Alakija, Vice Chair of Famfa Oil.
Other speakers at the event included Clare Akamanzi, Representative of President Kagame of Rwanda, Kennedy Uzoka, Group CEO of the United Bank for Africa Plc (UBA), Minster of Solid Minerals, Kayode Fayemi, Segun Awolowo, CEO of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Clem Ugorji, Public Affairs & Communications Director, Coca-Cola West Africa, Emeke Iweriebor, Regional CEO of UBA Africa (Francophone), Matthew Pearson, Head of Africa Equity Sales at ICBC Standard Bank, Sam Nwanze, Chief Investment Officer at Heirs Holdings.