Nigeria's Turmoil Fails To Deter Interest From Investors

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Tony Elumelu is a Nigerian business mogul and self described Africapitalist. As African Leaders meet in Washington, Elumelu talks to Steve Inskeep about the importance of entrepreneurs to Africa.


One African business leader attending the summit is Tony Elumelu. He made his money and his reputation by reviving a bank in Nigeria. He now invests in several African countries and he offered us his perspective on investing in Africa, despite news headlines about war or disease. Elumelu says local African investors tend to ignore that news, which really doesn't affect their businesses. A second kind of investor puts money across the continent and is also accustomed to bad news.

TONY ELUMELU: The third category, the foreign investors, for those who have not come to the continent, of course, when they hear stories like this, they get scared. But the truth is that you read what some of this and you're not used to the terrain, you all think that there's turmoil. But, in reality, it's not like that.

INSKEEP: But wait a minute. Isn't there a fair amount of turmoil in Nigeria? You have an insurgency. You've had problems with corruption. Even the industries that make money, like the oil industry, there can be violence associated with them.

ELUMELU: You know, in every business environment, you have different kinds of challenges. But does that stop people from getting to invest? No.

INSKEEP: There's a general impression that China has been eager to invest in sub-Saharan Africa - that European companies, some of them, are making a big play there, but that American companies have lagged behind in their interest. Is that true?

ELUMELU: I think, yeah, that is true. But we hope that with the recent awareness being created by President Obama and one that seems to be going well with some of the American investors that this will begin to change. And the thing about China and Africa - you know what China wants. But at times, you don't know what America wants.

INSKEEP: When you say you know what China wants, what they want is oil? They want access to food. They want resources like that - specific resources. Is that what you mean?

ELUMELU: Yes, yes. That's what they want, but in return. They also know African wants or needs. And Africa needs infrastructure, and Africa needs roads, African needs ports, African needs railways. And not just out of charity, but investment because it is profitable, commercially viable, to invest in Africa because when they invest, they make money. But as they make money, they also help to improve society. And so that is the new form of investment and partnership we want to see in Africa, going forward.

INSKEEP: Tony Elumelu, thank you very much.

ELUMELU: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He's the founder of The Tony Elumelu Foundation and chairman of Heirs Holdings in Nigeria.

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