Business & Economics

Fostering A Paradigm Shift in Innovation Across Africa

(Photo by Benny Jackson on Unsplash)

By Jephthah Acheampong

From the 18th to 19th centuries, the First Industrial Revolution which used water and steam power to mechanize production occurred. Africa missed it. Between 1870 and 1914, the Second which used electric power to create mass production occurred. Africa missed it. During the 1980s, the Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Africa missed that one too. Since the middle of the last century, the Fourth Industrial Revolution which is often categorized as the digital revolution is building on the Third, where a fusion of technologies is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. For the very first time, Africa is taking part of a revolution that is bringing with it the promise of dramatic changes in the way people live and work, and perhaps even the way people think. Unlike the preceding revolutions, the Fourth can help Africa participate in the globalized economy and improve the quality of life for many. With this revolution comes emerging technologies such a mobile connectivity, artificial intelligence, next-generation robotics, and 3D printing that can be utilized to drastically innovate  supply chains and factory floors. Africa now has the potential to be at the forefront of this exciting change.

In the recent Stern in Africa Business Forum where leaders from various industries convened to share insights on the Forum’s theme: “The Tipping Point: Accelerating Africa’s Agenda,” innovation seemed to at the forefront of each panel. As Keynote Speaker Samuel Alemayehu, Head of Africa & Managing Director at Cambridge Industries Ltd. shared, there are two kinds of innovations on the African continent; (1) Designing for extreme affordability and (2) Designing for extreme survival. One of the most romanticized examples pertaining to Alemayehu’s point is microloans accessibility. In many African economies, microloans have been the most prescribed financial empowerment tool for low-income groups to attain the immediate capital needed to launch a business or to cater for their families. This scenario is analogous to designing for extreme affordability because most entrepreneurs have been innovating around poverty for many years. On the other hand, designing for extreme survival means taking Keynote Speaker Child Liberty’s approach to co-founding Liberty & Justice by directly tackling poverty. As Africa’s first Fair Trade Certified apparel manufacturer, he and his team set out to build a factory that employs a robust women workforce, where a 51% to 49% factory ownership split is enforced. This empowers their employees to feel apart of the company’s vision.

Based on my experiences serving on the African continent, there’s definitely room for both forms of innovation. Africa is the only continent that will experience exponential population growth in the coming decades and unemployment may be the greatest problem the continent faces as a result. Similar to Lu Ka Yew’s approach of taking Singapore From Third World to First World, Africa too can surpass this ongoing problem by using microloans to catapult the widespread networks of small businesses, which are the real creator of good jobs as opposed to corporate giants who are slowly becoming reliant on automation. It’s evident Child’s approach to tackling poverty may be unconventional however, as Keynote Speaker Bisili Bokoko echoed, “to be an entrepreneur serving African markets, you really don’t know what’s next but you have to trust the process. It’s easier to do business now because we are in an economy of generosity. We are in the economy of sharing…” In a new study by McKinsey & Company, titled Dance of the lions and dragons, nearly a quarter African-based Chinese enterprises recovered their initial investment within 12 months, while 50% reported it took them three years or less. Most attribute this success to right timing and their level of expertise, which may definitely be true. However, it will also be sophomoric to overlook three important factors discussed at the forum and projected to play a role in Africa’s economic growth in the next decades: Manufacturing, Infrastructure, and Governance.

Manufacturing in Africa

In the most recent presidential campaign in Ghana, one promise seemed to be at the forefront; One District, One Factory. In this promise, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo gave the assurance that each of the 216 districts across the country would get a factory within the first four years of his government. It comes as no surprise that the country’s Foreign Direct Investment inflows hit 1.3 billion dollars in September 2017, as recorded by the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC). As Liberty shared during his keynote address, “it’s important to really consider manufacturing when doing work on the continent because it’s an investment that will be really difficult for outsiders to make.” Unfortunately, simple commodities such as matches are not manufactured anywhere on the continent however, almost every single household, if not all, own a pack. Microscopically assessing, Angola’s agro-processing is likely to play a particularly significant role, accounting for 48.2% of the manufacturing sector and in Ivory Coast and Ghana, over 2 million small-scale farms produce nearly 60% of the world’s supply of cocoa. Yet, only 3% of Africans are employed in manufacturing, as compared to 15% in Beijing, China.

According to the latest Africa Agriculture Status Report, the continent’s food market may be worth more than $1 trillion each year by 2030 as imports are substituted with high-value locally-produced food. Although this creates an immensely lucrative opportunity for entrepreneurs in the manufacturing sector, most African economies – such as Nigeria – are still fixated on the availability of mineral reserves and oil. This level of thinking is what led Nigeria’s economic expansion to being ephemeral, unsustainable, and extremely unequal, thus resulting in one of the worst recessions on the continent. In 2014 alone, 30% of China’s GDP came from manufacturing, according to the World Bank. By comparison, Nigeria’s share stood at just 9%, Kenya 12%, and Zambia 8%. As summed up by Joe Kraus, one of the leaders of the boom of the late 1990s, the availability of new manufacturing technologies, which diversify production and multiple markets for local producers, makes the shift to a decentralised economy easier than ever. Until we choose to re-construct our wealth creation model by marrying emerging technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution with our manufacturing sectors, poverty levels will only continue to rise as we approach a population of 2.5 billion by 2050.


Infrastructure in Africa

Entrepreneurs can help mitigate poverty when they can leverage already built infrastructure on the ground. However, for African entrepreneurs to be more productive, it’s imperative to increase innovation, apply the latest technologies to implementations, and focus on more value-added products and services. This is where smart introduction of mechanization will be needed, combined with a significant effort in training and skills development. In most African economies, there’s evidently an influx of foreign business women and men bringing in their own workforce; this is seemingly the new face of globalization. As a result, a continent where 200 million people are aged between 15 and 24 end up being displaced from the workforce primarily due to the infrastructure gap across universities. As Speaker Amini Kajunju – Director of Strategic Partnerships at Africa Integras – shared, “there’s currently a $48 billion-dollar gap in providing the appropriate infrastructure in African universities.” Without infrastructure, it becomes incredibly difficult to retain quality teachers. The lack of quality teachers further results in students focusing on scholarly development, as opposed to learning the practical skills needed to excel in the labor force. Foreign companies will be more willing to do business and hiring Africa’s youth once innovators can show predictability in bridging the infrastructure gap.

On the other hand, when we observe countries such as Ethiopia which is on a mission to be a middle-income economy by 2025, China is supplying much-needed infrastructure projects, such as power, roads and bridges, enhancing intra-African trade. Although this is commendable, one integral area in which Africa could benefit from foreign country cooperation and lessons is in the area of knowledge transfer. The jobs and skills gap in Africa is wide and only growing wider as its population explodes. For Africa to take advantage of this potential demographic dividend, encouraging foreign investors to focus on working with universities to bridge the jobs and skills gap is a worthy start. Today, mobile connections are widespread across Africa, making virtual and mobile training techniques a great entry point needed to overcome the lack of immediate training infrastructure. Also, vocational training with a key focus on artisan skillsets is essential because it fosters global commerce, thanks to policies such as The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The main objective of AGOA is to help facilitate the integration of Sub-Saharan Africa into the global economy. Across all industries, there is clear evidence that the technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution coupled with the right policies in place are slowly having a major impact on development.

Governance in Africa

When it comes to Africa, entrepreneurs can choose to be dispassionate about politics but cannot afford to be dispassionate about governance. In many countries across Africa, corruption and poverty results from poor governance. Organizations such as Transparency International are working to address this issue by giving voice to the victims and witnesses of corruption. They also work with governments, businesses and citizens to stop the abuse of power, bribery, and secret deals. Despite their commendable efforts, entrepreneurs such as Alemayehu continue to face roadblocks when doing business on the continent due to failed intellectual properties. This is not foreign to many. As he shared, “Africa is a continent that has to live in the limits of the reality of its implementations so we often see a lot of bandages versus cure on the continent.” Therefore to catapult innovation on the African continent, it’s imperative to think as Policy Entrepreneurs. According to Oby Ezekwesili, a Nigerian Chartered Accountant, “Policy Entrepreneurship is using your knowledge of the sector that you are operating in as a basis to engage governments on why it needs to play certain roles and also giving them an incentive to pursue that role.” Businesses fail to be competitive due to poor governance; Foreign Direct Investment slowly begins to dwindle, and tariffs continue to elevate. It’s no surprise Africa’s richest man – Aliko Dangote – shared in an interview that “we cannot get things right unless there is good cooperation between politicians and the businessmen.”

As briefly mentioned earlier, Africa’s population is set to double by 2050 as the continent’s problems with poverty, joblessness and health issues mount. We, as Africans, will be in a more frightful situation than we are already unless we stop doing business as usual. Above all, it is important that African governments, businesses, labour unions and communities work together to develop economic clusters. As Bokoko shared, “…there are two reasons people go into business; to fulfill people’s dreams or to remove people’s frustration.” When it comes to doing business in Africa, the entrepreneurs who start on their own and refuse to develop the policy entrepreneurship mindset will have a hard battle to fight and will also need to have deep pockets to drive consistent innovation regardless of their reasoning. The promising thing is as the physical, digital, and biological worlds continue to converge, new technologies and platforms will increasingly enable citizens to engage with governments, voice their opinions, coordinate their efforts, and even circumvent the supervision of public authorities. Simultaneously, governments will gain new technological powers to increase their control over populations, based on pervasive surveillance systems and the ability to control digital infrastructure.  

Africa currently boasts about 1.2 billion people. To foster a paradigm shift in innovation across the continent is no small task, however nothing is impossible. As Alemayehu posed to participants, “‘Why is it so hard to innovate from the bottom of the pyramid?’ Because they have limitations.” To succeed in fostering innovation, one must work for the majority. Additionally, it’s imperative to first understand the societal structures evident because a one size fits all approach is simply a waste of time when launching a business in Africa. This exercise guides entrepreneurs in designing products and services that will not only be needed but will also better shape development. Steven Grin – CEO of Lateral Capital – shared on the Venture capital panel that, “11-13% of the population in Africa are receiving 1/100 of VC capital….even when South Africa’s Venture capitalists look up, they don’t see Africa, they see Europe.” This creates room for another topic subtly touched upon during the forum; Impact Investing. Impact investing is investing that aims to generate specific beneficial, social, or environmental effects in addition to financial gain. As policy entrepreneurs embark on launching a business in Africa, this form of investing is something to highly consider. The winner of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not yet determined; it could very much be Africa provided we choose to abide by the closing remarks of Founder Adeola Adejobi, which is to connect with like-minded people, to create breakthrough products and services, and to invest in Africa as a collective.



Jephthah Acheampong a contributor to ZNews Africa.

He is a Social Entrepreneur, Connector, and Writer. As a social entrepreneur, he is the founder of Blossom Academy, Africa’s first Data Science talent accelerator that trains and connects unemployed graduates in Ghana to the world’s most influential institutions operating on the African continent.

Jeph often writes as a millennial voice on a wide range of topics including business, entrepreneurship, and philosophy. He is passionate about the role entrepreneurship and innovation play in shaping the African continent.

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Art meets wealth in one Nigerian-American’s vision for a community

Shimite Obialo founder and CEO of Anoko

“You must kill it,” her parents would tell her. Killing it signifies putting your best foot forward, having the “doer mentality,” as some may call it.

Her father and mother left Nigeria for America, with the vision in their eyes, to provide for their kin a much more prosperous life than they had. They made the hard choice to uproot from their native land, which is filled with their families and friends.

They arrived in America and with them, their culture. Nigerian culture is built on hard work, dedication, a strong resolve, all of which cannot fully be utilized without education rooted at its core. So when they had children, they instilled all those core values deep within their minds.


Shimite Obialo took that “kill it” mentality from her hardworking mother and father. She’s a lawyer who works sometimes 80-hour weeks, sings at events with a beautiful voice that captivates souls, and works tirelessly on as  founder and CEO of Anoko, her social networking business.

Anoko is a new members only art social club based in New York, that connects professionals with arts, culture and culinary experiences. Through a diverse set of partnerships, with arts institutions, galleries, performance venues and more, Anoko provides its members with discounts and VIP access. The group was selected to curate the VIP section of the 2017 VOLTA Art Fair happening in March.

The meaning of the word “Anoko” is wealth, in the Nigerian language, Igala.

On Saturday night, I attended the private launch party in Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn. Once there, I was blown away by the creative ingenuity and uniqueness that presented itself in the portraits hanging from the wall. These were Afroprofessionals expressing their creativity outside of the confines of their daily, standardized lives.

Attendees viewing artwork at Anoko's lunch event in Brooklyn, NY
Attendees viewing artwork at Anoko’s launch event in Brooklyn, NY

After having a drink or two (probably more) and waiting for the event to commence, I parlayed with some of the creative professionals about the event, and why they were drawn to attend. Most knew Shimite on a personal level; others were guests of her guests. They all genuinely believed in the mission of sharing their creative artistry with the world–that true art is communal. The professional creatives wanted to be apart of the space, the feeling of transparency that art provides to the soul.

Shimite walked out from the back room–commanding everyone’s attention. She is a striking woman, tall and elegant, with laid back eyes and a beautiful smile. She walked around the room, greeting her guests, before proceeding to kick off the event. Her demeanor exudes a quiet, yet commanding presence.

After some performances by fellow creatives, Shimite, an artist herself, captivated every person’s’ soul with the cadence of her voice, rendering them speechless.

Jeremiah Ojo, art consultant at Anoko speaks with attendee.
Jeremiah Ojo, art consultant at Anoko speaks with attendee.

“There is a multiplicity in us, we don’t have to be just one thing. I can be everything I want to be; we can be anything we want to be. It’s with that vision in mind that led me to starting Anoko,” Shimite said.

Shimite is also building a strong team to help build this community. She brought on Jeremiah Ojo as an art consultant at Anoko. He brings a dynamic experience traveling globally to curate and project manage a variety of exhibitions, working with artists studios, galleries and museums.

He shares, “I decided to work with Anoko because of the mission set forth to educate our generation about the importance of pursing and attaining cultural wealth. Anoko is the first company I have seen to successfully blend the social & cultural capital of the arts and cultural sectors, with immersive educational experiences, built around people and community, not institution.”

Shimite and Jeremiah have built real careers doing creative work. As Afroprofessionals, we don’t have to just be pragmatic. We can be raw and unfiltered in our capacity to express ourselves; we need to share with the rest of the world a bit of who we are through mediums such as photographs, paintings, writings, singing, and all other creative outlets. It shows the world us, the way we would like to be defined: multifaceted individuals with beaucoup identities.

There’s a voice inside of us that can only be emulated through the art that we create.


Kamar Foster is a contributor who covers events and writes the stories for ZNews Africa. He narrates the cultural stories of the African diaspora as he experiences them locally and globally. Hit him up on twitter @KamarFoster and on instagram @definitionsarerealyall

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Maame, Mama Africa Left Another Voicemail

“Hi Maame,

I see mama today. She tell me sey you no fit pick im call. E no good o. I tell am sey you dey work plenti so you no dey carry your phone. Maame, mama don dey old oh. She no go like am if you and her no relate soon. She dey vex sey some yankee boys dey give her wahala for street. She no fit sleep o. Dem enter yard, dem come comot with the computer wey you leave am but e be surprising dey give am light. Dey call am solar power. You know sey that computer na wetin she dey use to remember the way you dey give am sweet belle. Mama no happy! She feel sey you de only light she dey need…

There is a fascinating parable depicting a lady who once lost a needle in her house and ventured to search for it outside. An old man observing the scenario asked where she had lost the needle. She aggressively responded, “Inside my house!” He continued, “Why aren’t you looking for it inside the house then?”

She scratched her head for a bit and said, “Because the light is outside.” This is the reality of most Africans living abroad today. Africa’s sun has somehow positioned itself to shine to the West while consciously alienating the additional cardinal directions. This is a result of the lack of an impactful educational curriculum.

The educational system in a number of African countries is flawed. Those who attend public schools are usually at a disadvantage due to the gradual absence of ill-paid teachers. As a result, attendance rates decline, diverting the attention of our youth to quick monetary gains on the streets of their respective cities. Education then becomes a lingering thought, as opposed to a necessity.

On the opposite end, those of affluent backgrounds have access to the best-paid teachers and the most prestigious forms of westernized education. This may be positioned as the norm in the minds of many, however; a number of graduates complete school with a limited understanding of their country’s narrative. As the brain drain trend dictates, the youth of the latter demographic pursue their higher education abroad, get accustomed to a prodigal lifestyle, and refuse to return to a continent they never fully understood.

Between one-third and a half of the tertiary educated populations of Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, Mozambique and Ghana leave their country. Africa has been in darkness for centuries and the permanent absence of her children – coupled with their past ephemeral presence – utterly encapsulates the drastic lack of development.

“What are you going to do to push the upsides of your continent so it could be open for business?” Adebola Williams – Chief Executive Officer of Red Media Africa – asked participants at the most recent Africa Economic Forum at Columbia University. At this forum, participants had the opportunity to witness entrepreneurs, disruptors, and innovators who took the bold leap to move back home after completing their education or professional servitude abroad to formulate an impact. Themed “Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers,” the forum encouraged Africans to break out of the fashionable cycle in order to make themselves a force for the people on the continent.

The discussion amongst the African diaspora pertaining to moving back home is clearly one that has come to stay yet quite impossible for most to grasp or take seriously. Many philosophers and influencers have said that the only thing greater than failure is not trying. However, when it comes to most Africans, I firmly believed that the trying is not the hardest part. The ability and need to try have been ingrained into our DNA for many years to the extent where it has been culturally positioned as an essential part of our survival. The problem for most is

The problem for most is comfort. As Thabo Mbeki said, “The principal investors in the South African economy are South Africans. And this is something, I think, we should really pay attention to.” It’s no coincidence that when you ask most non-Africans to name a country in Africa, an almost certain answer would be South Africa. Imagine an African with a well-paid job in investment banking, management consulting, or engineering. Logically thinking, why should she bother packing her bags to a land where the odds are portrayed to be against her, even if she is unfulfilled?

The perceived risk factor has been marketed to be exponentially high. As a result, we end up growing comfortable and being caught in the wheel of working to build another individual’s dream. A job is no doubt a blessing, however, it’s evident that ten years or so down the line, you may be replaced with someone younger and astute or by a robot. These ten or so years could have been invested into a goal to potentially transform your country or better yet, our continent.

On the note of transforming our continent, Adebola Williams challenged all attendees to become water to Africa. Water is a major problem in Sub-Saharan Africa where people lose 40 billion hours a year collecting it alone. Although all this time is invested collecting, research shows that 319 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are still without access to improved reliable drinking water sources (Source: The Water Project). This issue, amongst others, deserves to be ameliorated and Africans abroad must devise impactful and scalable solutions accordingly. The reality is if we do not, someone else will because Africa is looking for heroes.

Today, most Africans ironically contribute to the single story of a continent filled to the brim with aids, poverty, and corruption. As Adebola said, “We are all media owners. The West no longer owns the media, the wise owns it.” For our singular narrative to be shifted underneath the wings of a progressive light, it’s of vital importance to cultivate our why as it will be the guiding force to propel us to bear with almost any how. Regardless of our respective realities, our why needs share a common denominator of improving our continent for future generations. A blessing and curse about our continent are that there are so many challenges. Understanding that when our neighbor’s house is on fire, our house is also on fire creates a tremendous opportunity to perspire and become water.

Patrick Ngowi – a Tanzanian Entrepreneur – is one of many success stories, as highlighted by Adebola during his keynote. Patrick started selling top-up vouchers, however; he saw that there were limited mobile phones in his vicinity. As a result, he imported mobile phones from China to address this challenge. He then realized his neighbors lacked the power to charge their phones. This realization challenged him to venture into solar energy. Patrick became the water cycle for his country. Today, Patrick is a millionaire.

Based on Patrick’s story, it’s quite evident that what Africa recognizes and celebrates is a force that doesn’t hesitate to transform, adapt, and execute. Second keynote speaker Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond – author of Powder Necklace – shared an experience where 39 African writers, including herself, set out to celebrate their published books. During their time at the summit, every author present spoke English, except two. This observation goes to show how colonialism has placed barriers in terms of our languages and interactions as Africans. This observation also creates an opportunity for the African diaspora to provide creative distribution models for individuals on the continent to better connect.

In his book, The Advanced Formula For Total Success, Robert Anthony said, “If we divided all the money in the world equally, in a short time the rich would be rich again, and the poor would be poor.” This idea carries on to the realities of our continent. Based on Anthony’s logic, it could be argued that what Africa needs to increase its competitiveness to promote economic equity is skillset, innovation, and access (opportunity). A combination of these three could be the right recipe for growth and development on our continent.

On the Media, Fashion & Arts panel, Lolade Olayokun – First US correspondent for – shared with attendees an experience with her family while in Nigeria. According to Olayokun, the more time she spent in her hometown, the frustrated she grew due to lack of cell phone service. At one point during the trip, they decided to climb a mountain.

“At the top of the mountain, there was service!” she exclaimed with joy. This is a story not foreign to the population living and breathing on the continent. For them, it’s not the issue with their cell phone service, it’s the lack of immediate connection with a neighbor. It’s not about hiking a mountain for an adrenaline blur; it’s about growing to understand that in order to be adorned with the opportunity to serve others in Africa, you have to be at the top. The problem is those who have made it at the top often forget their roots which leads to our stories being mistold.

As Michael Rain – Co-Founder of ZNews Africa – said, “Don’t just focus on who is telling the story, focus on how they tell our stories.”. Ayoinmotion – A Nigerian Musical Artist – echoed this sentiment by shedding light on his observation of African youth consuming entertainment and information through mediums built by non-Africans. We – the Africans abroad – have been equipped with the skills and have been given the tools to build platforms for our relatives on the continent yet we choose to add flame to the flawed narratives circulating the West.

Ghanaian businessman Seth Dei once said, “I realized it was difficult to be poor here (Ghana): there are so many opportunities. You only have to drop a seed and in two weeks you have a plant. Depending on your ambition you can become a millionaire.”

There were 169,000 millionaires on the continent at the end of 2014 — a number expected to rise by 53% over the next 10 years, according to the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2015. These predictions bring hope for most. However, the hope of being a millionaire should not be your reason for moving back to the African continent. Those who are truly impact driven are the ones who succeed.

Hakeem Belo-Osagie – Nigerian businessman and philanthropist – shared that you will find that a lot of successful people at home (Nigeria) have a deep sense of sadness because they are driven, as opposed to being in the driver’s seat. As a result, they subsume their identity into a piece of work. Their personal life suffers since they have overly committed to some work they just cannot do or they have put an importance or arbitrary significance on some work that doesn’t matter.

Based on his personal experience of venturing down the entrepreneurial route, Belo-Osagie boldly attests to having a wife and children who comprehend the true essence of his drive and assist him when the road grows dimmer as the defining reason for his success. He also advised, “You don’t want to have a lot of contacts but very few friends. When things get dark, the contacts disappear.”

This point hit home the hardest because I’ve had the opportunity to explore a plethora of conferences centered around the theme Africa. The majority of the time, the same familiar faces are in attendance, ever ready to be seen, heard, and acknowledged (See Networking Disguised As Transaction). We consume so much information at these conferences yet fail to execute, which leads us to believe there is more to consume before we go on to turn our wishes into goals.

Today, social media plays a revolutionary role in strengthening ties with friends and family on the African continent. During a discussion with Kwadwo Sarpong – Co-Founder of African Research Academies for Women – he shared that social media was a guiding force in building his organization’s team. With access to social media, Africans abroad have the advantage to assess those in their distant circle in order to formulate a vague idea of what they may be passionate about and whether that passion echoes their mission. Social media is one powerful tool that can potentially mere change contacts into friends.

To further drive the point of contacts, Belo-Osagie advised that having founding members with MBAs from top schools is absolutely not the hailed recipe for success. To succeed on the African continent, it’s imperative to find local people who have spent their entire lives on the ground to aid in a well thought out execution. His additional themes during his keynote included the willingness to be bold and to not hesitate, the importance of failure because it emboldens you to plunge ahead and address your mistakes, and the need to cultivate a laser cut commitment when pursuing your desired goals.

To my sisters and my brothers, it’s so important to live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now. Africa has a population of 1.2bn people, and a GDP of $2.8Tn and assuming a compound annual growth of 5%, Africa’s GDP as a continent can reach $30Tn in 50 years. This should be enough motivation to reach out beyond cultures, races, and national borders to break barriers and build bridges for the sake of our continent, Africa.

Maame abeg you dey enjoy with oyinbo people wey you no fit remember mama.You fit dey bold, dey daring. Uncle Bello-Osagie dey tell us sey “if rain dey fall, e no be the reason wey you no go reach anywhere.” The thing wey dey happen for our kantri dey for head. Whether rain or sunshine, me must to move. We must to remember sey na mama born us. Blood dey thicker than water. As you dey with oyinbo people, make you no forget mama. Na the reason all our papa and grand papa dey fight so we no go fight again. Come home, Maame. Do am for us. I dey pray for you o.  

Your bro,



Jephthah Acheampong is an Entrepreneur, Writer, and Storyteller based in New York. Equipped with a background in Economics, Jephthah writes as a millennial voice on social justice, women equality, and education. He currently serves as Director of Sales & Marketing at Esusu. Jephthah also founded Anansi Global, a non-profit empowering youth in Ghana by providing quality education and mentorship.

View his work at or find him on Linkedin.

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Meet the Model and Athlete Launching ‘Tinder for Fitness’

Two-time Golden Gloves Champion, Ngo Okafor poses in his boxing gear.

(Photography by Eric Acquaye)

Written by Michael Rain

Ngo Okafor entered his crowded apartment. It was filled with tall stacks of boxes. The boxes contained thousands of copies of his modeling calendar. His friends encouraged him to produce it but disappeared when it came time to market and promote it.

The boxes consumed his bedroom. They were blocking him from moving forward. They marked a physical representation of failure caving in on him. The calendars were now collections of wasted time.

Ngo went through a mild depression, wondering what he would do. “I said to myself, either you’re going to throw them all out or figure out a way to sell them all,” he recalled.

He decided to sell them. He bought a collapsible table, filled his backpack and duffel bag with 200 calendars and hit the streets. He set up shop in the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn, New York, where he offered the calendar for free. He invited people to donate any amount they liked. He gained traction and eventually worked his way over to Times Square, where he would start his day at 5 a.m. doing his best to get people’s attention and to sell every copy.

“People would just walk by me. Some people would laugh at me. Others would be like, ‘who the hell does this dude think he is?’and all kinds of verbal jabs,” he remembers. “And then other people would come at me and say ‘wow, amazing work!’ And I would sign a calendar for them and take pictures with them.”

When tourists discovered Ngo, that’s when things changed. They’ve never seen anything like him. A 6’5” striking and fit African man selling a high-quality calendar in person. They would buy several calendars at a time, and eventually, Ngo sold every, single, one.

This hustle and determination have helped Ngo garner a range of achievements in fashion, sports, fitness, and entrepreneurship. This Nigerian-American has defied expectations throughout his life, and now he is betting on the success of his startup.

Ngo is a 2-time Golden Gloves Boxing champion, winning at the ages of 33 and 34. He’s graced the covers of top-line publications as a fashion and fitness model for FORTUNE, VOGUE, W, ESPN Magazine and The Source. And for over a decade he’s been the top celebrity fitness trainer in New York, working with some of the world’s best-known beauties, including Naomi Campbell, Iman, and Jennifer Lopez.

FitMatch founder, Ngo Okafor shares a smile on a rooftop in New York City. Photography by Eric Acquaye.

Today, he is focusing his hustle as the founder of FitMatch, a social fitness app that he describes a “Yelp meets Tinder.” The app connects people who are looking for workout partners. Many of Ngo’s clients travel frequently and often lose motivation to exercise when they are away from home.

FitMatch uses geolocation technology to connect people worldwide, giving people the option to connect with someone else anywhere. FitMatch is also a solution for beginners looking for a workout buddy that is at a similar fitness level. Once users have found and connected with each other, they can keep one another accountable on their fitness goals, and provide inspiration and motivation.  

After interviewing loads of his clients and others, he determined that the disconnected offline world needed a simple way to connect with people for exercise and support.

“A lot of people don’t deal with humans anymore. You can wake up and have all of your services done by an app. You get on your phone you order an Uber. You get into work, sit in your cubicle, put your headphones on, you don’t talk to anyone. You order your food from seamless your food gets there. You go to the gym, get your headphones on, you work out you go home and the cycle starts all over again.”

“You don’t have to interact with people if you don’t want to. And when you want to interact with people you have Tinder, you have OK Cupid and now you have FitMatch when you’re looking for someone to workout with. That’s where the world is going. Make it as easy as possible for people to connect, and for people to get what they want.”

Founding FitMatch is a culmination of Ngo’s fitness, sports, and entrepreneurial past. He has a habit of setting his mind on new goals, learning what he can, and working his hardest to achieve success. Following this path has never been easy. As any African-immigrant knows, careers that fall outside of law, business, medicine, and engineering are not met with the most supportive reactions.

“My story has always been if a human being can do it, I can do it. No matter what it is,” he shares confidently. “People laughed at me when I said I was going to train as a boxer. I started boxing at 31, and I won my first Golden Gloves at 33 and won it again at 34.”

Ngo Okafor, founder of FitMatch. Photography by Eric Acquaye.

“So for me, I just focus and I learn. I just read a lot. I read about how other people did it and wonder how I could do it better.”

This approach is what kept a young Ngo together when he arrived in the U.S. from Nigeria, adjusting to hardships and pursuing what made him happy, despite not initially receiving support from his family.

“I left home when I was 18 and came to the U.S. Originally I studied computer science and I worked in IT for a while. I loved computers. I loved technology. But I loved so much more. I wanted to do so many other things. But you know what African parents are like, ‘You have to get that job. Get that insurance. Make money. You cannot make money from entertainment’. And I get it. It’s all they know.”

“I wanted to play sports. African parents don’t support that. I loved the arts. I got into modeling and I was doing pretty well at that. It wasn’t until people started saying ‘oh I saw him on this or I saw him on that’ that they started saying ‘oh you know congratulations’ or ‘you’re doing well.’”

“Before then they were like, ‘what are we going to tell our friends that our son is a model? What is that? Their son has come to America and now he is lost,” he says humorously.

His parents do not completely understand where he’s going with this startup, either. Nor do they understand how it could make him money, or the implications of its success. “They are like, well as long as you’re still training people and making money,” he laughs.

Ngo doesn’t worry about the people who do not support him or do not understand his journey or path. “People are out there waiting for you to fail because it makes them feel good about themselves. ‘How dare you succeed,’ because you if succeed that means they are not taking risks to do their best.”

He’s also not afraid of failure. “You learn from your mistakes. You can’t learn if you’re only winning all the time.”

“Work ethic is what gets me through anything,” he says with conviction. “That’s what helped me with boxing. That’s what helped me with this app. I’m not going to give up until it becomes the true success that I know it should become.”

Even if you don’t have your family’s support, and there is no app available to give you supporters of your dreams on demand, Ngo suggests taking your own journey and focusing on your talents and gifts.

“You don’t have to travel the beaten path. Trust that you have been given a gift that nobody else has. Believe in that gift.”

You can download FitMatch in the iTunes Store

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Michael Rain is Chief Editor of ZNews Africa. Follow him on Twitter as @michaeljrain. 

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Sankofa: Investing in Africa in the Rising Era

Editor’s note: This is a recap of the 2016 Wharton in Africa Business Forum. If you’re interested in attending the 2017 event Nov 3-5, visit:

“I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.” – First Prime Minister and President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah

Africa has been painted with a negative perception by many, which has created a distorted, one-dimensional view by individuals in the West. In multiple scenarios, members of the African diaspora sometimes partake in this deception, telling narratives that catapult negative stereotypes and in turn, harm the growth of the continent.

Africa has been perceived through a prism of disease, starvation, corruption, poverty, and war. Author Chimamanda Adichie coined this “a single story.”  Even after the celebration of more than 50 years of independence in most African countries, the manacles of ignorance and the portrayal of the media still sadly cripple the continent in the perspectives of many.

For myself, pursuing a westernized education was a driving force in shaping my identity as an African. It provided me with a macroscopic view of the continent and propelled me to comprehend the bottlenecks faced by generational leaders.

There is a popular word in Ghana called Sankofa, which loosely translates to “go back and get it.” Growing up, I never understood the potency of the word, but as I look back today, this word alone has imbued in my ethos a reasoning to not look past Africa as the ultimate destination to grow, harvest, and sell my crops.

This past weekend at the annual Wharton Africa Business Forum, the agenda was to explore the diverse business opportunities that lie in the intersection of the public, private, and social sectors across Africa. Throughout the conference, professionals exchanged ideas, pitched initiatives, and expressed both their excitement and frustration about the state of the continent. It was both awakening and inspiring.

As Richard Branson said, “Finding something frustrating and seeing an opportunity to make it better is what entrepreneurship is all about.” Based on Branson’s quote, it could be argued that almost every attendee present embodied an entrepreneurial drive and possessed a burning flame in their hearts to make a difference on the continent. However, the apparent roadblock seemed to be “How, when, and why do I even begin?”

The first keynote speaker, Ambassador Herman Cohen, President and CEO at Cohen and Woods International and Consultant on Africa at ContourGlobal, advised attendees to look at Africa as an investment destination as opposed to a humanitarian destination.

In her book – Dead Aid – Dr. Dambisa Moyo echoes this statement by making the case that overreliance on aid has stagnated the growth of developing nations by leaving these countries in poverty, leaving their leaders more dependent on aid, and funneling corruption.

According to the World Bank, there is a trillion dollars of African money not sitting in Africa. For this money to circulate the continent, it’s imperative members of the African diaspora put an end to exporting commodities and importing foreign goods. To fill the missing components in the enigma, Ambassador Cohen highlights the lack of technological advances and storage as the problem. For example, 40% of African food goes to waste due to lack of storage and innovative technologies to catapult its longevity.

Leading thinkers, such as Sangu Delle, have created more sustainable ways of growing the continent and produced more jobs through local investments. By investing in the agro processing company Stawi, the company has leveraged economies of scale to create value for people on the African continent. Stawi – like most successful businesses – was born out of frustration.

The founder, Eric Muthomi, noticed the over 400,000 banana farmers in Kenya who produced too many bananas, which eventually went to rot. He then decided to take the bananas and make banana based gluten-free flour and baby food. Today, Stawi foods are sold throughout the Kenyan market. But this is just one success story.

One third of food, beverages, and similar processed goods consumed in Africa is imported. This goes to show a plethora of problems go unsolved on the continent every single day, which creates an opportunity for working members of the African diaspora to play an integral role in enhancing the growth of the continent.

In most African countries, there has been a recent influx of foreigners – particularly from Asia – who gradually invest in the abundance of resources such as infrastructure and agriculture. Unfortunately, most Africans on the continent are unable to take part in their endeavors because of their limited knowledge and experiences in comparison to their Asian counterparts. Foreign investors have compensated for this disparity by bringing thousands of their own laborers and businessmen; this group represents a new face of globalization.

While foreigners are able to benefit from these emerging industries, members of the African diaspora still remain disadvantaged, with only 10% of trade occurring among Africans. However, on the fortunate end, independent court systems have been established to operate fairly in a number of African countries. Regional groups, such as The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), have also made it simpler for Africans to trade among themselves.

All these practices contribute to making it simpler for commerce to exist between African nations, thus making it increasingly difficult for foreigners to sell cheaper to Africans. As Ambassador Cohen added,

“The key is not Foreign Direct Investment, the key is African Investment.”

Often times, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes may have the resources, skill-sets, determination, and commitment to succeed however; the missing ingredient boils down to capital. Keynote speaker Sacha Poignonnec, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Jumia, shares that finding the money to execute on an idea is not the hardest part of investing in Africa, the challenge is finding the right investors to hold the rope tight as you climb mountains.

Simply put, the worst thing an entrepreneur can do is to train an unseasoned investor about the continent. Poignonnec proposed for entrepreneurs to do their due diligence before committing to any capital, no matter the scenario. To emphasize this point, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Co-Founder of Andela and Flutterwave, believes that positioning yourself in the right circle makes funding inevitable. He added that investors are averse to risk-taking and unless an entrepreneur has the right track record or a Co-Founder with the experience to complement her skill-set, it is best not to approach an investor right away.

Different experts have varying opinions on the subject however; funding is not the most important hurdle. Poignonnec advised participants to have an idea that is relevant to the people. Often times, entrepreneurs looking to invest fail to conduct a thorough market research on the ground prior to execution. Having so much belief in an idea to the point where you fail to fully comprehend the problem is a setback for many.

Joe Gebbia, Co-founder of Airbnb, proposes “Enlightened Empathy” as the solution to this. According to Gebbia, “Enlightened Empathy is the process of seeing the world so closely in the shoes of the person you are creating for to the point where you see the world the way that they see it and you bring those insights back to the drawing board, combine it with your own design point of view, to create something new.” When channeling your ideas to fruition, Poignonnec encourages participants to strengthen the intersection between three things; talent, brain, and heart. Aboyeji, on the other hand, proposes that it’s best to burn bridges. He believes for an entrepreneur to have one leg in and another out will most likely result in two of many things: cash burn on flights and dwindling profits.

Fred Swaniker, Founder & CEO of the African Leadership Academy, also offered his perspective on the conversation. His formula is simple; pay early employees less than the salary received from their past occupations. This is the mark of true commitment. The recent trend of moving back to Africa has been closely associated with obligation. Swaniker challenges members of the African diaspora to move back not as a sense of obligation, but because it’s an opportunity of our lifetime. He also added,

“We, as black people, will never be fully respected until we have economic power. The reality is this happens in Africa.”

As you look into strengthening the economic pillars of Africa, a few of many sectors to consider include Agriculture, Power, and Payments. Today, approximately 60% of the African population is in the agricultural sector. However, the most talented individuals are leaning towards more conventional sectors for the sake of prestige. Although agriculture has been perceived through a dark lens for many years, the problem is the definition.

Agriculture is more than planting and cultivating, it is every little thing we touch. This includes the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the cement used in building our homes, et al. Power, on the other hand, has recently tickled the fancy of well-read African Millennials. However, there is still potential for growth because 5-10% of annual sales on the continent are lost from electricity outages in Angola, Egypt, and Nigeria. An increase in talents and investments are definitely needed in this sector to fuel enterprises to amass on the continent. As the continent grows and as power plants and innovative renewable energy products are prioritized, manufacturing of local goods will be prevalent.

As highlighted in “Lions on the move II,” McKinsey Global Institute’s widely acknowledged report on Africa’s economic prospects, anywhere between 6 million to 14 million stable jobs could be created through increased manufacturing output. In addition to that, there will be a $326 billion increase in annual revenue by 2025 possible for African manufacturers targeting domestic markets. To make trade between villages, cities, and countries as seamless as possible, Payments will play an integral role. Incredibly intelligent members of the African diaspora are creating some of the most powerful APIs to enable local vendors to accept payments, build, and scale their businesses across the continent. It is no wonder six of the fastest growing economies are currently in Sub- Saharan Africa.

“Lions on the move II” discusses that the continent will profit from rising global demand for natural resources; boast a consumer market of 128 million households by 2020; and see its labour force top 1 billion people by 2040. In addition to this analysis, it is important to keep in mind that investors love transformation. They want to get into spaces that are going through a major transformation from being seemingly horrible to being very powerful. Sankofa. But before that, ponder and you may realize the opportunity you may be overlooking.


Jephthah Acheampong is an Entrepreneur, Writer, and Storyteller based in New York. Equipped with a background in Economics, Jephthah writes as a millennial voice on social justice, women equality, and education. He currently serves as Director of Sales & Marketing at Esusu. Jephthah also founded Anansi Global, a non profit empowering youth in Ghana by providing quality education and mentorship.

View his work at or find him on Linkedin.

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