Renewing Leadership In Africa

The following is a transcript of a talk given by Dr Okechukwu Enelamah (Chairman, African Capital Alliance) at the launch of Ziwani on 25 June 2021 on the topic, ‘Renew: Renewing Leadership in Africa.’ You can watch the full video here or listen to the podcast here.

I would like to share my background, because I honestly believe that if you understand my story, then what I have to say will make a lot more sense to you, because I’m essentially going to be sharing my experience within the themes I mentioned. I will then go on to talk about the role integrity has to play in God-honouring businesses, or what you might call Christian-led businesses. In other words, what is it that sets us apart – what is it that differentiates us? I would then like to go even deeper into that by dealing with some of the attributes of godly leadership in business. And then I would like to deal with a few case studies which relate to my own experiences.

I was born into a Christian family. My father was a Methodist clergyman, and my mother was a civil servant. I was raised in a context where I knew that God is real. I was taught early on that God answers prayers, and even before I became what you might call a born-again Christian, in the sense that I had accepted the faith for myself, I already knew that God answers prayer, just from my family background.

But that’s not all, I also grew up in a large family, where we learnt to share. I have eight surviving siblings, and some of the things my parents taught us was an appreciation for education. My father believed that education was the key to moving forward, having come from a background of being the first generation that was educated by the missionaries – and so they wanted to continue that legacy. And there was also a lot of confidence-building, just making you understand that you can be anything in life. He was in some respects almost prophetic through the views that he and my mother held. Finally, and I would say most importantly, was a commitment to community, to the idea that you had to be part of helping the society to succeed, to move forward.

And then having mentioned the importance of education, I would like to talk a bit about my educational background. I had the privilege of going to what you might call important ‘landmark’ schools in my country. I went to Government College Umuahia, a school that was set up by colonial people way back in the day, but it trained a lot of a lot of leaders. They imparted to us, all the way from secondary school, the importance of leadership and the responsibility of leaders. And then from there I went to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka – which was one of the early universities that was built post-independence and achieved prominence in Nigeria. Incidentally, I studied medicine there, but I will come back to my professional background. And then I got my international exposure at Harvard Business School, where I did my MBA in the 90s. And the reason I mention these things is that I will refer to them as I go on with my presentation.

I started my professional career as a medical doctor. People always ask how I changed from medicine to business. Let me just say one thing about that – I believe in destiny. Even though I trained in medicine and was a medical doctor (and I know medicine is a noble calling, and I have great respect for doctors), something inside me told me that I belonged to the world of business. I can’t tell you what it is, that’s why I say that I believe in destiny. But I moved from there to Arthur Andersen, an American accounting firm at the time, that had just set up in Nigeria – and they trained me to become a professional accountant. From there I went to Harvard Business School and while I was there, I worked for the US investment group Goldman Sachs as part of my training. I eventually ended up in investment management – and that’s what brought me to South Africa in 1995.

I have also served as a minister in government in Nigeria, and therefore have had experience in public service. And finally, I’m now spending a lot of time building things that hopefully will outlast us and contribute to Africa, which is why the subject of building new leadership for Africa is of particular interest to me. Let me say one more thing before I leave my professional background. It’s what I call the importance of wisdom; wisdom garnered from who you spend time with, where you get trained, and so on. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “It is by the grace of God that I am what I am.” I have been humbled by the exposure God has given me to some of the great institutions in the world that have shaped my character and career. Honestly, it’s a gift that one should not only treasure, but that should propel one to want to give back.

I gave you all this background because it’s important to understand the forces and factors that have shaped who I am. I’d like to talk about the role of integrity in God-honouring business – that’s what sets us apart, and it’s something I am really passionate about. The late Professor Clayton Christensen (Harvard Business School) once said, “Decide what you stand for, and then stand for it all the time.” The world will test your values, but know what those values are, make them public and then stand for them all the time; be consistent.

Warren Buffet, who is not a Christian – but nevertheless, expresses values that underpin Christian business – said, “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” In other words, if you hire people without integrity, you are just looking for trouble. Abraham Lincoln, the great American president had this to say, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” And finally, Will Rogers had this to say, “Lead your life so you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.”

Integrity should be the cornerstone of a God-honouring business. I will quote just a couple of verses from the Bible. Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.” And in 1 Kings 9:4-5, we read the words that God spoke to Solomon, “And as for you, if you walk with integrity before me as David your father walked with me with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and rules, then I will establish your throne.” And this was actually the second time – God made the same point to him when Solomon asked him for wisdom. He said, “If you fear me, I will give you long life.” And now, he has gone further to say, “I will preserve your throne.” So integrity preserves life.

Let me go on to talk about David and his approach to leadership. In Psalm 78:70-72 we see what I call David’s approach to transformational leadership. It reads, “He also chose David His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the ewes that had young He brought to him, to shepherd Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance. So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.” Now, if you break this passage down, there are three things we can take away. The first is that David started from a place of personal transformation. It says He chose David and took him, in other words, God discipled David first. And I believe that transformation always begins with personal transformation. In order to lead others, you have to lead yourself first, you have to have self-discipline if you are going to bring direction and discipline to other people.

The text then speaks about how David transitioned from shepherding sheep to shepherding people – you know the story of David’s mighty men. He built a group of warriors by training them based on the training he had received. And then as you know, David went on to national transformation by shepherding all of Israel as king. But it was a growth process that went from personal to institutional – or team, and eventually to national – and you could even go on to continental, because we are dealing with Africa-wide transformation here. So David is a good example for us.

That takes me to a quote from a South African Christian, an apostle in the marketplace – Brett Johnson. He wrote a book called “Convergence” in which he says, “Your business is a great place to grow in faith. It is also an excellent place to find God’s life at work.” If you are faithful with your sheep, he may give you a nation to shepherd. You can develop both competence (“skilful hands”) and character (“integrity of heart”) in your workplace. Many of us know the story of Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore. What you may not know is that many of the people who transformed Singapore in the public service were Christians. They were people who brought integrity to their work, and I pray that we would those sorts of people who will transform Africa.

This takes me to that popular verse from the Bible, “faith without works is dead.” Many of us profess our faith, but we also have to practice our faith in the marketplace. That passage from James 2:17-20 reads as follows in The Message translation, “Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying “sounds good.” You can take care of the faith department; I’ll handle the works department. Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove. Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?”

So I want to challenge us as Christians to bring our faith and integrity to the marketplace. Why do people separate integrity and business? Some of the reasons are as follows: Firstly, a refusal to embrace delayed gratification. Some people want instant gratification and so are not prepared to wait. There’s a time to sacrifice, and that’s what integrity calls for; there’s a time to sow and a time to reap. Secondly, some people believe that ‘nice people finish last,’ they don’t want to be called “Mr Nice” in the marketplace. They say Christians are nice, but how well do they do? But you will see from the case studies I will share with you that it actually pays to do things right.

Let me share some thoughts on building integrity into our businesses. The first is that – as per the quote I shared from Christensen – it is good to have clarity on your stand; let people know what you stand for early. Don’t wait for situations to arise but be proactive in stating where you stand. The second is: run your own race and run it well. The Bible says, “they that compare themselves to themselves are not wise,” and also that each of us is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” You’re an original, don’t try to be an imitation – to thyself be true. Don’t be overly concerned about what others are doing, the race is a marathon, and you will eventually get there. The third thing is: build for the long term. As I’ve just said, life is a marathon, it’s not a 100-metre dash. Always err on the side of long-term gain, do things to succeed in the long haul. And then I have a principle I learnt from the world of finance called the ‘margin of safety’ principle. In other words, don’t cut things close to the edge. If you’re going to be honest, go for the spirit of the law as well as the letter. Whether it’s to do with the friends you keep or the way you keep your word, don’t be someone who’s cutting it too close to the bone or too close to the edge. And finally, I will say that one of our responsibilities as leaders is to set the moral tone. As the saying goes – the fish rots from the head. In other words, if the leadership is right, the rest will get it right eventually.

Let me now talk briefly about some of the key attributes of goldy leadership. The first one is what I call the power of ‘and’ – and this is where many of us get it wrong. If you are going to achieve the benefits of godly leadership in the marketplace, you must master the power of the ‘and.’ Here’s what I mean. Firstly, you must be a beacon of light AND a beacon of prosperity. The Lord spoke to my heart back in 2010 and said he was looking for ‘apostles’ in the marketplace, and I understood what he meant. He was looking for people who could showcase that you can have both success and integrity in the workplace – not that you’re either successful but are cutting corners, or you have integrity but you don’t really do well, somehow you are being crowded out.

It is possible to have both, which leads me to my second point – grace AND labour. Paul gives us this formula – I call it Paul’s success formula – in 1 Corinthians 15:10, which I mentioned earlier. It reads, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than them all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” In other words, when you combine God’s grace, favour, open doors, and answered prayer with diligence, you seize the opportunity, and you pay the price – you will succeed. In the book ‘Outliers,’ by Malcolm Gladwell, he says that the people who achieve extraordinary success are those who combine diligence with what we might call favour, though the word would call it luck. I pray that we as Christians would combine grace with labour and achieve great success. That brings me to the final point on the power of ‘and,’ which I call character AND competence. It’s like Warren Buffet said about combining integrity and intelligence. We must become ‘apostles of righteousness’ in the marketplace.

The other attribute of godly leadership that I want us to embrace is the willingness to help other people succeed. I believe that favour is for a purpose. Using David as an example again, the Bible says that David realized that God had made him king for the sake of Israel (2 Samuel 5). He realized that his success was not for his own personal aggrandisement, or just for him and his family, but for the good of society. And we must embrace this idea that God blesses us for a purpose. Even sociologists teach the same thing. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs starts from the hygiene factors and goes up all the way to achievement, commission, and contribution. God wants us to succeed so that we can be a blessing to others. The Bible says in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” There is also something that Gladwell calls the Matthew Effect, which basically says that those who give more than their fair share get more than their fair share. This is taken from Matthew 25 which says, “To those who have, more shall be given. To those who do not have, even the little they have shall be taken away.” At times it looks like those who are busy are getting busier, those who are rich are getting richer, those who have are getting more.

I will use a personal example. The current Vice President of Nigeria was the pastor of my church in Lagos, and he would sometimes ask me to preach. And then he won the election and was going to be the Vice President. One day, when I had gone to congratulate him, he told me that I was to become the pastor of the church. I said to him, “but pastor, you know how busy I am,” but he insisted and said he wanted me to provide spiritual leadership for the church.  And that is how I became the pastor of Olive Tree Parish, within the Christian Church of God – this was in June/July 2015. And as if that weren’t enough, in October of that same year I received a call from the President asking me to be a minister in his cabinet. So I was now the CEO of African Capital Alliance, the pastor of my church, and I was about to become a cabinet minister. Of course, this was only possible through teamwork, because in the end I had to accept the offer and go to Abuja to serve in the government. The point I’m trying to make is that God is looking for busy people who he sends on assignments, and I pray that you and I would be prepared to serve, and that God would use us more and more in Jesus mighty name, Amen! And then I would like to say again, we should recognize that favour is really all about God’s people. When you look at life, and the things one has been able to achieve – whether it’s you or someone else, you would be hard pressed to take the credit personally. That’s why I believe that favour ultimately is of God.

Let me now come to the case studies on how to restore, rebuild and renew. I mentioned that I attended a secondary school called Government College Umuahia. In those days it was referred to as the ‘Eaton’ of the East (after Eaton College in the UK). Although it wasn’t at it’s prime during my time there, it was still an incredibly good school. However, things deteriorated after that, and today it is a shadow of its old self. Myself and some of the ‘old boys’ who benefited from the school have decided to come together to build and restore the school, and starting from this September (the new admission cycle), we have taken over the funding of the school through a trust, so that it can once again become a great school that can produce people who can then go on to the best universities in the world, serve in cabinet and so on – because we must give back to the institutions that built us into who we are.

I am also involved in education in what you might call a ‘big, hairy, audacious goal’ type of assignment. We decided that we are going to build a world-class university for science and technology in Africa. I was part of a fellowship about ten or fifteen years ago where they asked us to come up with a project that would be transformative in Africa. We looked at what happened in India. They have what they call the India Institute of Technology, and they now have one for management as well. If you look at all the Indians in senior positions at major tech companies like Google and Microsoft, they were trained by the IIT group of colleges. People promoted those universities with the involvement of the government. They trained a lot of engineers and people in the STEM education field (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in India.

In Africa we do not have any university that you could say is world-class – MIT standard. So we’ve taken on the assignment of building the “MIT of Africa.” The first one will be built in Nigeria (the Nigeria University of Technology and Management), and then we want to build right across Africa. The good news is that this effort has already taken off. We decided to start with a fellowship – a scholar’s programme for one year. The model is to bring in some of the best professors from around the world, bring in world-class students – people who have completed their first degree – and immerse them in quality education in technology, entrepreneurship, and design. We are calling them the AUTM scholars, and this is being sponsored and funded, partly by the Mastercard Foundation – and a number of us. The first group of 57 or so scholars is about to graduate, who will go on to change the world. By the way we have African professors from MIT and Stanford and are in discussions with the Harvard Business School. These are the kind of transformative things we want to do.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp

Dr Okechukwu Enelamah