I discovered a Podcast called Unlocking Africa in the later stages of writing Absolute Radio. I was impressed after listening to the first few episodes hosted by Terser Adamu. It featured dozens of voices that demonstrated belief in a brighter future for Africa and a vision of its endless potential.
Having run the AfricanPod Podcast myself before taking a break to write the book, I was familiar with the challenge that comes with producing a good Podcast with quality, knowledgeable and passionate guests. The output by Terser and his guests on the Unlocking Africa series has a quality that makes you want to applaud their efforts in sharing knowledge with a global audience.
Terser Adamu’s focus on unlocking the potential of Africa in business and related fields resonated with me. As I listened to more episodes of his Podcast, I could not help but think of the dozens of ordinary girls and boys I worked with in Ghana’s broadcast industry 25 years ago who grew up to become women and men of substance.
It Often Starts Small
As described in Absolute Radio, the premier radio and TV station we worked for started like a joke. It was powered by the vision of a young African businessman, Wilson Arthur, whose entrepreneurial genius is only now easier to see, a quarter of a century after the fact.
Terser Adamu is based in the United Kingdom and I reached out to him recently. Apart from passing on some encouragement, I expressed hope that the creative and thoughtful Podcast host might be interested in highlighting the achievements of a small group of Africans in Ghana’s Western Region who pioneered private broadcasting in a special way. I believe Absolute Radio is a body of work that unlocks broadcast media stories from Africa.
I thought my conversation with Terser was going to be short, but it wasn’t. We bounced so many issues off each other that we ended up spending almost a whole hour talking.
We discussed the mountainous potential of Africa, its history and delightful people as well as the fascinating kaleidoscope the continent represents. And yes, we talked about the enormous challenges as well, including the many ways so many individuals around the world are making breakthroughs on behalf of the continent and its people.
A Poignant Episode
About a week after we spoke, Terser released the 28th episode of Unlocking Africa.
The point about people making a difference is exactly the force projected in in that episode, featuring an iron lady called Viola Llewellyn.
An African born in London to Cameroonian parents, Viola says she went to America on vacation in 1992 and ended up with a very traditional Welsh name from a man in New York who is half Jamaican and half American.
“It is so representative of what Africans in today’s world are like. We are from everywhere and anywhere,” said Viola, a woman who distinguished herself as a professional in an industry dominated by men.
“I ended up in technology long before black women were seen and visible in technology.” Viola Llewellyn made a difference, working with IBM and Wang Computers. She recalls that long before the concept of Cybersecurity was formulated, she was doing the equivalent role then referred to as “disaster recovery” in computing.
Moving into her own consultancy business after gaining experience in other areas of commerce, Viola became the co-founder of Ovamba Solutions.
“TradeTech” As a Tool
Ovumba is a “TradeTech” company which, according to Viola, brings “unparalleled understanding of the African market and its nuances to a global audience of institutional investors.”
“Africa is the future for investment and Fintech,” says Viola on the Podcast, with no trace of doubt. She recalls that the process of establishing a profitable business didn’t come easily. It was at a time Viola was undertaking multiple business trips and trade missions to Cameroon and Gabon where she discovered access to finance was a significant challenge in Africa.
That is how Viola, employing a lifetime of experience and pure grit became the co-founder of Ovumba Solutions.
She revealed a number of creative steps she took to create the business. She cited an example in which she used her wits to negotiate access to a night club’s unused space during day times to organise events for investment almost for free. Her only obligation was to order food from the restaurant next door which was also owned by the nightclub operators.
“For a bill of $780 including champagne, they put in flowers, set it up, big old screen… I told and explained to [attendees] that Africa is going to be the future for investment and Fintech. I raised a few hundred thousand dollars,” says Viola on the Podcast.
The Wealth is in Africa
Viola recalls returning from one of her trips and brought back some photos of Africa that people don’t usually see. They were images of four-wheel-drive cars and multiple storey buildings. The photos came to the attention of Viola’s business associate, Bob Sheahan, who was surprised to see them.
“What kind of images did you expect to see,” Viola asked Bob.
Bob confessed he was expecting pictures they receive in return for sponsoring kids in Africa including graphic images and flies on hungry young faces.
Viola responded forcefully. “Let me tell you the truth,” she says. “We are wealthier than you. We stand on the world’s wealth. The problem is, it is mismanaged, and capital is not [deployed] in a way that we can actually track where it is and its direct impact. I want to solve this problem.”
The next thing that happened, according to Viola, was dramatic. Bob, recognising Viola’s determination to solve a long-standing problem through the combination of technology and finance wrote a cheque for a quarter of a million dollars on the spot. That financial contribution made him the co-founder of Ovamba Solutions.
Viola later raised a whopping 1.3 million dollars from institutional investors and as a result became one of the few black women who, as of 2017, raised more than a million dollars for their own company. The achievement brought her to the attention of Carla Harris of Morgan Stanley who is herself one of the few black women to rise to the top hierarchy of Wall Street.
Smart Trade to Close The Wealth Gap
Viola addressed a wide range of issues she believes can change people’s perception of Africa as well bridge the gap between the continent and the Diaspora.
It was enlightening to hear viewpoints such as “money is not the answer to solving Africa’s wealth gap – it is trade, and trade drives 80% of employment and capital which can go a long way to resolve cash flow problems.
The need for Africa to embrace new and smart technologies to become a good trading partner to the rest of the world was emphasised as a key to driving wealth.
Close to the end of the thoughtful business conversation, Viola said it is necessary to stop thinking of poverty alleviation across Africa and start thinking of wealth creation.
It was a poignant point, especially because decades of poverty alleviation have not worked. As Viola points out, it is time to do something more imaginative with new tools and fresh thinking.
Phillip is the author of Absolute Radio, an inspiring true story that examines the foundation of Ghana’s private broadcasting industry. The book is due for global release on 6 September 2022 in Paperback, Kindle, eBook and Audiobook. He writes a blog regularly on www.nyakpo.com.au