How to Spread It: Ali A Mufuruki

2013-10-07 10:00

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Tanzanian businessman and philanthropist Ali A Mufuruki is a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute’s class of 2001 and founder and chairman of the Africa Leadership Initiative East Africa Foundation.

This foundation aims to take African leaders – 180 in all – from success to significance across the region before 2015.

A trained engineer, Mufuruki is chairman and CEO of the Tanzania-based Infotech Investment Group, which he started in 1989.

Mufuruki is also the chairman of Wananchi Group Holdings (Zuku) in Kenya; a founding partner of East Africa Capital Partners (EACP), also based in Kenya; the chairman of the board of Chai Bora of Tanzania; as well as being the founding chairman of the Tanzania CEO Roundtable, a policy-dialogue forum that brings together CEOs of the top 80-plus leading Tanzanian companies. He is a senior partner of Gro-Energy, an advisory-services firm specialising in African energy markets; and he is chairman of the Muhimbili University Of Health and Allied Sciences grants committee. Mufuruki is a founding trustee of the Mandela Institute for Development Studies in Joburg.

Q: You were a Henry Crown Fellow in 2001. How did that experience change the way you viewed your place in the world?

A: The most important lesson I learnt from the fellowship experience is that an individual armed with knowledge, conviction and values can change the world into a better place for all, and that I was that individual.

Q: You have said in an interview that the idea behind the African Leadership Initiative is to share ideas “not for personal growth or to maximise our business opportunities, but on how we can build a better society”. Do you feel that in the seven years since ALI East Africa launched, the fellows are doing that?

A: Absolutely! Just last week, as we watched in horror the terrorist attack in Nairobi, it was gratifying to see fellows across the continent reaching out to one another, offering assistance and working to reassure their countrymen and the world at large that this terrible attack will not succeed to divide the Kenyan nation. Seven years ago, these fellows didn’t know each other, let alone collaborate in a joint undertaking of any nature.

Q: The Africa Leadership Initiative has as its aim to identify 180 fellows from east Africa – 60 each from Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya – by 2015. You must have come across some remarkable people so far. What stories stick with you?

A: There are many and they are expressed in countless different ways. Sometimes it is through personal and professional decisions fellows make or the leadership projects they choose to undertake during and after the fellowship.

A young lady turned down an opportunity to advance a very promising and lucrative career in the corporate world because she felt the governance environment in her organisation was at odds with her own moral compass, a decision she attributed to her changed world-view after joining the Africa Leadership Initiative fellowship. That is one thing I will not forget for a long time.

Q: Do you feel a shift away from the crisis in African leadership that has been hampering the continent for so long?

A: Not at all. The challenge of leadership is still with us and it may be getting worse long before it gets better. The African population is growing at a pace that is outstripping the capacity of most nations to meet the basic needs of their people, such as education, healthcare, water and essential infrastructure such as roads and electricity.

With 75% of its citizens younger than 35 and without good education or job prospects, Africa faces a serious risk of social turmoil and even violent conflict that could roll back the social and economic gains of the last 20 years if its leaders continue with business as usual. Under the circumstances, the need for enlightened, effective and ethical leadership in and for Africa cannot be overemphasised. We at the Africa Leadership Initiative East Africa are only trying to play our part.

Q: The Africa Leadership Initiative East Africa aims to move the leaders of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya from ‘success to significance’. Can you pinpoint the moment in your own journey when you felt this had happened for you?

A: This happens gradually and takes place in the mind more than anything else. Throughout the fellowship, leaders are reminded about the fact that acquiring material wealth, power and a high social standing does not amount to much in the life of a human being if it does not translate into a commitment to live a more purposeful life whose hallmarks are effective and enlightened leadership, giving back to the community that created the environment for such success, social status and power, and leaving behind a worthy personal legacy.

For me, this change occurred three years after I graduated as a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute. I suddenly realised I was the one I thought I had been waiting for all my life, that positive change on the continent will be brought about by individuals like me, each doing what they are best at to contribute to the greater good of the people of Africa.

Q: You welcomed US President Barack Obama’s visit to Tanzania earlier this year and held him up as an inspiration to Africans. Do you feel that, increasingly, our continent is making its own heroes?

A: Yes, indeed. Africa is making its own heroes but they are too few for a continent of 1 billion people. We have amazing political leaders such as the late Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who have transformed the fortunes of their countries in a relatively short time. Africa recently produced its own crop of billionaire entrepreneurs. We have some of the best athletes, artists and performers in the world and, of course, Africa produced the legendary Nelson Mandela.

This is a big achievement given where we have come from, but it is woefully insignificant on a global scale. We still carry the unfortunate tag of being the poorest and most backward people in the world. Heroes or not, we must work harder, produce more heroes and enable Africans to claim their rightful place in the global community in our lifetime.

Q: You have said that there is a ‘lack of thinking outside of one’s own community’ in Africa. Do you think this is a function of circumstance?

A: Yes it is, but it is equally important to recognise that circumstance is itself a consequence of something else. The wholesale breakdown of African societies that came as a result of colonialism and the introduction of foreign religions has made it very difficult for Africans, even the most educated ones, to imagine an Africa that is bigger than their village, tribe or district.

Africans suffer from a trust deficit with one another, which seriously reduces their ability to undertake joint projects for a common good because for many there is no such thing as a common good beyond the tiny circle of family or tribe. We must change this.

Q: How can we better foster a culture of giving that ripples outwards?

A: This is the proverbial six-million-dollar question that every philanthropist in the world is wrestling with. There is no formula for doing this in my view, but I have faith in the ability and willingness of a few beneficiaries of philanthropy to pay forward the favour and keep the chain from breaking.

Q: You have already achieved so much, but everyone has a bucket list. What is the next to-do item on yours?

A: To write a book or two about my life experiences. I hope that does not make for a shallow or empty bucket.

»?This series is developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust

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