Captains of industry must promote equality in society

Sunday June 07 2020

Residents of Kibra in Nairobi County wait to register for the distribution of food stuff donated by ODM leader Raila Odinga, amid the coronavirus pandemic, at the deputy county commissioner's offices on April 9, 2020. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By Ayanda Hollow

The economic and social impact of Covid-19 is gradually taking root. It’s evident from the devastation that this pandemic poses serious challenges to leadership, more so captains of industry across Africa. It raises the question - do CEOs of critical institutions shrug and wait for the storm to pass or should they take an active role in addressing the impact of this pandemic?

Given the unemployment and poverty challenges facing the continent, preserving as well as boosting economic growth is imperative. This is further borne out by the fact that preserving a sustainable growth momentum requires not only talent but a quantum leap of character and artistry.

It’s against this background that Africa’s CEO’s Breakfast Club will be hosting its second Made-in Africa Leadership Conference, albeit virtually, from the 16-19 June 2020. This conference will follow through with its vision of peer review and coaching amongst CEOs based on the continent.


The goods and services produced by companies of these CEO’s are a conduit to enabling the building of a society without inequalities, one that reduces exclusions and dispenses with prejudices based on race, tribalism, gender issues, xenophobia, femicide, religion, and disabilities. Without us confronting these obstacles, profits and sustainability is a pipe dream.

To achieve these after Covid-19, a new economic culture has to emerge – one that will be supported by all social partners. The youth of the continent have to awaken to the need to cultivate new behaviours based on mutual trust with leadership.


Growing up in Nyanga, a township east of the Cape flats, I was privileged to be a child in a community of business owners. Business owners demonstrated their commitment to society by taking genuine care of the community. Most importantly, they treated people with care and dignity. My grandmother, Mangwanya was an entrepreneur. As a member of the National Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NAFCOC), an influential black business lobby, she subscribed to virtues of business excellence prompting her to set up a house in her business premises. The motive being - she never wanted to open her shop late for her busiest time was the morning traffic of clients.

A straight talker to her clients in the Cape municipality and entrepreneurs alike in the NAFCOC stable, honesty was in her nature. She could barely spin truth without antagonising the community – especially those that could not appreciate her Pan-African ideals. The location of her shop and the lack of expansion opportunities were things she always complained about.

She blamed this on the apartheid regime, arguing that the system had stifled her from servicing other demographics because of the Group Areas Act, adopted by the regime in 1950. The Act forbade her from acquiring immovable property into the prime centre of the Mother City, Cape Town. Today, she still remains an inspiration to us and many in that community


Taking a cue from this great woman, I now ask myself why the CEOs I’ve met in the corridors of the University of Cape Town (UCT)’s Graduate Business School still fail in attaining or providing optimal services that are meant to bring cohesion to communities in Cape Town. I suppose the same can be asked of CEOs in Namibia that can’t seem to bring cohesion in cities such as Windhoek. Should we even be celebrating that Kibra is the biggest slum in Nairobi? Is it not fair to suggest that some of Kenya’s industry titans hail from Kibra – as such they owe a sense of gratitude to that township?

My challenge to the organizers of the Africa Breakfast club is to introspect as to why the narrative around African CEOs is burdensome? Unlike my grandmother who ran her business in a challenging era – with limited access to finance and poor technology, the current crop of CEOs have all these luxuries.

How would the breakfast club, as a Pan African CEO membership organisation help leaders of my generation become better leaders? I hope Dr Modupe S. Taylor- Pearce, a Sierra Leonean scholar and a practitioner of leadership is listening? Most important, is the Breakfast club able to assist our CEOs to confront the new realities and the limitations and opportunities elicited by Covid-19. Food for thought indeed.

Ayanda Hollow is a director at GCIS - International Media Relations.
Twitter: @ayandahollow