Nigerian entrepreneur Igho Sanomi discussed the rise of entrepreneurship and the challenges faced by business owners in Africa at an event in the Mortara Center on Wednesday.
Sponsored by the School of Foreign Service and the African studies department, the event focused on Sanomi’s own experience with building a business in Africa and the various obstacles that African entrepreneurs often encounter.
Sanomi grew up in Nigeria and pursued a degree in geology before entering the energy sector. In 2004, Sanomi formed Taleveras Group, an energy conglomerate that trades crude oil, jet fuel and petroleum gas. The group’s success launched Sanomi into the public spotlight, and he was profiled in Forbes in 2007. Since then, his company has become one of the largest suppliers of crude oil in West Africa.
African Studies Program Director Scott Taylor, who moderated the conversation, introduced Sanomi’s background as relevant to students.
“Sanomi is part of the new generation of African businessmen that are engaging in all kinds of ventures,” Taylor said. “Because he’s so young, a lot of our students can identify with him and find his story fascinating in the field of African studies and business.”
Sanomi said that his interest in the energy business was piqued when he visited an oil and gas trading company in Lagos, Nigeria, with his friend.
“My journey in the oil and gas business began in the final year of my university,” Sanomi said. “The experience I had in one day actually triggered the passion and the interest I had in the energy business.”
Sanomi also discussed the important role his father played during his initial years working in the energy sector.
“[My father] gave me the moral support that I needed and always taught me to stay humble and focus,” Sanomi said. “He always used to say to me, ‘Always consider your personal integrity and your Catholic faith as your guiding principle in life.’”
Despite the current success of Taleveras Group, Sanomi needed to overcome various obstacles in order to achieve his goals. He argued that these barriers in Nigeria and other African countries continue to deter aspiring entrepreneurs.
“One of the biggest challenges is government bureaucracy and policy inconsistencies,” Sanomi said. “Coupled with the issue of investment funding … it can be very expensive to acquire such investor confidence.”
Sanomi also said that a lack of basic utilities hinders the ability of entrepreneurs to start their own companies. Without essential infrastructure, Sanomi argued, Africa cannot compete against other well-developed markets.
“Africa lacks necessary basic infrastructure like electricity, energy, information technology and telecommunications services,” Sanomi said. “They are developing, but their current state poses barriers to our future business leaders and entrepreneurs.”
In his closing remarks, Sanomi said he is optimistic about the entrepreneurial spirit in Africa. He said that he hopes his experience and influence can shape the future generations of African business leaders.
“We’ve seen a lot of stability in the political space, the drive against [corruption] and the alignment of factors that will lead toward the path of greatness,” Sanomi said. “It can only get better.”
After the speech, Taylor discussed the development issues in Africa, namely the new role that economic liberalization plays.
As a professor of political economy, Taylor said that Sanomi’s story is an interesting portrayal of the effects of market liberalization in an African nation.
“Economic liberalization in Africa has been a double-edged sword,” Taylor said. “We’ve seen liberalization lead a dynamic shift in places such as Nigeria, where there is tremendous poverty, but also tremendous entrepreneurial spirit and human capacity.”
Students who attended the event commented on Sanomi’s humility and eagerness to change the negative perceptions surrounding African businesses.
John Hyman (MSB ’17) said he appreciated the importance of Taleveras Group in its efforts to change global perspectives on business opportunities in Africa.
“Igho Sanomi has a well-known success story, and it’s an honor to have him here to talk to us about his journey,” Hyman said. “I appreciate how he is trying to counter the still too widely held perceptions that Africa still has a long way to go in terms of business success.”
Rohan Asrani (MSB ’17) also enjoyed the discussion and said that Sanomi’s story and optimism for Africa resonated with his own views on the economic development within the continent.
“The way Mr. Sanomi lays it out, Africa’s future is bright,” Asrani said. “If we can have more inspirational leaders like Mr. Sanomi come to Georgetown … it will improve the perceptions of Africa.”