Afrobeats, Basketball & Commerce

March 28, 2024

Live from the BIG Summit, a platform hosted by investor and 2x NBA All-Star Baron Davis, at the 2024 NBA All-Star Game, a conversation with three operators connecting Africa to the world through culture and commerce.

In this conversation, we're joined by Clare Akamanzi, the CEO of NBA Africa, Abdul Karim Abdullah, the Founder and CEO of AfroFuture music festival, and entrepreneur and private equity investor Tuyee Yeboah.

00:00 - Intro
02:38 - NBA Africa
05:32 - AfroFuture
08:34 - Investing across Africa and the US
10:55 - Basketball's role in Africa's development
12:20 - Changing perceptions about the continent
17:35 - How do we get more investors involved?
21:20 - African talent

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Clare Akamanzi: I think what we're seeing coming from the continent is not just the numbers of people, the age, etc. But there's also excellence.

Tuyee Yeboah: The talent is there. They're able to deliver and compete at the same level.

Abdul Karim Abdullah: For so long, Africa's story has been told for it, right? So now we have an opportunity to tell our own story.

Justin Norman: That's Clare Akamanzi, Tuyee Yeboah and Abdul Karim Abdullah.

Justin Norman: What are the stories that you are telling and want to tell?

Abdul Karim Abdullah: We have used entertainment in Ghana to change an entire GDP of a country in the fourth quarter.

Tuyee Yeboah: Imagine if an entrepreneur like this has real capital behind him. The sky's the limit.

Clare Akamanzi: We just can't ignore Africa.

Justin Norman: This episode of The Flip was recorded live at the BIG Summit, a platform founded by investor and two-time NBA All-Star Baron Davis during the 2024 NBA All-Star Weekend. Our panel, entitled Growing the Diaspora, featured Clare Akamanzi, the CEO of NBA Africa, entrepreneur and private equity investor, Tuyee Yeboah, and Abdul Karim Abdullah, the founder and CEO of the music festival and cultural platform, AfroFuture.

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Justin Norman: Before we start, we have one small favor to ask. If you enjoy the show and want to support the content that we create, please hit that subscribe button. It only takes a second, but it will mean a lot to us if you do.

Justin Norman: Well, thank all of you for joining us in this conversation today. I think for me, as somebody who's lived and worked on the continent for the past decade or so, I'm very excited to have this conversation about the opportunities across Africa and the way in which all of you are doing the important work to connect what you're building on the ground to the rest of the world and to the diaspora in particular. So Clare, I want to start with you. And we talk a lot about the region, we hear about the population is going to double in the next 30 years. The average age in Africa is 19. Some incredible demographics that I think excite people in the region who are building and doing important work from a development perspective. You're very new in your role at NBA Africa. I think this is your third week, yes? Third week. So first of all, congratulations. Can you talk a little bit about the work that you're doing to not only represent the NBA on the ground, but to build that bridge through the sport of basketball to the rest of the world and to the diaspora as well.

Clare Akamanzi: Thank you very much, Justin. Just to say, I'm very pleased to join you all here today. So the NBA, like many organizations all over the world, just realized that they cannot ignore Africa. The demographics, I think, is a big story. But also I think what we're seeing coming from the continent is not just the numbers of people, the age, etc. But there's also excellence on the continent. If you look at the talent, if you look at the consumption, productivity, if your business is looking to advancing any of that, you just can't ignore Africa. And for the NBA, what we see today is that 10% of the players within NBA were either born in Africa or one of their parents was born in Africa. And so that's about 50 players in NBA today. And today the reigning MVP is Joel Embiid from Cameroon. So there is excellence that already exists in Africa.

Clare Akamanzi: And what we've decided as NBA is how do we take the opportunity to the continent so that there is more of that excellence coming out? And we have Amadou here, who is the president of the Basketball Africa League. And what that has done is to bring an opportunity at the scale of NBA on the continent for more Africans and African youth to access the game, but also for it to be a driver of economic development. Where I come from in Rwanda, we're seeing sports contributing to economic development directly by bringing tourists to the country, by catalyzing investments, SMEs in hospitality, transport, sound engineers, and many other skills that are growing because the Basketball Africa League is there. And so we want to see more of that across the continent. NBA has recognized that and NBA is investing in that.

Justin Norman: And we were just talking in the green room before with Baron, Amadou, and thank you so much we're honored to have you join us. And Baron was saying that he he wants to get in shape and come and play next year. So, he's got some friends I think some former players as well that might be interested so we're hoping in seeing the the bridges be built in that way as well for sure.

Clare Akamanzi: I'm sure Amadou has taken note.

Justin Norman: Please, yeah, we'll have to... Yeah.

Baron Davis: Sign me up. I'm ready. I'm ready.

Justin Norman: So, Abdul, you built an Afrobeats music festival, one of the biggest in Ghana, and you've done a lot to connect the diaspora to the region, to West Africa in particular, through the Year of the Return and through the cultural programming that you're building. Can you talk a little bit about that work and that connection that you're making between the diaspora for somebody that is a part of the diaspora, to compel more people to come back and to experience the the culture.

Abdul Karim Abdullah: Very excited to be here. Very thankful to Baron Davis and BIG and also Amadou and the BAL team for having us here. I mean, look, I grew up in the Bronx, New York. I was born in the Bronx, New York, but my parents are from Ghana. So I've always been a part of the culture, but I've always lived in the middle. So to my parents, I was the American kid, but to my schoolmates, I was the African kid. And I always wanted to be able to create a space where we can understand each other. And for so long, Africa's story has been told for it, right? People had heard stories about Africa, whether it's poverty, whether it's war, whether it's all these things. And we wanted to create a space where there's education. There was a way for people to understand it and understand it from the perspective of a native.

Abdul Karim Abdullah: So in 2017, we embarked to create this space where we can find places for commonality. We knew food, we knew fashion, we knew art, we knew music was some things that brought people together, and that was the base for which we created our festival. And people have responded. We started the first year with 4600 people. Last year we have 41,000 people. And about 60% of them are coming from the diaspora. And one of the beauty about it for me is seeing how this, if you want to say, pilgrimage to Africa for people of African American descent that are my friends or people from European-African descent that come to Africa and experience it for the first time, I know what it does for them. And in terms of how they see the world, in terms of how they see Africa, in terms of how they see opportunities that exist for themselves.

Abdul Karim Abdullah: So many of us as Africans, we grow up, you have to be a doctor, you have to be a lawyer, you have to be all these things. And we have used entertainment in Ghana to change an entire GDP of a country in the fourth quarter, right? And that showed Ghana a different opportunity for creativity and what we can do as far as looking at creativity. So, in working next year with the BAL, we have an opportunity to further connect the continent, right? And we can use that as a mechanism, one, now young people on the continent could communicate, right? Everybody here knows Elsa Majimbo from the continent. Everybody here knows all of these people, and we're connecting. So now we have an opportunity to tell our own story, whether it's through content, whether it's through writing, whether it's through basketball. So I'm really excited for the work that we continue to do.

Justin Norman: And for anybody who's thinking about visiting, we act as the tourism board a little bit. So you need to come to Kigali for the BAL finals in May and also to Ghana, to Accra in December, absolutely. So Tuyee, and then you're building bridges from an investment perspective in particular, somebody who's investing both in the US and on the ground in Ghana as well, and thinking about building those bridges, connecting opportunities. And I think it's particularly interesting to look at the region through an investment lens, whereas so often it's looked at philanthropically or development. So can you talk a little bit about the work that you're doing commercially from an investment perspective to, again, connect those opportunities and build those bridges in the way that you are.

Tuyee Yeboah: Thank you guys for having me and thank everyone for being here. I think one of the things about storytelling, it becomes a really powerful tool to get people to be inspired and give people something to chase. And storytelling has been a critical component from the investing side as well, right? So you take someone like Abdul and AfroFuture, right? So five years ago, we were getting on average about 100,000 tourists in Ghana during Christmas. And now it's increased tenfold by virtue of things like the Year of the Return, the AfroFuture Festival, because it's starting to attract a new type of clientele in the diaspora to partake locally in the activities that are happening on the continent.

Tuyee Yeboah: Abdul mentioned how like when we're growing up your parents want you to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer. What we've done at our holding company is we've started to look for entrepreneurs locally and give them an alternative. So, for example, one of our food brands, Chickenman-Pizzaman in Ghana, is currently the largest restaurateur with over 100 locations in the country. Chris started his brand from his college dorm room. His parents wanted him to go get a master's degree at the University of Manchester, but here you have people who are willing to take the risk on young people, invest in them and give them an opportunity to have an alternative. So I think hearing more of these narratives and pushing more of these narratives to investors, both locally and in the diaspora, starts to attract resources to build the region.

Justin Norman: Yeah, and Clare, that's something that you did a lot in your past role as the investment promotion agency in Rwanda. And both of these guys just talked about storytelling. Maybe you can talk a little bit more about the stories that you're telling about the role of basketball and the impact that can it have on the continent. What are the stories that you are telling and want to tell on behalf of NBA Africa to not only the diaspora, but really the rest of the world?

Clare Akamanzi: I think the stories that are really there to share, first of all, the evidence of what's happening on the ground, showing the results of having a league in Africa and what it's doing on the continent, what it's doing for talent, what it's doing for economic opportunities, but also showing that actually you can go to these countries and enjoy a game. You can go to watch a basketball game, but while there you can do a lot of things. You can invest, you can do tourism, you can do many different things and all of that because of basketball being there. We're here for the All-Star game this weekend, but last year we had African, Burna Boy, Rema perform at the All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City. Who would have imagined that you'd have such highlighting of African talent in music in a basketball All-Star Weekend? And I think this is really changing a lot of stories. These are the kind of stories that we need to tell so people can actually see that this excellence exists and you can do a lot more with the continent.

Justin Norman: Yeah, and Abdul, I heard you once tell a story about growing up in New York you'd visit Ghana and you always felt like it was a burden or like a punishment to have to go back and visit. And I know that it's a very important thing for you to show people, like no, actually, you can come and have a great experience. But we were talking earlier as well and in this idea about perceptions changing this notion that the diaspora is connecting first from a cultural perspective or from a heritage perspective, but then is seeing as Tuyee is talking about, there's investments to be made. There's a lot of other opportunities as well. So can you talk a little bit about what happens, how you grow the sort of scope of the opportunity from here through all of the things that you're building and want to continue building?

Abdul Karim Abdullah: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, first and foremost, I would love for my parents to buy me a ticket to Ghana now. When I was younger, yes, I mean, most African kids would tell you this, like it was used as a punishment. If you don't act good, we're going to send you back home, we're going to send you back home. Because of where we went to school, where we lived, it felt like a punishment. And what we tried to do with the festival and the stories that we told from the festival was change that narrative, give people a different perspective. So if you are a young American, for instance, since we're in America, the things you saw on TV wasn't really appealing or attractive. It didn't attract you to the continent. And the philosophy we used was in order for us to be able to fill our seats and fill our stadium, we needed to be able to give people a familiarity.

Abdul Karim Abdullah: And that familiarity was breaking that ice, bringing that barrier for them to be able to say, hey, for the first time ever that I'm going to use my passport, I'm going to leave the US and I'm going to go to Ghana. And we've had several, tens and thousands of examples of people who have done that for the first time. They've never traveled anywhere outside of the US that came to Ghana because we created that opening and that welcoming and compounded on the fact that the 2019, The Year of Return, our government opened up the doors. And now you see similar actions happen in Rwanda, similar actions happen in Kenya. So all of these things compounded, and now the BAL creating opportunities for basketball, allowing young talent on the ground in Africa to be able to fight their way into the league and fight their ways into opportunities. It creates this space that allows people to be able to see things from a very different perspective, and I think it's very powerful for Africans to own a narrative of who we are.

Abdul Karim Abdullah: It's one thing for movies to represent us a certain way or TV shows to represent us another way, but it's one thing for us to come and tell you this is who we are, and I think there's power in that. And that's what we've been able to do at the festival, and that's how we've been able to get our customers to keep coming back and keep coming back. And now you have people who have built businesses on the continent. You have people who own property on the continent. You have people who have used Ghana as an opportunity to visit Cairo or Tanzania or Kenya or so on and so forth. And that's what we want to continue to do as we continue to grow across the continent. And most people think about Africa as just one continent, but in Africa you have Spanish-speaking Africans, Portuguese-speaking Africans, Francophone-speaking Africans, all of them exist and they operate in their silos. And our hope is to use entertainment and basketball now to bring them together, so that we can tell that one combined story across the entire continent.

Clare Akamanzi: And maybe I think the best way to tell a story is to give people a chance to experience the story. I think what you've seen is people coming to countries like Senegal, Dakar, you see the culture, you see the art, you see the fashion, you see the music. You go to Egypt, you see pyramids. You come to Rwanda, you see a very clean country, you don't need a visa to get there, and people would never have believed that as much as when they see and experience it. So I think giving people a chance to experience it should be the number one thing.

Tuyee Yeboah: And there's real economic opportunity in those experiences too, right? So you take AfroFuture or someone like Abdul, he's only raised a family and friends round, but he's been able to build a global brand that is recognizable in countries beyond Africa's borders. So imagine if an entrepreneur like this has real capital behind him, the sky's the limit.

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Justin Norman: From a fundraising perspective and an investing perspective, we talked about narratives and stories. You talked about the opportunities on the ground. But what about when you interact with investors here, the sort of changing perceptions and how they see it and what sort of work needs to be done as well to capture these opportunities?

Tuyee Yeboah: Yeah, and so my biggest issue with investors here is, first of all, they're investing from hard currency funds. And so if I'm an investor in the US or UK, I want dollarized returns. And so when you couple that with broader economic challenges, it's very difficult to be able to attain those in a short investment horizon. And so the type of investor that we really need are African capital solutions that are looking to invest in people who are trying to solve African problems. And so I think because our continent is very young and very nascent, you really need that patient capital of people who are willing to go on the long journey with you. And I think it even goes beyond just like physical actual cash, because human capital is something that is extremely valuable.

Tuyee Yeboah: So one of the things we do at our holding company is how do you give our middle and junior managers the opportunity to have exposure to people with experience? So we host master classes and get people from all across the world, whether it's supply chain, finance or a particular part of our value chain to educate them on. And we also use conferences and other events to give people the exposure that they can ultimately go and learn and bring that learning back to the continent.

Abdul Karim Abdullah: I think that what Tuyee is talking about is absolutely important. Most businesses in Africa have to vertical the entire business. And that takes a lot of investment. That takes a lot of time. So expecting a return as soon as you invest is somewhat not really looking at it from a very far perspective. So yes, I echo everything he says, but what we were just talking about backstage was you need African solutions for African problems. And looking at it from a westernized perspective in Africa is already a big mistake. So having people come to the continent, immerse themselves there, understand what's going on on the continent, and then really identify individuals who you can support to be able to help grow an ecosystem, I think is the best approach to this thing. It's not something that you could just throw money at. It's not something that you can just look at and turn away. It's something that you need to invest in personally, emotionally, and invest in that growth.

Clare Akamanzi: If I can add on that, I think one big challenge when it comes to investors is the information gap. Both of you have talked about that. So how do you bridge information gap? I think one way is to find vehicles or instruments within which investors can invest and whose promoters are people that understand the continent, who are doing business there, they can really deliver. And we've seen that even begin to happen in sports. We have Cape Town Tigers, one of the clubs that are playing on the Basketball Africa League that has private investors that came together that are also working with promoters who understand the continent. So I think being able to find those platforms or those vehicles and then you bring investors helps to reduce the information gap but also makes the risk more acceptable on their part.

Justin Norman: Absolutely. And speaking from my own experience as somebody who's lived on the ground for quite a long time, to admit that the context is different and you have to earn and challenge all your priors is a very important part of understanding how to find opportunities on the ground. Maybe one final topic I want to ask all of you about is this talent question, right? We said before the youngest continent by far the average age is 18 or 19, the population is going to double. We like to talk about this idea of opportunity is not evenly distributed, but talent is, right? Clare, you talked a little bit, we just came from the NBA Africa luncheon about the players from the continent who are now in the NBA, and one of the opportunities as well is creating new opportunities for people across the continent from a talent perspective, from a basketball perspective, from a job creation perspective. Can you talk a little bit about that and perhaps what excites you about being able to have that effect as NBA Africa?

Clare Akamanzi: For NBA Africa we like to say that we're investing from the grassroots up to the high performance elite sports, and how we're doing that is investing from the very grassroots. So we have what we call the junior NBA programs where we target kids from the age of 6-14 and we give them access to camps, to training and skills, and hopefully that can impact them to begin to think about basketball as a career. In addition to that we have Basketball Without Borders which is also another platform where we support the training and also the exposure of the basketball game to a number of countries and I think about 10 people have been drafted into the NBA from the Basketball Without Borders. We have the NBA The academy that is in Senegal, I think day to day I do works with them. So that NBA academy is another platform where we see talent being harnessed. And of course, the Basketball Africa League gives an opportunity for the best of the talent to also participate. And maybe they can play even beyond the Basketball Africa League to the NBA. So really think about talent development from a very young age to professional age, I think is something that makes a difference.

Justin Norman: And from an entertainment perspective, obviously, Afrobeats is taking over the world and you hear it everywhere. And that, from a talent perspective and the infrastructure around the entertainment industries, can you talk a little bit about that, Abdul?

Abdul Karim Abdullah: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, right now, everybody is a big fan of Burna Boy, Wizkid, and Davido. But for us, from our perspective, it's just building an ecosystem where some of all that they've created is coming and staying home on the continent. So from our festival, what we do is an expo that gives us an opportunity to create these type of talent for the next generation. So we do a production masterclass with YouTube, where we pair young producers with establish producers like Juls, like GuiltyBeatz, to give them an opportunity to learn how to produce music. We collaborate with Music Business Africa to educate their managers and themselves as artists on what the importance of the music business is, so that you don't have these predatory deals penetrate our talent. We have created these spaces where people in healthcare can connect and network.

Abdul Karim Abdullah: So if you have about 40,000 people coming into Ghana in December for a festival, you definitely have people in healthcare, in different fields that come together to create these opportunities and create these spaces for them to build a health fair or build those things that these are things that we've done in Ghana. So we are using our platform and leveraging the brands that we work with like a YouTube, like a Meta, hopefully the BAL as well to be able to create spaces for young talent to find opportunities to gain that experience that Tuyee was talking about. Because we know that talent exists on the continent, it's really just about providing them with the opportunity and the resources they need to excel.

Justin Norman: And Tuyee, as a final word, you talked a little bit about some of the programming that you do as well from a talent perspective, but I think, from a workforce perspective, the populations are declining everywhere but Africa, so there's a question about it or is African talent going to be the workforce for a lot of these regions as well and building those bridges, digital jobs, job creation? Maybe you can just say a little bit more about that before you wrap up.

Tuyee Yeboah: Yeah, no, I think I think that's going to be a big trend that we see. I mean, we we have companies like Andela that grooms talent for the tech ecosystem around the world. And even us, with our holding company, we've started to use outsourced labor. And so more recently, we've been acquiring professional services, outsourced CFO practices here in the US and funneling a lot of that workload to labor forces within Africa. And the talent is there. They're able to deliver and compete at the same level. And that's one of the things that I'm super excited when you look at talent from an Africa perspective, is people are really willing to put in the extra effort to learn and educate themselves. A lot of times you find people who learn new theories, learn different creative techniques, animation, programming all from YouTube, and they're competing at a global level with that level of exposure and skills. So imagine if we continue to pour into them.

Justin Norman: Yeah. Well, thank you three of you so much, Clare, Abdul, and Tuyee, for taking the time and for such an engaging conversation. I do think we have to wrap up, but as a final word, I think we have to say to everybody in the audience that we hope to see you in Kigali in May, right? And in...

Abdul Karim Abdullah: I mean, we want to invite them to South Africa. You know what I mean? That's where they're kicking off. And after South Africa, we're also going to Cairo. We want to invite them to Cairo. The games there are going to be amazing. Then we're going to go to Senegal, and then we're going to end it off in Kigali. So you have four opportunities.

Justin Norman: And then Ghana in December.

Abdul Karim Abdullah: And then Ghana in December, of course, so you can Detty yourself.

Justin Norman: For anybody that needs a tourism guide, we have Abdul here, so come find him afterwards. But thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Clare Akamanzi: Thank you.

Abdul Karim Abdullah: Thank you so much, guys.