Browse Tag


2 mins read

Chess in Slums Africa: Empowering Futures, One Move at a Time

Founded by Chess Master Tunde Onakoya, Chess in Slums Africa aims to harness the transformative power of chess to overcome the challenges posed by poverty.

Onakoya, who himself experienced life in a Lagos slum, understands firsthand the potential of chess to bring about positive change.

Rising to become the 13th-ranked chess player in Nigeria despite facing adversity, Onakoya envisioned chess not merely as a game but as a tool for empowerment. In 2018, he established Chess in Slums Africa with a mission to leverage chess as a catalyst for education, mentorship, and opportunity in underprivileged communities.

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The organization conducts two-week intensive chess camps in slums such as Majidun, Makoko, and Oshodi. These camps not only introduce children to the intricacies of chess but also impart valuable life skills.

Participants learn critical thinking, problem-solving, strategic planning, discipline, and focus – skills that extend beyond the chessboard, empowering them to navigate the complexities of their circumstances and envision brighter futures.

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Chess in Slums Africa’s impact extends beyond the classroom, with a 3-year grant deal with Lufthansa Airlines Global The deal, according to Onakoya, will facilitate the development of a chess academy and STEM innovation lab in Lagos, Nigeria, that will be open and free to street children without access to education.

Chess in Slums Africa has also strategically partnered with, the world’s leading online chess platform to gain access to educational resources, online tournaments, and a global network of chess enthusiasts.

Through strategic partnerships, innovative initiatives, and a commitment to empowerment, Chess in Slums Africa continues to pave the way for a brighter future for children in underprivileged communities.

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4 mins read

Driving Change: Shekel Mobility Raises $7 Million to Revolutionize African Car Trading

Shekel Mobility, a B2B trading platform tailored for car dealers in Africa, has secured a $7 million seed investment in its latest funding round. This financial backing comprises $3.2 million in equity and over $4 million in debt, with Ventures Platform and MaC VC leading the investment round.

The primary goal behind this infusion of capital is to fuel the expansion of Shekel Mobility’s operations into new African markets while fostering the development of innovative products and services within the platform.

Nigeria, recognized as the largest market for used cars in Africa with an estimated value of $10 billion, serves as a focal point for Shekel Mobility’s operations. Positioned as one of the key players in this lucrative market, the company stands poised to capitalize on the continuous growth of Nigeria’s economy.

The Nigerian used car market boasts a significant scale, with an annual sale of over 1 million used cars. Forecasts from a 2022 Statista report suggest a prospective escalation of the Nigerian used car market to a value of $1.3 billion by 2025.

However, despite this burgeoning demand, Africa’s car ownership remains notably lower than the global average, standing at fewer than 45 cars per 1000 people. To address this gap, emerging startups like Autochek and Moove have aimed to cater to consumer and driver needs. Yet, a critical need persists for solutions designed specifically for vehicle sellers in Africa, a void effectively filled by Shekel Mobility.

The existing market landscape in Africa remains predominantly offline and fragmented, presenting challenges for both buyers and sellers, including a lack of transparency, difficulty in sourcing suitable cars, and complex paperwork procedures.

Shekel Mobility has strategically positioned itself to tackle these obstacles by offering a centralized online platform that directly connects buyers and sellers. The platform features an array of tools empowering buyers to easily locate their ideal vehicles, leveraging detailed listings, 360-degree photos, and immersive virtual reality tours.

Since its inception, this Y Combinator-backed startup has reportedly facilitated transactions exceeding $56 million. By contributing to the expansion of over 1,400 auto dealerships and facilitating sales involving 7,000 cars, Shekel Mobility has demonstrated its impactful presence within the market.

The linchpin of the startup’s growth lies in its flagship offering, Shekel Credit. This unique service furnishes immediate financing to auto dealers, granting credit limits of up to $200,000 for vehicle acquisitions, typically ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.

Under this financing structure, the dealer contributes 30% of the total cost, such as $3,000 for a $10,000 car, while Shekel covers the remaining 70% as a loan to the dealer. Upon selling the vehicle to the end customer, typically within a three-month period, the dealer reimburses Shekel, encompassing the loan interest and transaction fees associated with the car sale.

Marlon Nichols, the founder and managing partner at MaC Venture Capital, expressed enthusiasm regarding the investment round, highlighting Shekel Mobility’s potential to revolutionize and stimulate growth within Africa’s automotive industry. Nichols emphasized how the team enables substantial financial movement within the Nigerian economy while simultaneously providing affordable automobiles to locals.

by Tony O. Lawson

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4 mins read

Alitheia Raises $100 Million to Invest In Women Owned Businesses Across Africa

Alitheia IDF (AIF), Africa’s first women-led and women-focused private equity fund announced the final close of a $100 million fund in December of 2021. With this final close, Alitheia IDF becomes the largest woman-focused private equity fund by value in Africa.

Led by principal partners Polo Leteka and Tokunboh Ishmael, Alitheia IDF invests in growth-stage companies across six African countries: Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Zambia.

Polo Leteka co-Founder and Principal Partner – South Africa(Credit: Bridget Corke Photography)

The fund has a mandate to plug the over $42 billion investment gap between male and female entrepreneurs as a means of catalyzing the economic power of African women as producers, distributors, and consumers.

In 2021, the fund began implementing this mandate by leading investment rounds in five women-led businesses across essential sectors including agribusiness, education, manufacturing, housing, technology, and logistics.

The investee companies are Jetstream Africa (Ghana), ReelFruit Ltd (Nigeria), SKLD (Nigeria), AV Light Steel (South Africa), and Chika’s Food (Nigeria).

“Globally, women have tremendous purchasing power as consumers and controllers of household economics. In the same vein, women entrepreneurs have a significant presence in Africa’s SME sector with African women making up 58% of the continent’s self-employed population.

Tokunboh Ishmael – co-Founder and Principal Partner – Nigeria

However, despite this economic power and presence, African women are underserved as consumers and producers.

This has had a huge impact on economic growth as the potential of more than half of the continent’s population remains untapped due to structural and systemic issues.

We are proactively working towards filling this gap with a clear mandate to support women-led businesses across the continent while raising awareness for gender-smart investment as a path towards inclusive economic growth,” said Principal Partner Tokunboh Ishmael in Nigeria.

African women have remained underserved by the financial sector even as the historical investment gap between men and women continues to widen.

Estimates show that African women receive less than 5% of all investment on the continent even though over 40% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Africa are women-led.

Reports by McKinsey point out that closing the investment gap will lead to 26% gross domestic product (GDP) growth ($28 trillion) by 2025.

By applying a gender-smart lens to investment, Alitheia IDF is setting the pace and providing a framework for gender-inclusive investments with the goal of enabling economic growth for African countries and, critically, African women.

Polo Leteka, Principal Partner in South Africa, explained that it is her hope that Alitheia IDF’s leading example will inspire other investors on the continent to invest in women, noting that women have an important role to play in unlocking the economic potential of Africa.

She further stated that “the historic inability to appropriately capture the economic potential of African women has affected Africa’s development. Alitheia IDF is on a mission to fill this gap by using a gender smart approach and financial capital to empower women as consumers and producers.”

Tony O. Lawson

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7 mins read

Meet The CEO of Flutterwave, Nigeria’s Billion Dollar Startup

Launched in 2016 as a Nigerian and U.S.-based payments company with offices in Lagos and San Francisco, Flutterwave builds payments infrastructure that connects Africa to the global economy.

Flutterwave is also one of only four unicorns ($1 billion+ startups) in Africa. Two other unicorns are located in Nigeria—and one in Egypt.

We caught up with Flutterwave founder and CEO, Olugbenga “GB “Agboola to find out more about his company and its future plans.

Flutterwave Founder and CEO, Olugbenga “GB “Agboola

What inspired you to start Flutterwave?

We started Flutterwave due to the fragmented nature of payments in Africa— there were multiple ways of making and receiving payments within countries but cross-border payments remained a hassle. This made it difficult for individuals like myself or businesses to make or receive international payments in Africa. 

It was easier for me to send and receive money from the UK than to do the same from Lagos to Nairobi. We saw an opportunity to address this problem and worked with a group of passionate Engineers, Bankers, Designers, Builders, and Marketers to build Flutterwave, to simplify payments for endless possibilities.  

Today, we support international payments for over 34 countries and process payments across 150 currencies. We have over 300,000 businesses using our solutions to receive money from their customers and continue on their growth journey. 

During the lockdown, you helped set up digital storefronts for over 20,000 of your clients. Why was it important for you even though e-commerce isn’t part of your core business?

This was our own way of helping our customers cushion the impact of the pandemic. The lockdowns in 2020 meant that businesses that earlier depended on making physical sales were all out of revenue opportunities. We built out this solution to enable them to continue selling while they were at home. 

Flutterwave has over 25,000 businesses across Africa— some selling skincare, beauty products, others selling shoes and fashion items, etc on the Flutterwave Store. It’s interesting to note how small businesses are currently using the solutions and the huge opportunity this has for the future. 

Here are a few ways small businesses are using the solution. This barbecue Business—Smoked Barbecue in a Box offers home delivery with the support of Flutterwave Store. This cocktail company—Big Fish Cocktail offers unique drinks sold over the Flutterwave Store.  


What are some of your plans to offer payment services to US-based clients and companies?

We are excited for the opportunity to offer Flutterwave’s payment infrastructure to US-based clients and companies.  Currently, we are already working with merchants such as Uber, Netflix, and Microsoft on their expansion across Africa.  And, we have started talking to many other US-based merchants that have growth ambitions across the continent.  

We also have several strategic partnerships that will help us expand the services that we can offer to our merchant base and look forward to launching those in the near future for our US merchants.

What are your thoughts on the importance of African Americans being more involved in the African startup scene as founders and/or investors? 

First is the massive economic benefits and opportunities for African Americans to access the widely untapped trillion dollar economic opportunities both in Africa and in the US. By 2030, Africa will have 1.7 billion people and a combined consumer and business spending of 6.7 trillion U.S. dollars (Brookings). The continent is creating a new development path and harnessing the potential of its people and resources. 

Secondly is the socio-economic benefit. The African-American community can play a huge part in the prosperity of the continent by starting up or investing in businesses that will bring socio-economic change and employ more people on the continent. Advancing US-Africa trade, investment, and technology in Africa would unlock massive economic growth and increased prosperity for both regions.

Team Flutterwave

What future plans do you have that involve cryptocurrency?

We support our customers and help them in countries where they are compliant with the regulations. We are excited to explore diverse use cases of our solutions across the world and across various sectors in compliance with regulations guiding such sectors and countries. Our future plans include working with all stakeholders to better understand and use the technology in a way that protects the consumers.      

What advice do you have for those in the Diaspora that are interested in entering the rapidly growing tech startup space in Nigeria?

Just do it! Through skill share, knowledge share, and investments in the tech ecosystem, the African diaspora can help unlock some of the continent’s full potential. The best time to invest in Africa was a few years back.

The second best time is now. The continent is on the fast track in building cutting edge technologies across healthcare, payments, logistics, e-commerce and the market is readily available.

The regulators are also learning fast and catching up with the speedy innovations on the continent. Africa is rich in talent; the diaspora should consider looking inward for talents that can help build, run and scale their businesses. 


Tony O. Lawson

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2 mins read

Agricorp Raises $17.5M To Export Spices From Nigeria and Empower Farmers

Agricorp International is a spice producing, processing, and exporting company. Founded in 2018, the Nigeria based startup is on a mission to satisfy a growing global demand for spices.

Although Nigeria is the second largest producer of ginger in the world, it only accounts for  3.5% of the export market share due to capacity constraints and consistency.

Through our engagements with local community members and farmers, Agricorp has created direct jobs for over 100 women and aggregated products from over 4,000 smallholder farmers and is currently on track to aggregate from over 10,000.

Agricorp recently announced a $17.5 million ( 7.2 billion naira) investment that will enable it to increase the amount of ginger and other spices processed and exported to the Middle East, Europe, and America. The investment also secures Agricorp’s position as Africa’s largest spice export startup.

The funding was raised from Vami Nigeria, One Capital LLC and AFEX. Vami led the funding round with $11.5 million in equity, while the other investors provided working capital financing for the company. Ernst & Young (Nigeria) served as transaction advisers while Elisio Law Office and Pavestone Legal served as legal advisers.

“We believe that by increasing our capacity, we will maximize the potentials to boost Nigeria’s forex earnings through export, contribute our quota to improving the Nigerian GDP from agriculture, and serve as a worthy model to African youths who aspire to be agribusiness owners. We want to show them it is possible and very rewarding as well” said Kenneth Obiajulu, Agricorp’s CEO.

Tony O. Lawson

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1 min read

Black Owned Investment Firm Has Helped African Startups Raise $60M

Nichole Yembra is the Founder and Managing Director of The Chrysalis Capital, a $15M Africa and Diaspora early stage tech fund, and The Chrysalis Advisors, a strategy and investment advisory firm.

In this interview, we discuss:

1) African startups being forced to solve “African problems” vs Global problems (3:30)

2) The African Startup ecosystem (10:11)

3) Funding Bias – Foreign Black Privilege (13:00)

4) The need for government to create infrastructure and regulation that helps entrepreneurs (16:00)

5) The importance of supporting women founders (22:45)

6) Advice for founders looking for funding (25:15)

Don’t forget to LIKE the video and SUBSCRIBE to the channel!

Tony O. Lawson

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8 mins read

Meet The Black Woman Who Created The World’s Largest Tech Conference

Social Media Week Lagos is the largest and Blackest conference that you’ve probably never heard of until now.

Social Media Week features a central stage for keynotes and panels, multiple rooms for workshops, masterclasses and presentations, and an area dedicated to co-working, networking and interactive installations.

social media week

SMW Lagos 2018 boasted an attendance of over 20,000 people in person,  an online social reach of 646 million and over 150 local and international organizations contributed to the conference.

social media week

If you’ve heard of a conference larger than that, anywhere, let us know. We’ll wait.

The Founder

Ngozi Odita is the founder of Social Media Week Lagos. She is a producer and a public speaker that works with artists and arts organizations to produce public programming that includes art exhibitions, film screenings, concerts & artist talks. She speaks to the unique opportunities that exist on the continent and “what’s next” on the horizon.

Social Media Week Lagos founder, Ngozi Odita

The Inspiration

Ngozi’s work has always centered around the intersection of art, culture and technology as it relates to Africa and the diaspora. After producing two SMW New York events, she decided that instead of telling people how dope Africa is, she would let them see for themselves by creating a platform on the Continent.

She got the license to create the conference in Nigeria and the rest is history in the making.

social media week

Challenges and Rewards

When asked about the most challenging and rewarding parts of creating this event, she stated, “It’s a challenge in general doing an event that’s this large scale. In Nigeria, there are unique challenges.

Certain resources and materials may not be readily available the way they are in the West. Getting people in Africa and abroad to see the vision has also been a challenge.

People asked why anyone would want to see a conference about using Twitter or Instagram. They told me that it just would not work.”

Ngozi says the most rewarding part of the journey has been providing new and life changing experiences for those who attend the conference.

“Last year, we had a yoga/meditation tent. Initially, people thought that wasn’t a good idea and that none would attend a yoga event first thing in the morning.

But it ended up being packed! Some of the people had never done yoga before. I love challenging people to do new things that they never thought of doing. I enjoy providing an experience that they can’t get anywhere else.”

social media week

Why attend SMW Lagos?

“I really want Black people on the Continent and in the Diaspora to see that we are all alike. You don’t see yourself until you see yourself. Many people abroad see images of the super fly people and places in Lagos and they are like, “Whoa that’s in Nigeria? That could be Brooklyn, that could be Atlanta!”

That’s when the connection happens. We have to ask ourselves why we don’t connect, and why don’t we build more.”

social media week

She continued, “It is important for people on the continent also get a real connection with their brothers and sisters in the Diaspora.

We need to figure out what we could accomplish if we all work together. People say Africa is the future and it really is!  Every western country is trying to figure out (or has figured out) what their “Africa angle” is.

If we don’t figure it out as a people, others will figure it out for us and we’ll be in the back seat. We need to connect and people in the diaspora need to come over and see how we can build together.”

SMW is a great way to connect tech minded and business minded creatives and entrepreneurs.

“I love the fact that because of social media, youtube etc, we can see all the dope artists and fashion, but we have to be more than consumers, we need to own. We need to figure out how to own our own.

All these amazing African startups are getting investment from outside the continent. They end up being owned by people who don’t look like us. Jay-z and Nas and others are investing in tech.

Now, let’s think about investing in some African startups. We need to figure out how to get involved and make money moves and not keep watching from the sidelines.”

The Future

“My dream is that this time of the year will be like a homecoming, and everyone will have February blocked out to come to Nigeria to take care of business and turn up.

African countries are doing amazing things and we celebrate this, but we’re not moving the needle. Mad youth are unemployed and the government is a mess. Other people come out here and get paid, but most of them don’t look like us.

All the resources are there and we all know it but we’re not making the moves to take advantage of what is ours. We’re not talking to ourselves in a way that matters.

In the 50’s you would have leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, discussing Pan Africanism with Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of Nigeria.

They both travelled to America with the intention of building with like minds. The idea of Blackness as a whole was different then than it is now.

Now, we don’t think as much about nation building, but we need to. There’s no way to do this if we don’t do it together.”

What to Expect this year

A few of year events include:

  • Re-Imagine Africa
  • Intro to Angel Investing
  • How to scale your business with Instagram
  • Digital Media and the Music Industry
  • Potential for growth:Digital sports in Africa
  • My F*ck Up Story – Sharing Stories Of Professional Failure

Visit the SMW Lagos website for more information.


Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (@thebusyafrican)

1 min read

15 Things to do in Lagos for Social Media Week 2019

The last time I was at Social Media Week Lagos was in 2017. It was great to be back home, connecting with entrepreneurs, content creators and other bright minds from around the world. We shared ideas on how the Continent can use and is using social media in the areas of entertainment, business, education and activism.

On Feb 4th – 8th 2019, Social Media Week Lagos will be back, bigger and better than before. But don’t worry of you can’t make it, we’ve got our SHOPPE BLACK eyes and ears on the ground to bring the news, videos and pics to you.

If you are one of the lucky ones who WILL be in Lagos in February or plan to attend between now and next year, check out this updated version of where to go to get a taste of the culture, entertainment and history.


Black Olive

The Ice Cream factory

Danfo Bistro and Dives

Labule Restaurant

The House Cafe


Terra Kulture

Omenka Gallery 

Rele Gallery

Nike Art Gallery

Thought Pyramid Art Centre

Freedom Park


Tarkwa Beach

Ilashe Beach


Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG @thebusyafrican)


22 mins read

The World Is Witnessing Nigeria’s Creative Golden Age

Nigerians, of course, saw it all along. The infiltration of world culture by the sounds, images, and styles of their country has been building for some time. The author and photographer Teju Cole notices Nigerian pop music when he travels—recently, in a taxi in Peru.

The journalist Bim Adewunmi remembers finding a group of white British kids in London singing “Oliver Twist,” a hit by D’Banj, down to the artist’s Nigerian accent: OH-lee-vah. “D’Banj trumped Charles Dickens in that moment,” Adewunmi says. “And that made me feel good!”

Perhaps the breakout moment came in 2013, when Beyoncé placed a spoken passage by the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, excerpted from an essay on the social conditioning of girls, at the ­center of “Flawless,” her empowerment manifesto set to a bouncing Houston funk groove. Queen Bey’s validation turbocharged the ascent of the author of Americanah to her status as a cross-cultural (and stylish) feminist icon. And any doubt vanished once Drake turned up on the remix of “Ojuelegba,” a silken ode by the Nigerian singer Wizkid to his Lagos neighborhood, in 2015—along with Skepta, the British-Nigerian star of the London grime scene.

It’s been a seeping, decentralized thing; to call it a takeover would be hyperbole. But the assertive Nigerian global influence today cannot be denied, whether it’s in literature, music, fashion, or art, with new talents appearing at a relentless pace. Many hold court in London, which has an established Nigerian presence that spans working-class Peckham and the Knightsbridge mansions of industrialists and oil barons. Others are in the United States, where middle-class immigrants have flourished in places like Houston and Atlanta. But all of them feed off the scene in Nigeria itself—and in its megacity, Lagos, a frenetic engine of creativity.

nigerian creatives
Ogbewi, Oyéjidé, and Ayodele (from left) wear suits from Ikiré Jones. Ogbewi wears a Missoni shirt; Kathleen Whitaker earrings; Alumnae shoes. Oyéjidé wears his own jeans, glasses, jewelry, and boots. Ayodele wears Erdem shoes.
Photograph by Ruth Ossai; Styled by Jason Rider.

Ever since Purple Hibiscus, Adichie’s 2003 debut novel, Nigeria’s history, social issues, and the experiences of its immigrants have spread into every realm of literature. Cole, for instance, who grew up in ­Nigeria and lives in Brooklyn, trains a meditative eye on Lagos in Every Day Is for the Thief. Illinois-raised Nnedi Okorafor draws on Igbo spirituality to shape award-winning science-fiction and fantasy; Who Fears Death, her postapocalyptic allegory in which magic transcends sexual violence and civil war, is slated for an HBO series.

Acclaimed recent debuts by Ayobami Adebayo, Lesley Nneka Arimah, and Tomi Adeyemiunderscore the prominence of women writers in the scene. Adebayo was born in Lagos; her Stay With Me, a deft, stirring family drama, addresses intimate ordeals of infertility and illness against middle-class pressures and aspirations in a provincial Nigerian town, and received the critic Michiko Kakutani’s final New York Times review. Minneapolis-based Arimah sets the surrealist, feminist stories in What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky in both Nigeria and the U.S. Raised in the Chicago suburbs, marked by both the Harry Potter series and the rise of Black Lives Matter, Adeyemi found her outlet in a world she called Orïsha, inspired by the divinities of Yoruba culture. Published this year, Children of Blood and Bone, the first in a series for which Adeyemi secured a huge publishing deal at the age of 23, topped the young-adult best-seller list.

Nigerian designers are giving fashion a jolt of adrenaline as well. They follow established creators such as Duro Olowu, who showed his first London collection in 2005 (and later became a Michelle Obama favorite), Lisa Folawiyo (Jewel by Lisa), and Amaka Osakwe (Maki Oh). Meanwhile, Nigerian shoppers—big spenders who regularly visit London and Dubai, and who avidly seek out foreign brands on the MallforAfrica app—support up-and-coming talents. Lagos brims with showrooms nestled behind the walls of private compounds. Alára, the entrepreneur Reni Folawiyo’s concept store in Lagos, houses both Western and Nigerian designers in a David Adjaye–designed building, as well as Nok, the store’s nouvelle-­Nigerian destination restaurant.

Ogunlesi wears clothing and boots of her own design. Ize wears signature pieces from his spring 2019 collection.
Photograph by Ruth Ossai; Styled by Jason Rider.

Nigerian style is all about subcultures, mash-ups, and street life. London-based Mowalola Ogunlesi, known for her sexually charged punk clothes, finds inspiration in the country’s rock underground and the aggression of Lagos street racers, bikers, and minibus drivers. ­Adebayo Oke-Lawal’s Lagos-based label, Orange Culture, short-listed for the LVMH Prize in 2014, explores androgynous undercurrents that Nigerian tradition, influenced by both Christianity and Islam, repress. London’s streetwear brand Vivendii, started in 2011 by Jimmy Ayeni, Ola Badiru, and Anthony Oye, collaborated this year with Virgil Abloh’s Off-White and Nike on a limited-edition jersey for the Nigeria soccer team. Meanwhile, Nike’s official gear for the team’s World Cup campaign became an instant cult item.

Ayeni wears a Vivendii top; Marni suit; Bunney choker; his own necklace and sandals. Oye wears a Vivendii shirt; Craig Green trousers; Ambush necklaces; Alexander McQueen boots; his own sunglasses. Badiru wears a Vivendii shirt; Alexander McQueen coveralls; Ambush jewelry; Bunney bracelet and signet ring; Falke socks; Marni sneakers.
Photograph by Ruth Ossai; Styled by Jason Rider.

Global brands are catching up to Nigeria, says the photographer Ruth Ossai, who took the pictures in these pages. “There is such a spotlight on Nigerian creatives because brands have gotten behind us and trust us,” she says. “But local talent has always been there.” Indeed, as trend spotters ogle Nigerian kids in London and reporters safari through the Lagos nightlife, many Nigerians seem amused. “People are just realizing this now?” the artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby says. “Maybe they are just slow to the scene.”

With 190 million inhabitants or more—no one knows, there hasn’t been a census in years—the country’s size alone, dwarfing its ­African neighbors, makes it a player. “You can’t ignore the nation that ­represents one in eight black human beings in the world,” says the crime novelist Leye Adenle, author of Easy Motion Tourist. In the years ­following independence, in 1960, that scale was accompanied by prestige. ­Nigeria had good universities, political influence, a booming ­commercial capital in Lagos, and a dynamic, emerging middle class. Music blossomed—highlife in Lagos and the Igbo southeast, juju from the Yoruba heartland—and albums by great bandleaders found their way across Africa and to the West.

But the good times didn’t last. A coup and countercoup in 1966 ushered in the bloody Biafra civil war, followed by three decades of nearly uninterrupted military rule. The economy became dependent on oil exports, and corruption took hold as politics centered on controlling and distributing oil revenue. In the long, jazzy songs that made him Nigeria’s musical icon in the 1970s and ’80s, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti described a country beset with greed, decay, and the suffering of ordinary people. The nation became disreputable: Visitors returned with tales of outrageous shakedowns, and Africans from neighboring ­countries stayed away, traumatized by stories of swindles or vigilante justice. The advent of the Internet gave rise to a stubborn archetype, the Nigerian prince who wants to wire you a vast sum of money after you send him a fee—Nigerians called this scam 419, after a provision in the legal code on fraud.

Ogbewi wears a Salvatore Ferragamo dress and shoes; Versace shirtdress. Anakwe wears Balenciaga.
Photograph by Ruth Ossai; Styled by Jason Rider.

Today’s Nigeria reflects a drastic turnaround. “It’s gone from 419 to Lagos nights,” Adewunmi says. Elections have been held since 1999, and the country has become an energetic—if still corrupt—democracy. Every year, Nigerians living overseas stream back for the holidays, injecting millions of dollars and pounds into the economy, moving by Uber around Lagos and Abuja, the capital, and popping bottles at the ever-changing clubs. Social media is vibrant, and instead of scams, it turns out a steady flow of Nigerian memes, slang, and music.

Akunyili Crosby, who grew up in Nigeria and lives in Los Angeles, has found acclaim for her mixed-media collage works that evoke her memories of family and Nigerian daily life. “I’m really trying to show the side of Nigeria that is just people living their lives,” she says. In her wake, Alabama-raised Toyin Ojih Odutola had a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art last year, with a series of elegant large-scale drawings that depict the lives of two fictional aristocratic Nigerian families connected by the marriage of two male heirs. Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze, for her part, makes works on paper in an evanescent, surrealist style that evokes unsettled identities; raised in the U.K. and living in Brooklyn, she says her approach took form during a year spent in Nigeria, where she was born. “I have a connection to the land that is deeply nuanced, perhaps even immeasurable,” she says.

Some Nigerian artists who began their career overseas have returned home, joining the Lagos scene—anchored by the respected curator Bisi Silva’s Centre for Contemporary Art and the Art X Lagos fair—or reestablishing their rural roots. The photographer and ­conceptual video artist Zina Saro-Wiwa—the daughter of Ken ­Saro-Wiwa, a national hero executed by the military regime in 1995 for his environmental activism—is based in Brooklyn but makes her work in the Niger Delta region that her father fought for. “I’m in our village a lot,” she says. “I’m trying to let the land speak through me and express the reality of that place.”

Daberechi wears Prada clothing and Manolo Blahnik boots. Davies wears his own Ozwald Boateng suit and Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello sunglasses.
Photograph by Ruth Ossai; Styled by Jason Rider.

An important force behind Nigeria’s cultural dynamism is its collector class, including deep-pocketed banks and corporations. Even more ­decisive, however, is the vast popular market for locally ­produced entertainment. It includes the sprawling Nollywood, but also the Hausa-language film industry, which is influential in the country’s north and gets exported to the Arab world. Nigeria’s music scene, too, allows artists to grow careers independent of foreign labels and tastemakers. “I’m able to make music locally,” says the musician Brymo, who began in mainstream pop and then moved to a more recherché singer-songwriter style. “Between downloads, streams, and gigs, people pay to see my group.”

The exponential growth of Nigerian pop music—now often called Afrobeats—tracks with the turn some 10 years ago toward a hybrid sound full of references to prior waves of Nigerian music, sung in English as well as in Yoruba, Igbo, and pidgin, a street vernacular. American, British, Caribbean, and Congolese borrowings add to the blend. It’s this music, not the more formulaic hip-hop and R&B that immediately preceded it, that has taken Africa by storm and merged with global black culture.

Nigerian pop’s royal ranks already include the megastars Wizkid and Davido, the reggae-inspired Burna Boy, and the female singers Yemi Alade and Tiwa Savage. Ubiquitous across Africa and increasingly in the mix elsewhere, pop music has become a source of prestige for Nigeria. “Growing up in the U.S., it wasn’t cool to be Nigerian,” says the rapper Jidenna, who was raised near Boston. “Now, it’s freeing.” These days, he works vintage Nigerian highlife music into his songs and finds inspiration for his ultra-dapper style on the Lagos streets.

nigerian creatives
Jidenna wears a Loro Piana cape; his own shirt, pants, and jewelry.
Photograph by Ruth Ossai; Styled by Jason Rider.

But let’s be real: Nigeria is also a mess. Middle-class life involves constant battles—with corrupt cops, disorganized public services, fuel shortages, and power cuts that force reliance on noisy, polluting generators. The country recently surpassed India as the nation with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty. And violence is rife: not just the Boko Haram crisis that drags on in the northeast but resource conflicts, such as between farmers and herders, that take on ethnic hues. “People think Nigeria is incapable of imploding, but I don’t agree,” says the novelist Elnathan John, who comes from Kaduna, in the northwest, and now lives in Berlin. “It’s these little conflicts in a million places.” But others are more sanguine. “Some god is ­smiling on Nigeria,” Duro Olowu says, “considering how many things are completely ignored.”

“Nigeria succeeds in spite of itself, and that’s what’s great about it,” says the writer Lola Shoneyin. “The doggedness is always there. On nearly every street, there is a girl who is going to university but also has a sewing machine. There is a fearlessness with which ­Nigerians pursue creativity.” Shoneyin, the author of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, herself has many hustles—a positive term in the ­Nigerian vernacular. A publisher and cultural entrepreneur, she founded the Aké literature festival in 2013. It is now a vibrant institution with a global draw.

Self-belief is no culture’s monopoly—but talk to Nigerian creatives and you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. In Donald Glover’s hit TV series Atlanta, the character Darius, a purveyor of goofy wisdom played by Lakeith Stanfield, is Nigerian-American. “Don’t you start that,” he tells Earn, the lead protagonist, played by Glover, at one point. “You know Nigerians don’t fail.” And as their influence grows, Nigerian creatives are nudging one another into more transgressive terrain: feminism, queerness, dissent. The hope is that the culture at large will follow.

The trans author Akwaeke Emezi, who is half Igbo, half Tamil, and grew up in southern Nigeria, identifies specifically as ogbanje—a gender-ambiguous spirit that arrives from outside the lineage and inhabits the body. Freshwater, Emezi’s debut, unfolds from an ogbanje’s perspective, narrated in the first-person plural. The acclaimed novel, which earned Emezi a two-book follow-up deal, was published in the U.S. this past February and recently in Nigeria. “Several Nigerian readers have written me to say, ‘Thank you for this,’ ” says the author. “ ‘This is the first time in my life that I haven’t felt crazy.’ ”

Oke-Lawal, of Orange Culture, observes that his androgynous label is generating interest abroad and at home, with a growing number of customers from conventional professions, such as lawyers, now purchasing his clothes. New York–based Chike Frankie Edozien, author of the acclaimed memoir Lives of Great Men, is among a handful of gay Nigerians who are writing and speaking openly, often at personal risk.

Iweala wears a Paul Smith suit; Brioni shirt; Falke socks; his own shoes. Saro-Wiwa wears Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co. earrings; her own clothes. Cole wears an Hermès suit; Brioni sweater; his own glasses, pin, and shoes.

“People are creating progressive culture in real time,” Teju Cole says. Known for his own artistic experiments with social media, he sees the Internet as a catalyst for Nigerian culture to gradually shed its inhibitions. “There are people who are very liberal in their views, and there are people who are not so much, but you can see them thinking it through.” For all its difficulties, Nigeria is going through a creative blossoming and sharing the results with the rest of the world, at a time when many societies seem to be looking inward. Perhaps that’s the secret to its appeal. “It feels like a coming to fruition,” Cole says. “We really got hot, and that feels right.”


Source: W Magazine

10 mins read

Nichole Yembra: Managing Partner of One of The Largest FinTech VC Firms in Africa

One of my goals is to invest in many startups here and on the continent. The African Fintech (Financial technology) sector is one that’s always been interesting to me because of its potential to solve many social and economic issues.

According to a recent report from Disrupt Africa, the overall startup funding from venture capitalists jumped by 51 percent to $195 million from 2016 to 2017, with fintech funding accounting for one-third of the funds.

One company that specializes in financial technology is GreenHouse Capital. This Lagos based VC firm is assembling the largest portfolio of FinTech companies in Africa.

Nichole Yembra, MP – GreenHouse Capital

We spoke with Nichole Yembra, Managing Partner at GreenHouse Capital for more insight. Nichole is the local partner for foreign investors eager to transform African technology startups.

How would you describe the startup scene in Nigeria?

Over 40% of Nigerians identify as entrepreneurs; whether that is a one-woman store selling sweets and household items to series B tech companies getting international buzz. This spirit of hustle and solving every day Nigerian problems runs at the core of who we are.

While there are plenty stories of those who have started, we don’t yet have enough tales of exits which holds the Nigerian startup scene back compared to Kenya and South Africa. For the first time in 2017, Nigeria raised the most money on the continent and H1 2018 is already ahead of that trend.

Both domestic and international investors are backing really brilliant ideas, and this is setting up the ecosystem for much needed success stories.

What do you look for when deciding to invest in a company?

At GHC, we actually have a 10 item criteria, but the most important is the team. We need to know that they are resilient, flexible enough to pivot, technologically sound, and have the right set of morals.

Nichole Yembra

A great team will weather all the challenges thrown at them from both the macro and micro level and we honestly want to invest in people that we simply enjoy being around! We only invest in post revenue companies, so someone out there has to be willing to pay for your product.

Other areas including having at least one technical co-founder, assessing whether the timing is right for this product to enter the market, and modeling scalability.

Currently, your portfolio consists of mostly Fintech startups. What makes this such an attractive sector?

Fintech as we define it is the solution for so many issues on our continent. The most important thing we are looking for is data and a whole lot of it! Data allows everyone to make better decisions and innovate much faster.

For all the hundreds of payment companies, we still simply find it hard to move money across Africa and targeting the large percentage of the unbanked. Let me take one small aspect of fintech—inbound international remittances. In 2017, Nigerians (or others) in the diaspora sent $22 Billion dollars to friends and family in Nigeria. Nigeria’s entire 2017 oil revenues were $20 Billion.

Bunmi Akinyemiju, MP/CEO of Green House Capital

That’s right; inbound remittances were larger than all of Nigeria’s oil revenue. Furthermore, the average fee on those transactions is 10% meaning $2.2B for fintech companies moving foreign currency into the country.

Fintech’s are prominent throughout every fiber of society; from getting accurate patient records to track illnesses and medications to understanding why African aviation runs at a loss compared to its global counterparts.

Fintechs provide increased transparency and improve predictability. Any business that wants to make money needs to be plugged into a payment system, therefore permanently increasing the need for innovative fintechs.

Kunmi Demuren – Founding Partner, Greenhouse Capital

Congratulations on the launch of Vibranium Valley. What is the mission and vision behind it?

We’ve actually only completed phase 1 of Vibranium Valley now which houses Venture Garden Group’s 7 companies and the HQ for our investment arm GreenHouse Capital’s 14 companies.

Vibranium Valley launch day with Nigerian Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo (center)

We will also hold the 8-12 companies we are choosing for GreenHouse Lab, our all female tech accelerator. Once the full project is completed, we will have space for not just long term resident companies, but also those with budding ideas.

The mission is to enhance the tech ecosystem by fostering collaboration. Let’s say one company is trying to provide banking solutions to a state government and their primary system requires microfinance or commercial bank accounts, but the state wants to also incorporate the unbanked.

Vibranium Valley

That company can reach out to other fintechs that help cooperatives or have agency networks to partner with eachother rather than building that aspect of the solution from scratch. Vibranium Valley also serves as a central point for international investors and companies looking to better/more quickly understand the Nigerian investment landscape.

Vibranium Valley

If you have a question about a tech company in Nigeria, someone on our team most likely knows the answer or can easily direct you to someone who does. Being this ecosystem connector and helping shine the light on tech successes in Nigeria are the reasons why Vibranium Valley had to exist.

In your opinion, why is it important to support Nigerian and African startups in general?

Because nobody else can solve our problems for us. Developed countries like Japan, the US, and Germany have median ages between 46.9 and 37.9 years old; whereas the median age for the African continent is 19.5 years old with Nigeria averaging 18.3! Africans are not just the future, we are the now!

Garden Women’s Network

These young minds are growing up intrinsically connected with technology and innovation around the world and still hungry and imaginative enough to create both enabling and disruptive solutions to our nations’ problems.

We have already begun outsourcing our brain power to Silicon Valley companies with entities like Andela and countries looking to increase their global foothold can only come here for expansion. Given the large number of infrastructure and systemic issues around power, education, etc., there is not a shortage of problems to solve and the impact can be more immediate and widespread.

What is your advice for a foreigner investors that are interested in investing in Nigerian startups?

Come on over, we’re waiting for you. The beauty of investing here is that it naturally has a societal impact and given the perceived high risk, much higher returns.

I’d advise that you do your homework by engaging someone like us at VGG and always have a local investor in your round that can keep an eye on things on ground.

The biggest point of advice though is don’t come here trying to structure a silicon valley type deal; bring in global best practices, but be willing to localize and always search for context.

GHC CEO, Bunmi Akinyemiju, Managing Partner, Nichole Yembra, and Executive Director, Kunmi Demuren

Where do you see the company in the next 5 years?

Hopefully as a billion dollar company! For the new age unicorn definition, no African company has yet reached this milestone and we hope to be amongst the first.

We have deployed our fintech solutions across aviation, power, education, banking, and social investment while investing in companies addressing financial inclusion, renewable energy, healthcare, and so on.

With this connected ecosystem, we hope to increase not just our net worth but create a new class of tech millionaires and billionaires who are impacting millions of lives across the continent.


-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG @thebusyafrican)

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