Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Africa Business Conference

Africa at Wharton

Electricity panel at Wharton Africa Business Conference

Electricity panel at Wharton Africa Business Conference, Clem at left end.

On Saturday last week my husband Clem was a featured speaker at Wharton Africa Business Conference. MBA African students put on this conference annually, we learned.

In the morning Clem participated in a panel, “Electricity Infrastructure: How to Bridge the Gaps Sustainably.” Electricity is in short supply in much of Africa, including Nigeria. Many individuals who can afford to, and companies, depend on generators.

Electricity Infrastructure

The panelists for the Africa Business Conference were

  • Moderator: Marcus Watson – Senior Manager, Dalberg Global Development Advisors
  • Chad Larson – Co-Founder & Chief Credit Officer, M-KOPA Solar
  • Femi Akinrebiyo – Principal Investment Officer, International Finance Corporation (IFC)
  • Chinedu Igbokwe – Head of Africa and Middle East Region Energy Storage Development, NEC Energy Solutions, Inc.
  • Pat Bydume – Director, Endeavor Energy
  • Clement Onyemelukwe – Chairman, Colechurch International, and Chairman, KOKO Free Trade Zone.

M-KOPA Solar works in East Africa. The company provide solar panels to consumers. Their customers are among the very poor in rural areas where there is no connection to the electricity grid.

Without the solar panel, the people use kerosene lamps. They may have a battery radio. They pay to recharge their phones. M-KOPA’s solution can save them money.

According to an excellent article on Bloomburg. com last year, “The company’s core innovation has less to do with its physical product than the method it has developed to make it affordable. Kopa means ‘to borrow’ in Swahili, and each system the company sells is in effect a loan of about $165.”

Chad explained in broad strokes what I read in more detail online: “Clients pay $35 upfront and agree to make a daily payment of 45¢ for a year, after which the system is theirs.”

Customers get “a solar panel, two LED bulbs, an LED flashlight, a rechargeable radio, and adaptors for charging a phone. The kit comes with a two-year warranty, and its battery is designed to last at least four years.”

The founders of M-KOPA believe that everyone wins! They are making money, the buyers are able to save money, and the environment is better off.

Labor Intensive Electricity Generation?

Clem spoke about the need to use labor intensive methods for electricity generation, transmission, and distribution. These are suitable for a still-developing country like Nigeria.

He said bringing in foreign companies and consultants to advise on electricity is not beneficial. They want only the latest technology. But the capital intensive solutions are not the best when there is a surplus of labor and a deficit of capital.

Another panelist offered micro-grids as a solution. All the speakers were interesting.

With Dr. Ngozi Onuoha whose sister had read my book!

With Dr. Ngozi Onuoha whose sister had just read my memoir!

My Memoir Nigeria Revisited

The most fun for me came at lunch. Dr. Ngozi Onuoha, an Igbo woman, was sitting to Clem’s right. She was studying his name tag. “The name is familiar to me,” she said. Clem explained that there are two families with the name. Then she saw my name.

“That’s why I know the name. You wrote the book. My sister just finished reading it!” she said. “I’m going to read it next.”

She immediately called her sister. We ‘face-timed’ for a moment, though it was difficult to hear in the crowd. I will get in touch with Ngozi again.

Then we spotted the name Achebe on the next woman’s name tag and found she was the grand-daughter of Chinua Achebe, Nigeria’s most famous author.

Koko Free Trade Zone

Clem at podium lecturing on Koko Free Trade Zone at Wharton Africa Business Conference

Clem at podium lecturing on Koko Free Trade Zone at Wharton Africa Business Conference

After lunch Clem gave a lecture on Koko Free Trade Zone, Gateway to the West African Economic Region and the World. He explained the rationale for a free trade zone, the importance of Koko’s location, and the facilities that will be available for industries in the zone.

He said the size of ECOWAS, the Economic Community for West African States, should be appealing to manufacturers. They can also take advantage of Nigeria’s many natural resources.

As our son Chinaku said, he knows his stuff!

He didn’t leave much time for questions, but there were a couple. One person asked how an individual could be involved.

I helped with an answer for the MBA students at Wharton, most of the audience. “Convince the companies you go to after you graduate that Africa is a solid investment opportunity.”

I’d say at least 15% of the Wharton student attendees were Igbo, many more were also Nigerian.

I greeted several of those with Igbo names in Igbo. Only one was able to answer. Most said, “I don’t really speak Igbo!”

Neighborhood Love Notes

Two of you posted comments after I wrote about Neighborhood Love Notes.

Margaret said, “I haven’t heard of Neighborhood Love Notes. Can you give us an example or two?”

A while later Lowell said, “Thanks for ‘Neighborhood Love Notes.’ I realize I saw some of these on the doorsteps in Northampton, MA, a week ago and Julie has seen them here on the Windsor Trail. We had not known what they were. A very positive note in a troubling time.”

I asked Lowell what he’d seen, and instead of answering, he researched! “I googled ‘Neighborhood Love Notes’ and came up with a Facebook page. It has photographs of the Neighborhood Love Notes.”

Do post a comment if you write Neighborhood Love Notes yourself. Tell us where you write them.

Thanksgiving with Family

Ikem helping Mommy make Sunday morning pancakes

Ikem helping Mommy make Sunday morning pancakes

We stayed with our daughter for the Wharton event. Sunday morning pancakes are a tradition in our family. Ikem was helping his mom make the pancakes.

Sunday afternoon I went with Beth, Kelvin, and Ikem to Jumpers, a huge play space for kids.

Ikem with Grandpa and at Jumpers

Ikem with Grandpa and at Jumpers

We’ll go back to Philadelphia for Thanksgiving.

What about you?

Next time I’ll share Margaret Anderson’s interview of me. She is the Persuasion Coach, and blogs at

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.