OPINION: A man who reveals new layers to life, like an onion
JOHANNESBURG - An onion is a multilayered plant and a common ingredient in foods. Each peeling opens up a new layer. Its aroma emits a volatile chemical known as lachrymatory secretion that burns the eyes.
Kizito Okechuku, the co-chairperson of the Global Entrepreneurship Network Africa and executive head of 22 On Sloane, Africa’s largest startup campus, is such an onion.
Last Wednesday, Okechuku was appointed vice-president and interim president of Digital Africa.
Each layer of his life sheds a searing light on issues and points to fundamental solutions to be implemented.
Kizito is a Ugandan name and not Nigerian.
Yet his parents deemed it desirable to name him after Saint Kizito (1872-1886), a Ugandan martyr slain by King Mwanga II of Buganda. He was beatified by Benedict XV in June 1920, and canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1964.
When I first met Kizito, he was a shoeshine boy in a Cape Town hotel. Shortly after that, he was receiving guests. He would carry my bags and slow me down for an engaging chat. I could not resist his broad smile and eyes that saw well beyond you.
Kizito was an equal in ideas and plans. At some point he told me that he was now based in Sandton and running a research outfit. Two years later, on a flight from Washington, he told me to watch the space.
What took the cake was when he introduced me to 22 On Sloane. He peeled layers and layers in the two hours we took around its infrastructure. At the end he asked me to help as a resident research adviser.
Digital Africa is a €65 million initiative of the French development agency AFD that was launched by President Emmanuel Macron in 2018. Its focus is to support African digital entrepreneurs (especially high impact startups) in designing and deploying resilient and inclusive innovations that contribute to sustainable development goals.
The initiative focuses on skills development, knowledge communities, contributing to the emergence of a regulatory environment conducive to innovation in Africa, technical assistance, project, business financing (debt and equity) and market access for high impact startups.
A friend and UN resident representative Dr Ayodele Odosula quotes a Nigerian saying that “the rock that the builder rejected became the cornerstone of the building”.
Kizito has shown his hand with his undying infectious smile for 22 On Sloane, oftentimes with disappointment. But like the saint he was named after, he has persevered at this tender age. He proves that the builder is not always right.
Kizito, a fellow columnist for Business Report, keeps revealing new layers of his life like an onion.
Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa.