From Prime Minister to Pan African Investor

Lionel Zinsou’s quest to build African Champions

Former Beninese Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou is positioning himself to make an impact on the African private sector. Zinsou, who was born in France and holds Beninese and French citizenship, has worn many hats over his career which include economist, investment banker, historian and academician. He graduated from Ecole Normale Superieure, Sciences Po, the London School of Economics and La Sorbonne in history and economics.  He has also held leadership roles in prestigious organisations such as Rothschild’s where he worked for 11 years and PAI Partners a leading private equity firm in France. He also had a stint with global food giant Danone, where he served as CEO of the Grocery Division. Zinsou, has joined forces with the respected former African Development Bank President, Donald Kaberuka to provide Africa focused financial advisory services. Together they have recently launched South Bridge, an Africa focused financial advisory and consulting firm with offices in Abidjan, Paris, London, and Kigali. The company is a full-service pan-African financial services and advisory services outfit which will target private clients across Africa.

The soft spoken Zinsou is bullish on the prospects of the African continent and sees opportunities in a variety of sectors including e-commerce, agriculture, fintech, and mobile money. Zinsou believes Africa faces unprecedented opportunity to leapfrog in many sectors where African can literally ‘innovate in a vacuum’ given that most industries in Africa are in their nascent stages. Zinsou for, instance sees Africa developing a new financial system that is uniquely African and not a replica of European or American financial systems citing for instance how mobile payments have become a more important part of the payments ecosystem compared to other places in the world.

Zinsou also believes that African sovereign states will have to rely more on the private sector in order to deliver the kind of transformative growth that is needed to deliver long-term prosperity. He also believes that it is the indigenous combination of the forces of the African private and public sector which will transform the continent. Zinsou also believes that African governments have a critical role to play in the creation a good business environment citing this as their primary public policy objective. An ardent Afro optimist, Zinsou, believes Africa will lead the world as first in pioneering some technologies in areas such as fintech, renewable energy, and agriculture.