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Business over Politics? African Millionaire Returns Entrepreneurship Award in Protest

Ashish J. Thakkar, a 32 year-old Ugandan-born multimillionaire entrepreneur, said on Wednesday he is returning a high profile entrepreneurship award to the World Entrepreneurship Forum to protest what he called the organizers’ efforts to whitewash and discredit the achievements of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

Last November, Thakkar, who is the founder of the Mara Group, a Pan-African conglomerate with interests in technology, offshoring, property and agriculture and has operations in 19 countries, was given an award as the “World’s Best Young Entrepreneur” by the World Entrepreneurship Forum, a French-based think-thank founded in 2008 by EMLYON Business School, KPMG France, and the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. The forum brings together leading entrepreneurs, thinkers and builders from 75 different countries to tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues with entrepreneurial solutions. Thakkar was awarded alongside other leading entrepreneurs such as Virgin boss Richard Branson and Aramex founder Fadi Ghandour.

A few weeks later, Thakkar contacted the World Entrepreneurship Forum to nominate Rwandan President Paul Kagame, president of the Republic of Rwanda for the “Policy Maker” for 2014 at the awards which are to be held in October in Lyon, France. Kagame’s favorable policies have seen Rwanda become one of the most friendly climes for businesses, and according to the World Bank’s 2014 Doing Business ranking, the country is the second easiest place in Africa to run a business. Rwanda has had a remarkable economic turnaround and economic growth has surpassed 7 percent for almost half a decade.

“The unprecedented turnaround in the lives of ordinary Rwandans has not come about by accident, but through purposeful reforms and the inspired leadership of Kagame, who is one of Africa’s greatest leaders. This is why I had no hesitation in nominating HE President Kagame for the award,” Thakkar said, in a letter to the World Entrepreneurship Forum.

Earlier this year, the forum apparently decided to award Kagame, and contacted the president’s office. But the award was subsequently redacted for political reasons, chief among them being that the Rwandan president, during an April interview with the weekly magazine Jeune Afrique, accused France of playing a direct role in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, one of the deadliest massacres the world has experienced in recent history. A total of 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slain in a four-month killing spree following the assassination of Rwanda‘s Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana.

“My view is that whatever the prevailing political circumstances, the World Entrepreneurship Forum should not to be dissuaded from acknowledging the achievements of this remarkable leader. I have no option but to return the award to you,” Thakkar said in a letter to the forum.

Thakkar does have a reason to foster good relations with the government of Rwanda. He and former Barclays Bank boss Bob Diamond recently acquired a controlling interest in the commercial banking subsidiary of the Development Bank of Rwanda, a bank owned by the Rwandan government.

According to an update from Forbes contributor Mfonobong Nsehe,  representative of the World Entrepreneurship Forum Stéphanie Kergall claims the award to Kagame will not be redacted.

Source: Mfonobong Nsehe for Forbes

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