The U.S.-Africa Summit, the largest ever contingent of African heads-of-State assembled in Washington, D.C., wrapped last week.
It was the first time the United States ever hosted a summit of that magnitude for representatives from Africa.
Africa isn’t rising, the continent has risen. According to a White House official, six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are African. But it seems African American businessmen and entrepreneurs missed the memo and now the race is on to make sure they have a place at the table before all the major seats are taken.
BlackEnterprise.com spoke with four people with unique insight on these two key issues. Valerie Jarrett, senior White House adviser, Olusegun Aganga, Nigeria’s minister of industries and trade, Danladi Verheijen, managing director at Verod Capital, a leading investment firm in Lagos, Nigeria, and Rosa Whitaker, the first assistant U.S. trade representative for Africa in the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations.
Verheijen’s advice to black businessmen is to come down to the continent and set up shop. “Right now everything is imported. We need things produced locally. Sure there is some money to be made exporting goods to Africa,” he says. “But I think the bigger opportunity is being able to set up local businesses in Africa to make and produce locally manufactured products and this may be setting up new companies or investing in existing smaller companies and helping them scale up and grow faster.”
Whitaker who was named one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, says, “There is much synergy between Africa and African American business because the region is growing in precisely the areas where African American firms are competitive. In 2013 African American firms grossed more than $21.8 billion in the industrial services sector in the U.S., a two-billion dollar increase. The industrial services sector is Africa is the fastest growing in the world.”
But if our interests so naturally coincide why are the majority of African American entrepreneurs choosing to look the other way?
Verheijen believes capital may be another factor, which might explain paucity of representatives from small companies present at the summit. He says, “It’s far easier for a larger corporation to finance members of their teams that can make the trips and scout Africa for a few months until the right opportunity presented itself and then make the pitch to their headquarters. For smaller businesses it would most likely be the proprietor of the company traveling around. It just takes a lot more time and resource. It’s just a much bigger endeavor.”
Whitaker thinks another problem may be that African American potential entrepreneurs are not looking in the right places. She says, “Somehow African Americans largely continue to focus on the U.S. market at a time when economic growth in Africa has outpaced economic growth in the U.S. African American firms have been strong in technology, yet we missed the onset of Africa’s telecommunications revolution. Africa has three mobile phones for every four people, and the growth rate of Internet penetration over the past 10 years was more than 2,500% compared with a world average of less than 500%.”
Read more about how African-American millennials can invest in Africa’s business opportunities on the next page …