[EXCLUSIVE] U.S.-Africa Summit: How African-American Entrepreneurs Can Engage (Part 1)

Valerie Jarrett, other African leaders in politics and business weigh in

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Rosa Whitaker, first assistant U.S. trade representative for Africa in George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations (Image: File)

The largest ever contingent of African heads-of-state assembled in Washington, D.C. the week of Aug. 4 for the U.S.-Africa Summit, the first time the United States has ever hosted a summit of that magnitude for representatives from Africa.

More than fifty African leaders and hundreds of corporate executives and entrepreneurs descended on the nation’s capital looking to increase private sector investment and expand trade.

Though the event is being hailed as an unprecedented success and a defining moment in U.S.-Africa relations, there was a glaring omission in the massive turnout that has turned into a key narrative about the summit: the limited representation of African-American businesses and entrepreneurs. The prevailing thought is that entrepreneurs of color are reluctant to engage the continent as a prime location for generating revenue—a notion that is mind-boggling when one considers the shared bonds of history and heritage.

Another underlying thread was the nagging suspicion that the U.S may be joining the “invest in Africa” party a little late.

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 ever Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa in the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations.

On the issue of whether the U.S should have engaged Africa sooner, Aganga says, “President Obama implied the same thing when he delivered his speech at the Mandarin Hotel. This should have been done years ago. But we have welcomed the United States into the country with open arms. What we should turn our attention to is how to use this momentum to facilitate the process. The U.S can leapfrog other nations doing business in the continent simply because of their reputation for quality products.”

Find out Senior White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett’s insights on U.S. investment in Africa on the next page …

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  • Ricky E. Marima

    I’ve read this article and others her on the US-Africa Leadership Summit and as an African businessman observing from Africa I am disappointed with the slant taken in this particular article. The US has definitely shown a lack of understanding of what Africa needs and whilst I may not speak for all Africans I am sure many will share my following sentiments.
    Firstly, we are not just a market waiting for American goods, we have been producing our own basic goods for many, many hearts now & most African countries have established manufacturers of these goods. In this regard Verheijen is way off assuming US products will do well here.
    Whilst Africa’s growing middle-class has been receptive of fast-food and telecoms products this is a sector that is again dominated by local players, recent US entrants like McDonalds and Burger King have not had an easy time of it, including KFC they are effectively non-existent outside of South Africa. I really don’t see any scope for US telecoms companies here except maybe to seek to buy out existing operators but most if not all jurisdictions have strict foreign participation rules in this industry, in Zimbabwe for example, a foreign firm cannot own more than 30% of a telecoms business.
    The impression created here is that Africa is waiting to be saved by US firms and expertise, this is woefully far from the truth. For decades now Africa has seen her sons and daughters going out into the world making their mark in numerous fields and as our lot improves there is a drive to attract these skilled Africans back home. Any American coming here needs to know their skills rare not unique and there may very likely be an equally or better qualified candidate competing with them.
    It’s true that there is space in heavy industry capacity building across the continent and this is where US firms can make a significant impact. One way they can do this is to engage Africans not impose on us. Cooperation will go a lot further than coming here with the intent to out-compete the Chinese, Europeans or others.
    I can’t emphasise enough that Africa is not just a an untapped market for US goods, it is a continent of 54 countries that are willing to consider doing business with the world on terms that put their citizens first. Do that and you will do well here.