Last week, Washington, D.C. was a buzz with African dignitaries attending high-level meetings and receptions with President Obama and other U.S. leaders for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. By more than 50 African presidents meeting in our nation’s capital at the same time, history was made and more positive images of African people abounded.
The theme of this extraordinary Summit was Investing in the Next Generation, a topic that has been at the forefront of my work for the past 20 years. During Nelson Mandela's presidency, I quit my T.V. gig in Los Angeles to move to South Africa to launch my consulting business, Wilson Global Communications, focusing on promoting a more positive image of Africa I had experienced firsthand, and to help balance out some of the western media's largely negative reports. You know, the doom and gloom, the poverty, corruption, and disease narratives that are so popular, even today. While there are elements of truth in those stories, there are also positive stories that were never told. Over the years, I pleaded passionately with private sector investors, U.S. government agencies, and media outlets — anyone who would listen — to consider investing in Africa and its future. I talked about the increasing young African populations, now at 50 percent being under the age of 30 years old on average throughout the continent. So I’m thrilled to witness this convergence of Americans and Africans embracing each other, with a focus on investment, at this magnitude.
In my work, I gave examples of investment opportunities in agriculture and energy, especially to improve electricity since I personally experienced a ‘3-days on/3-days off’ power cycle while living in Accra, Ghana, which made it difficult to conduct business on a consistent basis. I learned firsthand the value of electrical power and the negative impact on doing business without being able to plug in my computer or re-charge my cell phone. Now, President Obama’s ‘Power Africa’ initiative is gaining` momentum with investment pledges such as the one to overhaul Ghana’s power sector made by the Millennium Challenge Corp. (according to the Washington Post).
I also witnessed the surge in cell phones throughout the continent, with many of the handheld devices having more bells and whistles than the ones here in the U.S., such as being able to watch TV on your cell or take care of farming business issues from rural and remote locations. During those years, no one heeded my pleas for investment in Africa.
Today, with the Chinese government having invested billions of dollars throughout the African continent and Chinese businesses popping up in nearly every sector over the past decade, buying arable land, building infrastructure such as railways and conference centers like the one they built in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the African Union by the Chinese government, the U.S. is paying attention. Not to say that America is looking at Africa differently solely because of China’s growing stake on the continent, but America is now realizing the vast opportunities for trade and investment that bring mutual benefits. Trade with Africa, instead of mainly aid.
Amidst all of the fanfare in our nation’s capital this week, there are announcements of substantial commitments for investments in various African countries, such as those made by the Coca-Cola Company for over a billion U.S. dollars, and by other multinationals in agriculture and other key business sectors such as energy, health, women, food and security, and the environment. The African Diaspora has had opportunities to not only learn about investment opportunities, but to also build relationships with Africans living on the continent. While I’ve maintained my contacts throughout Africa over the years, I made new contacts this week as well, like meeting the Secretary General of COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa), the regional umbrella organization comprised of 19 countries on the east coast and southern portion of Africa, who is reaching out to minority-owned businesses to explore opportunities with support through the organization.
Here are some vital things you need to know about Africa
1. Africa – the Continent (not country): Africa is made up of 54 countries, and you can fit the entire U.S. inside Africa three times.
2. Africa’s youthful continent: About 65% of the total population of Africa is below the age of 35 years, and over 35% are between the ages of 15 and 35 years – making Africa the most youthful continent. (Only 3% of Africa’s population is 65 years and over)
3. Africa’s Fastest Growing Economies: African countries such as Sierra Leone and The Gambia are among the fastest growing economies in the world. In Sub-Saharan Africa this year, the economic growth is 5.2 percent- and rising. Sales soar for refrigerators, television sets, mobile phones, motorcycles and automobiles in almost every African country, and in Ghana for example, cars and motorcycle sales have increased by 81 percent in less than 10 years! (Since 2006).
4. Technology-savvy Africa: You can watch TV, and conduct farming business remotely from your cell phones in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria.
5. Poverty has declined: The poverty rate in sub-Saharan Africa has fallen by 1 percent every year since 2006, and increasingly people are moving from rural to urban areas.
6. Infant Mortality Rates have declined: In Rwanda for example, the rate has decreased by 17 percent since 2009.
7. Gross National Income (GNI) per capita has increased: In Sub-Saharan Africa, GNI has increased by 70 percent in the last five years (from $1,130 to $1,624).