Prince George€s Partners with Cameroon

Chinazor Onianwah | 5/13/2009, 6:08 p.m.

€I have been visiting Africa regularly for the past five years. The more I go, the more I feel at home. It is a part of who I am,€ Johnson said.

Last December, when Johnson led a government and business delegation to Cameroon and Senegal, he returned home to a barrage of questions. Most notably among them were concerns over the cost of the trip.

€Why did Jack Johnson spend $36,000 dollars of Prince George€s County revenue on a trip to West Africa?,€ was the question most often heard by County residents who wondered if the trip was worth the expense. The answer came five months later when 45 business leaders from Cameroon came to Prince George€s County for the €Fifth Annual Investment Forum on Projects and Finance€ and in one fell swoop poured $247,500 dollars into the Prince George€s County economy.

During the welcome address and through his dancing, Johnson indicated that the trip to West Africa was indeed a good investment.

Lazarious Aziah, The Lord Mayor of Njikwa, Cameroon said, he was €delighted to be in Maryland to look for markets for abundant resources from Cameroon such as timber, coffee, cocoa and banana.€ In exchange, Cameroon is in need of partners to help develop its infrastructure, telecommunication and construction equipments.

€The county has one of the most diverse business economies and workforces in the State of Maryland, with over 150 languages and numerous dialects spoken,€ said Patricia Hayes-Parker, director of the Africa Trade Office of Prince George€s County. €In addition, its proximity to the federal government makes it well positioned as a hub for international commerce. Prince George€s County€s businesses are uniquely qualified to assist in future development opportunities in Africa.€

The Africa Trade Office (ATO) was established in March 2008, due to the insight of Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), with the purpose of linking Maryland with the continent of Africa. The mission of the ATO is to identify trade and investment opportunities, facilitate strategic partnerships, teaming, and deal closure between African companies and U.S. companies. The Africa Trade Office has the following objectives: Expand trade between SME import/export businesses in the U.S. and targeted countries in Africa; offer specialized training, market research, one-on-one counseling, teaming opportunities, trade and investment opportunities; the evaluation of business needs and business support; and access to capital and deal development through workshops, seminars, information sessions and certificate training courses.
    Prince County Executive Jack Johnson dances with African dancers before the official signing ceremony at the official signing of the Sister City Agreement at the Fifth Annual Investment Forum on Projects and Finance. Photo by Maurice G. Fitzgerald
    Lloyd Major Lazarious Ndoh Vernon-Smith Aziah and Prince County Executive Jack Johnson signs the official Sister City documents at Oxon Hill Manor. Photo by Maurice G. Fitzgerald

    In addition, the ATO is seeking to establish partnerships between U.S. African businesses and non-African businesses to match with African SMEs on the continent and increase the number of collaborating agreements with large companies (for mentoring and sub-contract procurement opportunities and tenders). The ATO will market international office and warehouse space to African SMEs making initial entry to U.S. markets as a lower cost business location option which will improve the capacity of African SMEs to export and to become viable partners.

    The Annual Investment Forum on Projects and Finance is the brainchild of The Africa Investment Corporation. According to its president, Daniel Anagho, €the purpose of the forum is to create a one stop shop for building joint ventures and promoting investment opportunities.€