Africa to U.S. Business Leaders: "Seize the time, for the time is now"

Lafayette A. Barnes | 10/12/2011, 1:47 p.m.
A 1960's protest-era slogan made popular by America's "Black Power" groups--"Seize the time"--was the theme...
Ngozi Nmezi, director, D.C. Office of African Affairs Photo by Shevry Lassiter

A 1960's protest-era slogan made popular by America's "Black Power" groups--"Seize the time"--was the theme and the message articulated by both African and American leaders during the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) Eighth Biennial U.S. - Africa Business Summit. The event was held last week, October 5-7, at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park hotel.

CCA President Stephen Hayes welcomed African and American dignitaries including Ghana's Minister of Trade and Industry, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission, CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, officials from the White House, U.S. Congressional members, U.S. State Department staff, and District of Columbia Office of African Affairs representatives.

"The nations of Africa are experiencing one of the greatest booms in business in the history of the African continent and the Summit showcases these investment opportunities," said Hayes whose organization seeks to strengthen and facilitate commercial relationships between the United States and the African continent.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del), chair of the U.S. Senate Sub-committee on African Affairs, stated that strong bi-partisan support exists in the Senate to strengthen U.S. - African business relations. Coons reaffirmed the importance of an enhanced and renewed African Growth and Opportunity Agreement (AGOA) that includes more effective third country fabric production measures to reduce the export of counterfeit African textile goods into the United States. Coons also talked about the importance of protecting U.S. intellectual property rights in African counties where Chinese and other foreign businesses are producing and selling fake American electronic and pharmaceutical goods.

Ngozi Nmezi, director of the D.C. Office of African Affairs, said nearly 150,000 Africans, including African immigrants and first-born citizens, live in the Washington region and many are interested in doing business in their countries of origin. She said District Mayor Vincent C. Gray supports CCA's efforts to promote closer business relations between the U.S. - Africa, especially in the District of Columbia. According to Nmezi, Mayor Gray wants to reinvigorate the District's Sister City Agreements in African cities like Accra, Ghana; Dakar, Senegal and Tshwane (Pretoria), South Africa with more focus on business and trade relations.Boeing and Arik Air Sign Agreement Van Rex Gallard, Vice President at Boeing Commercial Airlines, (left) signs a $635 million agreement with Sir Arumeni-Johnson, owner and chairman of Arik Air. Boeing is selling two 747-8 International Aircraft to Arik Air, Nigeria's fastest growing privately owned airline. Photo by Lafayette A. Barnes

During the Summit's U.S. corporate panel discussion-- "Emerging African Market: Why We Are Investing"-- panelists concurred that business conditions in many African countries are improving and producing from 5 to 6 percent annual growth rates, considered the highest in developing economies.

Cummins, Inc.'s Director of Special Projects-Africa Schuyla Goodson-Bell, announced the corporation will invest $75 million in Africa over the next five years and has opened a corporate office in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Mark Dean, a vice president at IBM, said his company will focus its future information technology and research investments in Africa on skill development and innovation projects. They are the types of projects, according to Dean, that can prepare Africa's enormous youth population for work and promote online government network systems on the continent.