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JACKSON: African Diplomats Shun Black Business Owners

4/9/2014, 3 p.m.
Raynard Jackson

Last week I attended a very nice reception hosted by two of my friends, Rosa Whitaker and Bernadette Paolo. Rosa is CEO and President of the Whitaker Group, a Washington, D.C.- based consultancy specializing in trade and investment in Africa. She previously served as the first Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa in the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. In 2010, Whitaker was named one of Foreign Policy’s Top Global Thinkers.

Paolo succeeded the former president and Founder of The Africa Society, Leonard H. Robinson, Jr., in 2006, after his untimely death. Prior to assuming her new position, Paolo served as Vice President of The Africa Society and Vice President of The National Summit on Africa.

At the event promoted as “Reception, Tribute and Discussion for East Africa’s Four New Female Ambassadors to the U.S.” The ambassadors honored were Mathilde Mukantabana of Rwanda, Liberata Mulamula of Tanzania, Oliver Wonekha of Uganda, and Jean Kamau of Kenya.

Each of these women has a fascinating background and sterling accomplishments.

For those who are not followers of Africa, it’s important to remember that the continent of Africa is extremely patriarchal. Women are barely beginning to be welcomed into decision making positions in government, business, and politics, etc. In many African countries, women’s roles in society are clearly defined, with most of their roles being relegated to motherhood and the raising of the children.

In foreign affairs, to be posted as ambassador to the U.S. is like winning the Super Bowl; it is a crowning achievement for any diplomat. So, to have these four women from East Africa posted in the U.S. is a historic development in diplomatic circles.

Therefore, I want to use this column to speak directly to these four distinguished ambassadors:

I have spoken to many of your male predecessors about the role of an ambassador in a foreign country. The main objective of an ambassador is to be the voice and the face of their home country’s foreign policy towards the U.S. They should be the head cheerleader for their country and engage with as many Americans as possible.

I am very optimistic about the long-term future of Africa. I have travelled and done work in many countries on the continent. But, I am and have been very critical of Africa and many of their ambassadors for their lack of engagement with Blacks in the U.S. Since women claim to be better listeners than men, let’s put this theory to the test.

Madam Ambassadors, each of you stated that you wanted Americans, especially Blacks, to invest in your respective countries. Why should we? What is the business case for such an investment? Most African ambassadors have little engagement with the Black community, especially the businessman. People all over the world tend to do business with people they know.

There are Black businessmen who have created and run multi-billion dollar companies and have never had an African ambassador come to meet with them. Businessmen are not just going to magically show up in your country and want to invest millions of dollars in your country and you have never found the need to establish a relationship with these successful businessmen.