Friday, February 02, 2007

An Inspiration to Many: Carol Pineau

For several months now The Benin Epilogue has been bringing you news, stories, and other related resources pertaining to entrepreneurship in Africa. Until now, little has been said on this blog about the inspirations behind this blog. Today, you will get to know more about one of them . The person that I would like to introduce to you, today, is Carol Pineau. Many of you, no doubt, already know her. She is none other than the renowned journalist who has given the world a fresh new look at Africa through her documentary entitled Africa Open for Business.

Here's a quick "run down" of how I came to know about Carol Pineau. In describing summarizing to you my fascination with Carol's work, it should be noted that her story is a big piece of the inspirational pie which led to me starting this blog. If you've read my profile on the sidebar of this blog you already know that my interest in Africa began about 10 years ago, on a one year study abroad program in Ghana, West Africa. Also, if you have visited Jen Brea's blog called Africabeat, then you may have learned from one of her posts that the original idea and concept behind this blog was an offline group that a few colleagues and myself started near the beginning of 2006. This small group met in person, once a week, to discuss promoting business in Africa. Before we stopped meeting, one day while surfing the web, I happened to surf across Ms. Pineau's website. I remember thinking the first time that I saw it, Hmmmm...not only is this person sharing Africa's unreported news of successful and thriving businesses to the world, but wow-the way that she's doing it via documentary and internet is very refreshing. Now, it just so happened that around the time of me learning about Carol Pineau two critical things were happening. 1) the group off line group that I had really grown to love over the last several months was beginning to drift apart, with each member moving into other areas and 2) I had just read Professor George Ayittey's book called Africa Unchained. One of the things that this book did was point me in the direction of another amazing messenger of Africa's business successes called Emeka Okafor (not the basket ball player), author of Timbuktu Chronicles. These two events-aided by the strong impression left upon me by the Africa Open for Business website helped provide me with the impetus for starting the blog that you are reading right now. Now, it just so happened that out of the blue, after I'd already started blogging one of my good friends who has been to The Benin Epilogue blog a few times called me to give me the time, date, and the place of a local viewing of Carol's documentary. Upon hearing this I immediately stopped all of my other plans for that evening and happily attended the showing.

What a treat it was to watch that movie. If you haven't seen it yet I highly recommend you to visit the website and order a few copies of the DVD. Instead of me trying to tell you the how and why of the CD. I will let Carol do it, via an article that she has given me permission to reprint here on the Benin Epilogue. It is a fairly long article so what you will see below is only a portion of it. If you'd like to read it in it's entirety please click the link at the bottom of this post.

"In the waiting area of a large office complex in Accra, Ghana, it's standing room only as citizens with bundles of cash line up to buy shares of a mutual fund that has yielded an average 60 percent annually for the past seven years. They're entrusting their hard-earned cash to a local company called Databank, which invests in stock markets in Ghana, Nigeria, Botswana and Kenya that consistently rank among the world's top growth markets.

Chances are you haven't read or heard anything about Databank in your daily newspaper or on the evening news, where the little coverage of Africa that's offered focuses almost exclusively on the negative -- the virulent spread of HIV/AIDS, genocide in Darfur and the chaos of Zimbabwe.

Yes, Africa is a land of wars, poverty and corruption. The situation in places like Darfur, Sudan, desperately cries out for more media attention and international action. But Africa is also a land of stock markets, high rises, Internet cafes and a growing middle class. This is the part of Africa that functions. And this Africa also needs media attention, if it's to have any chance of fully joining the global economy.

Africa's media image comes at a high cost, even, at the extreme, the cost of lives. Stories about hardship and tragedy aim to tug at our heartstrings, getting us to dig into our pockets or urge Congress to send more aid. But no country or region ever developed thanks to aid alone. Investment, and the job and wealth creation it generates, is the only road to lasting development. That's how China, India and the Asian Tigers did it.

Yet while Africa, according to the U.S. government's Overseas Private Investment Corp., offers the highest return in the world on direct foreign investment, it attracts the least. Unless investors see the Africa that's worthy of investment, they won't put their money into it. And that lack of investment translates into job stagnation, continued poverty and limited access to education and health care.

Consider a few facts: The Ghana Stock Exchange regularly tops the list of the world's highest-performing stock markets. Botswana, with its A+ credit rating, boasts one of the highest per capita government savings rates in the world, topped only by Singapore and a handful of other fiscally prudent nations. Cell phones are making phenomenal profits on the continent. Brand-name companies like Coca-Cola, GM, Caterpillar and Citibank have invested in Africa for years and are quite bullish on the future.

The failure to show this side of Africa creates a one-dimensional caricature of a complex continent. Imagine if 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing and school shootings were all that the rest of the world knew about America.

I recently produced a documentary on entrepreneurship and private enterprise in Africa. Throughout the year-long process, I came to realize how all of us in the media -- even those with a true love of the continent -- portray it in a way that's truly to its detriment.

The first cameraman I called to film the documentary laughed and said, "Business and Africa, aren't those contradictory terms?" The second got excited imagining heart-warming images of women's co-ops and market stalls brimming with rustic crafts. Several friends simply assumed I was doing a documentary on AIDS. After all, what else does one film in Africa?

The little-known fact is that businesses are thriving throughout Africa. With good governance and sound fiscal policies, countries like Botswana, Ghana, Uganda, Senegal and many more are bustling, their economies growing at surprisingly robust rates.

Private enterprise is not just limited to the well-behaved nations. You can't find a more war-ravaged land than Somalia, which has been without a central government for more than a decade. The big surprise? Private enterprise is flourishing. Mogadishu has the cheapest cell phone rates on the continent, mostly due to no government intervention. In the northern city of Hargeysa, the markets sell the latest satellite phone technology. The electricity works. When the state collapsed in 1991, the national airline went out of business. Today, there are five private carriers and price wars keep the cost of tickets down. This is not the Somalia you see in the media.

Obviously life there would be dramatically improved by good governance -- or even just some governance -- but it's also true that, through resilience and resourcefulness, Somalis have been able to create a functioning society..."

Again, if you'd like to read more then please click [here] and remember, if you have not yet had the chance to view this DVD click [here] and order a few for you and some friends. Also, we have not nailed down a date yet, but Carol has accepted an invitation to do a brief question and answer here on The Benin Epilogue sometime in the near future. Hopefully, this will be much sooner, rather than later. But of course, Carol, I know that between being a journalist and traveling to and from different parts of Africa, you are an extremely busy person. So this invitation will remain open and I'm sure the readers here will be very anxious to learn more about you when you are able to stop by to do the Q & A.

Also before I forget it should be pointed out the email address listed on the article for Ms. Pineau is incorrect. The correct email address for her is [africabiz at]. So folks, please stay tuned...And we hope to have more good news for you to come.....

Of course, I love your comments. But, if you can't comment at this particular time- but would like to let us know that you were here; please sign and View my guestbook


James said...

Thank you for this informative and compelling post. I hope you reach a lot of young people that may find there is hope and reason to study hard.

Benin "Mwangi" said...

Excellent advice! That's my hope too, what do you think can be done to spur this?


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