Showing posts with label Editorials. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Editorials. Show all posts

Saturday, August 11, 2007

My Favorite Interview

Recently I did an interview with an entrepreneur from Cameroon with a law practice. In fact he is the same gentleman that I mentioned in an earlier post-here.

One thing that I really enjoyed about this interview is that we did it on the phone, so it felt like a more natural flow than the email interviews. I am now going to have to do one by web chat-that is the only thing besides phone (skype included) or in person interviews that might be more convenient or fluid to post.

Here is an excerpt of the interview with Mr. Tiku, by the way:

African Path: So Mr. Tiku, why is this topic of immigration something that looms so heavily in the minds of our nation's (The USA) African immigrants and why should attention be given to this topic?

Mr. Tiku: Well Benin, right now 2 out of 5 immigrants in the US either have a problem with their visa status or know someone who does.

Wow, Mr. Tiku, those numbers seem to convey that this issue is very serious. Now does this mean that immigrants from Africa are in the same predicament as those from Latin America or is there a difference?

Latin American countries in South, Central America, and Mexico are in a slightly different position, because they can easily get into the United States through Mexico which shares the largest boarder with the United States. This unique situation explains the reason why by far the greatest numbers of immigrants both legal and undocumented are from that area. On the other hand, when we talk about African immigrants, because there is no shared or common border with the United States, almost all African immigrants that are in America were came here with some type of a visa. However, most often these visas expire thus making them illegal.

I see, Mr. Tiku and if I remember correctly there was a new law that the President, Mr. George W Bush tried to pass that could have resolved this problem. But that law did not make it past U.S. Congress. Many folks from different parts of Africa have asked me whether I thought such a law, if passed, would benefit immigrants from Africa or if it would be more targeted to the immigrants from Latin America. What do you think about this Mr. Tiku?

If we go strictly by the numbers (the number of Hispanics in America), Hispanic immigrants stand to benefit a lot by this type of legislation. However, had the law passed it would have applied universally to all immigrants within the United States, so it would have helped immigrants of all national origins. Right now Congress is pre-occupied with the upcoming elections (that might be one reason that the bill failed to become a law). So although the bill failed, it is likely that after the 08' elections it might be presented to Congress again. Also, something I'd like to mention is that in US Politics this immigration topic has become large and at times very divisive with strong opinions on either side. The immigration issue has replaced affirmative action, Rowe Vs Wade, and abortion law as the new hot button issue.
Before I close, let me say that Mr. Tiku is an attorney, but he is also an entrepreneur who employs three and also had a similar practice in Cameroon, which also provided jobs. Anyway, I hope that after reading the full article that will have been further enlightened.



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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Mr. Africa Challenges Us to Think Economics



There is someone that I would like to tell you about. His name is Mr. Ogo Sow, he hails originally from Senegal and to his tens of thousands of radio listeners from New York City and across the globe he is affectionately known as Mr. Africa. He is a special advisor and consultant to the Africa Travel Association and was also a special invitee to the African Union's 9th Assembly of African Heads of State in Accra, Ghana. He has many achievements, among them being an African television pioneer, a producer, and a publisher whose work has touched millions radio, but I look up to him for because for many years he has enlightened Western audiences on the untold other side if Africa; while inspiring African expatriates abroad to look back and do something for the distant land that they once called home. Something else that I admire in Mr. Sow is how balanced he is with showcasing the entire continent of Africa, not just Senegal or just that of those who speak his mother tongue-Fulani (in this regard he is kind of like someone else that I admire who is known as African Liz). Recently, he has taken me to the task of participating in some of the round-table discussions that he organizes relating to the African continent. His latest discussion interests me very much and was inspired by a speech made by French President Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy. The question that Mr. Sow or Mr. Africa asks is in light of President Sarkozy's comments made about the African continent, what can Africa do to become economically free. My response is below.


This is a great discussion Mr. Ogo Sow, AKA Mr. Africa, thanks for inviting me. I have also invited others by adding them (in the bcc field )to this message, so that if they would like to participate, they can just jump in. In this instance, I am inviting anyone reading this piece...

Lets look at a statement made by former Mali President and current Chairman of the Commission of the African Union (AU), Mr. Alpha Oumar Konare, "This speech was not the kind of break we were hoping for". So why was AU Chairman Mr. Konare upset? What was he expecting to hear from the French President Mr. Sarkozy? Well let's look at the statement that the French President made for a possible answer.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says about Africa should face up to its own problems he says, "Do you want to end the arbitrary corruption, violence? That money is invested instead of being embezzled. Do you want the rule of law?" Ok, in and of itself, what he is saying makes sense. However, maybe Mr. Konare felt that for a French President to say it was a bit hypocritical. Right now if we were to count the Western Sahara as a country, Africa has 54 countries. Throughout the last 15 years the continent, at any given time, the continent has almost consistently seen six out of her 54 nations in serious trouble. If you look at some of the nations which have had large scale conflicts over the last fifteen years, how many of these nations are in Francophone Africa? Let's try to find out...in the last fifteen years the following African nations have had serious issues or conflicts affecting them-Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Chad, Guinea-Conakry, Central African Republic, Burundi, Algeria, Liberia, Sierre Leone, Angola, Somalia, Zimbabwe, and Eritrea. Eight out of these fourteen countries share heavy French influence as a commonality. Now this is may not be by design, but it is difficult to ignore this trend. So if the French President says that France will be an unwavering friend, then it seems that accompanying that friendship would be a public policy toward Africa should somehow address this issue, rather than sweep it underneath the rug. However, this did not seem to be the case, judging from the tone of Mr. Sarkozy's speech and French public policy. Maybe this is why Mr. Konare was unhappy.

Me personally, I would like to say that in spite of major problems affecting a small group of countries on the continent, since the 1990's amazing things have been happening across different regions of the continent. Very notably many of these achievements have been in entrepreneurship and governance. This to me signals that Africa has already started to take her future into her own hands. This is probably what Mr. Konare expected the French President to say. That is where I agree with Mr. Konare. However, where I have disagreed with him was on his stance, while serving in the capacity of AU Chairman, towards Zimbabwe. I'll just summarize it by saying that his approach to the crisis befalling the nation of Zimbabwe seems to be very "hands off". This would almost underscore at least part of what France's president mentions. However, dwelling here on the particulars of the speech, appears to be a distraction.

The question of how to bring about economic freedom to Africa is multifaceted. Therefore, the answer should also have several layers.

The following are some of the items that I believe African nations could focus on to begin controlling their own economic destinies:

  • Continuing to embrace and empower entrepreneurs
  • Focusing on service oriented export industries
  • Strong governance
  • Continual investment in infrastructure
  • More intra-continental trade
  • Making education more accessible to economically disadvantaged children
  • The continent re-claiming her own public relations and image, so that the tragedies affecting six countries don't need to dissuade investors from investing in the other 48 nations
  • Finding ways to include the informal market sectors within growth strategies
  • Eliminating the barriers for women in business
I would like to add to this list something along the lines of either the African Union or Africa's regional bodies prioritizing or fast tracking conflict resolution and crisis management/prevention for member nations facing crisis. Then there was the corruption and nepotism, arising partly as a response to overly centralized governments, that Mr. Gavin Chait referenced in his response to this round table.

"I continue to believe that Africa's greatest problem is an over-reliance on central government. For as long as government and aid constitute the bulk of an economy there is no market beyond patronage, no entrepreneurial class, and no respect for ability instead of "connections"


I am not sure how to stop this but have seen Nigeria and Kenya trying to tackle it by closing leaks and adding more transparency measures, but it hasn't been an easy battle. Mainly, what I wanted to mention is this idea that instead of just focusing on the law enforcement and punishment, that reducing the opportunities to participate in corruption presents a more balanced approach and therefore might be more easily attainable for nations fighting corruption.

Of course this is all easier said than done, but the fact that a number of nations have already begun making efforts to tackle one or more of these issues, some with moderate to concrete success is very positive, I believe. To me that list of nations would include-Senegal, Ghana, Liberia, Tunisia, Mauritius, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Nigeria, Mali, Namibia, Angola, Rwanda, Uganda, Benin, Zambia, Ethiopia, Seychelles, the Canary Islands, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Malawi, Madagascar, Libya, Sao Tome, and Egypt (side note: I have been re-reading Africa Unchained and am aware that though some of the nations mentioned above have made small steps, many of them would not make Prof. Ayittey's cut, again they are listed because they have taken one or more of the measures listed above).

Finally, tax collection and fiscal spending. I guess these could have also been included within the good governance category but they are so heavily weighted in this equation that I felt they deserved a specific mention. Tax collection is the one area where many of Africa's nations face difficulty. 1) because the combined informal and traditional sectors are often larger than the formal sector and taxes there are very much noncollectable 2.) tax collection is loosely enforced in the formal sectors. Loose tax collection is probably the easier of the two points within this tax collection piece to tackle, because only good leadership and management are needed to improve tax collections on registered activities. Again, this is one of the reasons that I think that the emphasis on the informal sector should be so thorough. Of course, it also points to the importance of strong governance and leadership. With strong tax collections, governments may undertake stronger educational policies or do more to enable a sound and efficient business environment; which in turn result in better local economies.

Again, I know that nothing is as easy as it may sound, but this was just my way of participating in the discussion.


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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Kenya, Amplifyng the Trade Vs Aid Discussion




As the TED 2007 conference becomes a new chapter in Africa's history books, one issue will continue to be brought up in the media. That is the issue of trade versus aid. To me no story displays the chasm that has occurred between the two supporting camps like the two examples that I am about to highlight for you. I don't know if it's a coincidence or what...but two of the most recognizable text-book cases for each theory come from rural Kenya.

So first let us look at the evidence for supporting trade as a means of poverty reduction. For that we shall go to the small town of Ndaragwa in Central Kenya.

Here's the story as Technoserve recalls it:



"...Before 2001, business activity in the town of Ndaragwa had virtually ceased. The 10 small stands and one hardware store that lined the street of this small town in Central Kenya were generating barely enough income to survive. Local residents depended on small, one- to three-acre dairy farms to earn a living. Isolated by dilapidated roads in this dry, mountainous region, the farmers had no option but to sell their milk to traveling middlemen who notoriously underpaid them. Frustrated by their situation, a group of over 2,000 farmers founded the Nyala Dairy Multipurpose Cooperative Society.

The Nyala farmers' dream was to construct their own cooling plant so they could sell their milk directly to Kenya's large dairy processors and avoid middlemen. They turned to TechnoServe for help. In order to raise funds for the plant's construction and new equipment, TechnoServe helped the Cooperative to create a farmer-owned business. Nyala's 2,700 members became dairy shareholders by contributing $28 each -- not an easy task in a country where over 58% of the population earn less than a dollar a day. But with this structure in place, financing was secured and in 2002, the plant was completed. On the first day of operation, 3,000 litres of milk were collected.

With TechnoServe's guidance, Nyala Dairy's collection has since quadrupled to 12,000 liters per day supplied by 2,100 small-scale farmers. The largest milk processor in Kenya, Brookeside Dairy Ltd., is now purchasing Nyala's milk, and because Nyala Dairy is a reliable, high-quality supplier, it can pass along higher prices to its smallholder farmers. Recently, Nyala paid $86,258 to rural producers -- the highest monthly payment since its founding. The Dairy also provides a store that offers affordable cattle feed, veterinary drugs, and credit for its members.

In three short years, the Dairy has already increased incomes for thousands of poor farmers, but what it has done for the town of Ndaragwa is truly extraordinary. Nyala Dairy has created a standard of living that none of the farmers ever dreamed possible..."

Now in comparison with Ndaragwa is another rural community in Kenya called Sauri. Sauri is perhaps the most unique village in Africa.

I'll let Sam Rich and The Wilson Quarterly do the honors and explain why Sauri just might be Africa's dream village:

"...Sauri must be the luckiest village in Africa. The maize is taller, the water cleaner, and the schoolchildren better fed than almost anywhere else south of the ­Sahara.

Just two years ago, Sauri was an ordinary Kenyan village where poverty, hunger, and illness were facts of everyday life. Now it is an experiment, a prototype “Millennium Village.” The idea is simple: Every year for five years, invest roughly $100 for each of the village’s 5,000 inhabitants, and see what ­happens.

The Millennium Villages Project is the brainchild of economist Jeffrey Sachs, the principal architect of the transition from ­state-­owned to market economies in Poland and Russia. His critics and supporters disagree about the success of those efforts, often referred to as “shock therapy,” but his role in radical economic reform in the two countries vaulted him to fame. Now he has a new mission: to end poverty in ­Africa...

It’s not this diagnosis of Africa’s problems that makes Sachs’s theories contentious, but his proposed solution, which might be called shock ­aid—­huge, sudden injections of money into poor areas. Over five years, $2.75 million is being invested in the single village of Sauri, and an equal amount will be sunk into each of another 11 Millennium Village sites that are being established in 10 African ­countries...

Sachs has persuaded Western governments, local governments, businesses, and private donors such as Hollywood stars and international financiers to foot the bill. Under the auspices of the Earth Institute, the project he heads at Columbia University, he has gathered specialists in fields from HIV/AIDS re­search to soil science to work out master plans for these dozen ­villages...

But economists aren’t Sachs’s only critics; others within the micro school he wants to win over are asking questions, too. They want to make sure communities such as Sauri are not simply passive recipients of handouts from donors and lectures from experts, but are actively involved in making decisions about their own development...

Sauri faces the same economic challenges it always has. Most farmers are still growing subsistence crops and depleting their soils. They could instead be growing crops for market or investing in livestock. ­Low-­cost improvements in farming techniques, such as the use of manure and other organic methods that are more sustainable in the long run, are only beginning to be promoted. Growth will be slow because taxation, bad roads, and a lack of electricity need to be addressed at a national ­level..."


Now of course, these aren't the only two forms of aid and trade initiatives going on in Sub-Saharan Africa, however they seemed to illustrate why supporters of both trade and aid in Africa are so hopeful about their respective tool kits. But what do you think, is there enough evidence for you to conclude one strategy works better than the other at reducing the poverty gap in some of Sub Saharan Africa's rural communities?

Thanks Osize for your contribution to this discussion!

photo courtesy of Alison M. Jones Photo Gallery

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Trade Versus Aid in Africa, Who Wins?

"Trade Versus Aid in Africa, Who Wins?

Posted by beninmwangi on June 4th, 2007

It seemed like the time was right for me to pen this post about trade -vs- aid. This is a discussion that has a tremendous amount of relevance in Sub Saharan Africa. But it is also relevant in other parts of the world where developing economies are predominate.

Now of course the concept of nations climbing out of the low income status by trade is not a new one. In fact the concept has been around for nearly four centuries and was made popular by Adam Smith. He posited that national national wealth creation comes by way of nations playing to their natural and practical strengths therby producing the items that other nations demand.

So then “what’s the big deal?” some may ask. In other words if it has already been established so long ago that sustaining an economy through production, as opposed to aid, is desirable then we probably shouldn’t be needing this conversation. But we do need it."

Read the rest at Trade Versus Aid in Africa, Who Wins? « beninmwangi.com

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Love

Hi, I just wanted to let you know that editing and authoring this blog up until now has been a labor of love. Since setting this blog up on the blogspot platform, there has been this desire to do something on wordpress. That time, I believe has come. Starting this week you will probably begin to notice that most of my blogging activity is taking place on www.beninmwangi.com rather than here on the blogspot blog. Also, I have not exactly decided what to do with this blog, if you have any suggestions please feel free to let me know. And by all means you are invited to www.beninmwangi.com .


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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Blogs That Make Us Think!

If there was ever a blogger whose posts have really "schooled me" on how a to build a community around your blog it would have to be Jim Walton. The thing that sticks out in my mind about him is that Jim knows how to keep his blog's community engaged in the whole blogging process. He is one of the best that I have seen at this and has been blogging for only a few weeks longer than me. Recently, in his post called "Thinking Blog Award" he acknowledged some blogs that make him think about deeper issues. The Benin Epilogue was one of the five blogs that he awarded and the prize is that we get to go out and do the same thing. So here it is...

These are some of the blogs that make me think:

Odegle on just another weekend in Nairobi...

Casthompson tells us to know when to holdem' and when to foldem'

DaveSpeaks about Jay-Z's impression of Hurricane Katrina via you tube

Mshairi uses prose and verses againgst the likes of Michael Richards

Sudanese Thinker sums up thoughts on those bad *&!@# kids!

So what do you think?


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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Africa Bloggers & Beyond-Hat Tips

Ordinarily, when I write a post on The Benin Epilogue about blogs that I visit, the focus is on Africa bloggers. But there have been some posts, which have kept me going back again and again. So it seemed only fair that in addition to giving recognition to the Africa bloggers, that some of the other blogs that I enjoy, that happen to be from other parts of the world be mentioned here also.

Africa bloggers:

Recently, Africa business blogger Emmanuel Oluwatosin's ( Nigeria) writing has caught my eye. And it's not that he's new either, to my knowledge he has been blogging for nearly two years. His blog focuses on entrepreneurship with a "how to" bend to it. Check out this post where he explains to would be entrepreneurs on how to find a start up concept!

Another blogger from West Africa, but who blogs from Ghana has also caught my attention. His name is Oluniyi David Ajao. Although he blogs from Ghana, he is also from Nigeria. His name came across to me by way of a comment that he posted on one of my Global Voices posts. This post where he talks about the perceived risks associated with online purchases, I thought was pretty original.

Gavin Chait, a South African business blogger had a very interesting post which almost relates to David Ajao's post. His post talked about how the lack of a credit agency for online purchases raises the costs of doing business on the Internet.

Bankelele is a banker who blogs from Kenya. This post where Kenya's banks are ranked according to their assets is quite insightful. Looks like there is quite a bit of banking competition in Kenya. Take a look for yourself.

Imnakoya is another Africa blogger (also from Nigeria) whose blog I frequent very often. In this post he explains how RSS feeds work and how they can turn out to be a great marketing strategy for news publications, especially Nigerian newspapers...

Ugo and Chika Okafor of Spectrum Women are yet two more Africa bloggers from Nigeria who have a very wonderful blog. In this post Ugo Okafor talks about the upcoming arrival of BHF magazine onto the Nigerian fashion scene.

Bloggers from Beyond...

Oh, I found lots of enjoyment in a post that was recently featured on Wayne Hick's blog. It is about a book called African American History for Dummies. What was most enjoyable to me was where he shared an invitation to bloggers to share a part of their family tree in their comments for this post. By the way you should see Wayne's profile on linked in, it reads like a who's who of American enterprise and small govt.

Tish is a blogger, out of New York City, whose blog I am also a bit new to. But it already seems that it will feature heavily in my daily blog travels. In this post she is talking about something that came across as quite cute. It's about an older blogger maybe an auntie or a grandma from Singapore (I believe), who has been climbing the blog popularity charts like crazy recently- check it out!

And rounding out our list is Theo, who publishes a podcast blog. Side note: his podcast promo is really cool. But in this post, he talked about US college sports icon Eddie Robinson and the legacy that he leaves behind.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Tremendous Resource!

Thanks to Imnakoya, I have been led to an amazing resource for anyone seeking to socialize and rub shoulders with African entrepreneurs.

Afrotalk - 2007 | Afrotalk: "Having completed our first full year, we are pretty proud of the progress we have made. We have approx 1,000 members and the site is averaging close to 1,000 unique visitors per day. The London section had 4 socials last year and raised over £2,500 for African Children's charities. Our Mothers of Afrikids microlending fund was is succesfully lending money to some of Ghana's poorest and stimulating micro enterprise succesfully. I have attached a report on its activities.

The world's view of Africa is conditioned by the media messages it receives and too often it is focused just on the negatives of war, corruption and starvation. All of us who involved in Africa know this is only part of the stort. It is Afrotalk's mission to spread the word that there is lots of good stuff going on. Africa is open for business and is actively making a positive contribution to the world.

If we have one message to our members, it is please take advantage of this site to post your positive messages, opportunities, to promote African events and news stories about Africa. Trade dwarfs aid in its importance in economic development. This site is all about exchanging skills, opportunities and information to encourage African businesses and investment in Africa."


Although I am just learning about it, already it seems like Afrotalk is an invaluable resource. So, I don't know about you, but my plan is o get more involved with Afrotalk-hope to see you there!

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Thanks Theo!

Recently, I was tagged by podcaster Theo Johnson . Since this is my second meme post I will talk about my goals, as opposed to things that you might not know about me.

  1. To be a better Father to my daughter and husband to my wife this year.
  2. To become a better Christian, starting now!
  3. To become an authority on entrepreneurship in Sub Saharan Africa and build a brand around that expertise.
Now for the meme part.

Tag you are it:

David Ajao

Emmanuel Oluwatosin

Tish

Lumargin

Frederic


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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

He's Not Heavy, He's My B...

I am not sure if you are familiar with the phrase, "he's not heavy, he's my brother". It connotes the idea of using one's own growth within a community to help other up and coming members of the community. This was a phrase that became very common at my Alma Mater, Morehouse College.

Anyhow, my aim was to take that phrase and use it as an analogy in introducing a new entrant to the Africa blogger scene. However, judging from the writing this blogger is already capable of carrying a big load, i.e. giving back to the community. He definitely doesn't need much or any assistance in the writing department!

This blogger goes by the name "Branded" and hails from Kenya. Perhaps to date you have not heard much from Branded, but mark my words-you soon will. A business person extraordinaire, Branded blogs at Business in Focus and will also be blogging here on The Benin Epilogue, topics will range from African business media to market branding. So, please show this blogger some love!

Branded, welcome to The Benin Epilogue and thank you for accepting the invitation. Sorry I didn't do this earlier, but soon you'll know how it is when...well, we'll leave i at that. Once again It's good to have your input here-Thanks again!

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

From the Guestbook

Recently a guest made a comment in the guestbook which has set my mind to churning!

Great concept?

Was just wondering is it possible to delve much deeper on each of the publications atleast once a week to discuss the issues that they tackle?
Anyway great work, keet it up!

Ken from Nairobi, Kenya

In fact the whole of this month, I think we will be adopting this theme, if you give it your stamp of approval then even after April we will try and make it a regular feature here on the Benin Epilogue. But I kindly ask you to keep in mind that I am just 1 blogger. This is why I welcome the idea of having guest bloggers or contributing bloggers appear here.

Thanks for your support!

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Why, Benin?

Why do I do it?

In case you were wondering why do I care to write about entrepreneurship in Africa, these are the answers. I do it for the love. Is it a secret that my heart has never left the African continent, I think for most people who have been able to talk with me for more than five minutes it can't be a secret. I did not always feel this way. It started, though, when I went to Ghana, for the first time while in school.

Don't know why this happened, it was not something that I had planned but while in Ghana some friends that I had met, one was a computer science professor, another a fellow student, and then there was a visual basic programmer and the group of us all got together and decided to start a software education company aimed at the Ghanaian primary schools. Our primary energy was spent on designing the program and upon talking with folks in the know as to what might work. We started no long after I had arrived in Ghana-maybe 2 or 3 months. Would you believe that by the time it was departure time for me the software was 80% complete? Unfortunately, after leaving and returning to the hustle & bustle of just trying to graduate from undergrad' and running a totally different company, which had achieved some moderate success, I somehow lost touch with the software developers that I was working with in Ghana. Back then email was availbale in Ghana, but back then I couldnt describe it as convenient or reliable. Our primary method for communication was phone call or fax, which were both expensive.


If there were something in life that I could redo, it would be this-just staying on top of those efforts and keeping it a priority. Since then there have been at least three or four African related businesses that I have tried from the States without much success. We tried importing amber beads from Mali, which proved very difficult, since our contact was in Ghana and had to travel all the way up to Mali to bring the beads and then ship them to us. By the time we managed to sell one or two of them here-my father and I realized that we had actually lost money. We tried importing ebony wood furniture from Ghana, which I was unable to find consistant buyers for her in the States. Then my wife and I brought back some hand woven garments and women's accessories from Kenya. We took them to small stores around Atlanta for consignment and although they looked very nice the consumers were still choosing the cheaper hand made goods from Asia. Looking back on it, although the dedication was there, I can see a few things that could have been done differently in each instance to make those ventures more successful-the main two are research and more preparation. Of course, both of these are necessary before entering any business venture irrespective of the location or the entrepreneur engaging in the business-so this applies to you too :)

In fact, let me take this opportunity to stress that any of the ideas that you see here should be treated this way. Always do your homework and find out for your self, first if the type of enterprise, then the business fundamentals, and the place of business make sense for you before you leap into anything that you may see here. Or anywhere else for that matter, you know? After all, what you see here is just a reflection of my own personal opinions and experiences..

Anyhow, back to why this whole African enterprise solution enthralls me so much. Probably, my father has had a lot to do with my desire to do business in Africa also. He has always said that his generation would be the one to bring modern day science into the mainstream in Modern day Africa, and that it would be up to the younger generations to help turn transfer the science and research into practical application-i.e. into revenues and profits. I guess my sub conscious absorbed more of this than I thought, because there aren't many weeks that go by without me thinking of it.

At the end of the day, this would not mean anything to me if it did not mean an overall improvement in the livelihoods of the general populations throughout Africa. I hear many folks talk about governments and politicians in Africa, but to me the emphasis should be on empowering the people to change their situations , instead of waiting for governments to change (however there are perhaps a few exceptions...Zimbabwe-case in point). Trade has always had a very tangible way of transforming regions and the people within them.

Where I'd possibly like to go with this in short term and long term:

Short term


1) Keep blogging!
2) Possibly add blog focusing on West African, East African, and Southern African regions.
3) Get some help from contributing bloggers.

Long term

1) I'd like to build a foundation to help provide Africa's youth and women with the technology, training, and other tools necessary to become competitive in the global marketplace.

2) I'd like to continue to chronicle the stories of entrepreneurs in Africa and act as a guide for foreign businesses who'd like to gaining market entry or export into or from Africa possibly by helping them to partner with successful local entrepreneurs in Africa.

So in a nutshell, that's why I do it!

Please stay tuned for Africa Investment in the Diaspora series, followed by Kenya Diaspora Investment Forum 2007 highlights and coverage...


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Monday, March 12, 2007

Missed You!

Hi All, It has been two days since I last posted anything here, but to me it felt like an eternity. I got a chance to take a break and spend some much needed time with family and I'm feeling totally rejuvenated.

Unfortunately, the Media Industry in Africa Short Series will have to be extended a little bit into the middle of the week. Afterwards, we will follow it up with a few of my own ramblings regarding my past, present, and future as relating to African enterprise. Thanks for your patience and hopefully we should be up and running at full speed again in no time!

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Can I Use Credit to Do Business in Africa?

Alright...for those of you who have already read my blogger profile, you know that my full time occupation is credit analyst work. For some time now I've had this idea to do this post and have put it off, but no more! As a credit analyst my primary job is to analyze the risks associated with granting credit to my employers credit applicants, as well as periodically reviewing payment histories and credit data for our customers that are already in our credit files. For more than a few ( 6 years) years now, this has been my field and and quite honestly there have been times that I wanted to walk away, but then again there probably many more times when I've been happy to be "in the know" when it comes to building and maintaining business credit. So with that being said let's talk about how this relates to doing business in or with Africa...

For any of this to be applicable to you there are several assumptions that I must make about you and your business, so before proceeding here they are:

  1. The product or service that you are offering is proprietary or otherwise very niche oriented, so your business is one in only a small group that can supply the customer. (critically important)
  2. You have a well planned and thought out business plan.
  3. That in addition to credit you have some other source(s) of funds.
  4. That the business that you will be obtaining the credit for is or will be incorporated by the time you start applying for credit, so that you will not be held personally liable for any of your business's debts. (very important)
  5. That the main reason your business requires credit is that you have or are projecting a steady stream of paying customers who will be asking your business for credit.
  6. That your business has consistent and recurring goods that must be purchased every week, month, quarter, or etc. in order for you to stay in business and service the customer. (i.e. your economics makes sense)
So what type of business credit are we talking about anyway? Most of the time when someone asks me ,"so what do you do" and I tell them that my title is credit analyst/credit approval they think that this mean I approve for loans or credit cards. So to be sure that we are on the same page, we're talking about what is known in credit parlance as "trade credit". Trade credit is what is created when the supplier of goods or services provides the goods or services to the customer before payment and then invoices or bills the customer instead of requiring upfront cash.

So, let's say that your business is an anti-spam software/email security company. In this example your proprietary service is the maintenance of your customers' email security/anti-spam servers (which you provide), your customers are medium to large businesses who need this service to keep their information private and their expensive systems from crashing. Let's also assume that these customers are in Africa. In this scenario although your main offering is the anti-spam service, we know that most businesses don't just want a good service, they also want to save time and money with a "ready to go" service. If your company sold the customer the email security without the server, then it would not be a ready made service. However, if in addition to offering the service, your company for a small convenience fee also offered the server and installation, provided that everything else makes sense you'd have a customer. How does this relate to business credit? Well, the server that you are offering your customer would fall into the category of a recurring product, I think from an accounting standpoint it might fall under cost of goods sold. Your company projected sales of let's say 120 installations and maintenance packages or 12 per month, but since you aren't in the business of making server boxes you have to buy them from a supplier. Now, let me ask you- would you rather pay for 120 server boxes upfront(or even only 10 upfront) or would you rather be able to get the industry standard 30 days to pay and and have the opportunity to first collect from your customers ? If you are like most cash-flow oriented business people, you probably chose the second option. This is a basic example of trade credit and how it comes about in a transaction.

Now notice in the example above I used a large company that exists in one of Africa's 54 nations...If I hadn't worked in an environment where this was fairly common place I probably would not have used this as an example. But it just so happened that one of the companies that I contracted my credit services out to really did sell Internet security and it also turned out that some of our largest invoices went to some of our customers in Africa (Ethiopia and South Africa) who typically payed very promptly. Just wanted to point that out, that if you have the proper systems in place, you can sell products in another region of the world on credit and still collect your money from America.

Oh...in my example above we assumed that your company would be sending products to Africa. It could also work out such that you are importing products from Africa and maybe just need some finishing products from suppliers here in America like packaging, bottling, cans, or etc. before your product is ready to be sold to your customer. For instance, if your company was a fair trade marketer and you imported coffee beans from Ethiopia for sale here in the States, now before selling them to the final end user (your customer) you will need packaging to put the product in the stores and in front of your customer. After wiring so many dollars to Ethiopia for the coffee beans you may decide to find a way of going easy on the cash outlays . To do this and purchase this packaging your company can use trade credit to help you "finance" the quantity that your company needs. Outside of the fact that this example uses an import concept all of the other assumptions and principles that have been mentioned above and below this paragraph would still apply to this situation.

Anyhow, hopefully we have established that business credit is an excellent way for your company to supply the demands of your customers, while not straining your cash flow. So now how does a brand new business go about convincing its suppliers that they should extend you credit of 30, 45, 60 days or what have you... Well this is what I look for when evaluating a customer for credit:

New Customers

  • Make sure that the customer is really a first time customer and has never been delinquent before with us.
  • Business credit report.
  • Credit references from other business suppliers.
  • The big picture or business fundamentals, as told by my company's sales rep who sold my company's service to the prospective customer.
  • If it's a really large order sometimes I may ask for a bank reference also.
Ongoing Customers (Credit limit Increases)
  • The payment history since becoming our customer
  • The big picture or business fundamentals, as told by my company's sales rep who sold my company's service to the prospective customer.
  • Every now and then, I mean when the credit limit increase is substantially larger than the current credit limit, I will pull a new business credit report on the customer.
What this means to you is that if your business is brand new although the initial process of obtaining a "trade line" (permission to pay by invoice and not COD) is formal, with business trade credit the process is fairly relaxed once you have established yourself as an ongoing customer with a steady payment history. I think that this is where trade credit differs from any other type of credit, it can be much easier to obtain than consumer credit, for instance. Another tidbit is that most business suppliers have a standard credit limit that they almost always give to new business customers, this will depend upon the type and price of the product or service being sold. Ordinarily, if the dollar amount in your request for terms is less than this standard amount is, then I don't come into the picture because the accounting software does not "red-flag" the customer. On the other hand, if your order is slightly larger than the standard credit limit amount or if our accounting software determines that any aspect of your company's credit or order falls outside of the standard parameters then that's where I come in at. Out of all of the bullet points that I have listed above, I would say that the two most important are the reputation that your company has with my sales representative and the way that you have payed our invoices after you became a customer with my company. With this in mind if you can find a supplier that will let you start out with small orders, on Net 30 terms, and you consistently pay the invoices on time-like over 7 or 8 months and at the ninth month you explain to your sales representative that you are growing and need more products for your customers then most likely your sales rep will do everything within their power to convince the credit department to grant you with a credit limit increase-nine times out of ten in my case those requests have been granted.

So, if you are seeking trade credit or terms with a supplier try to establish a good working relationship with your sales representative. Like maybe after you all have spoken 4 or 5 times about their company's offerings and you have built some rapport with the salesperson and are about to give in and say yes. This would be a very opportune time to ask your prospective supplier questions regarding their credit policy like:

  1. What is the minimum credit limit that your company grants to new customers?
  2. What if my company wants to get bigger orders from you?
  3. How long does the credit process take, because my business is growing fast? (or you know...something along those lines to let the sales Representative know that you may go to a competitor if it's not a quick process)
  4. You don't require personal guarantees do you? (I would only ask this if the product was either expensive equipment or just a very large order and of course if your business was incorporated)
  5. Ask if they report to the business credit reporting bureaus, because once you become a customer, you'd like them to report your good payment history-thereby building more credit.
Why those questions, hmmm thought you'd never ask...one of the biggest things that my experience as a credit analyst has taught me is that there are generally two types of companies, especially here in the States. Those that are sales driven and then there are those which are process driven. As a new business seeking to optimize cash flow, what you want to do is find suppliers for your company who are sales driven. If the answer to those three questions directly above this paragraph all seem to be very accommodating to your needs-chances are that you have found a sales driven company, who is at a stage where sales growth is more important than containing bad debt. Usually smaller private suppliers with commission-based sales representatives fall under this category. Sometimes you will find that a small group of sales driven companies are set up so that the sales rep plays just as big a part in determining credit policy as the credit analysts. Whereas most large companies whose stock is publicly traded are more process driven and are more concerned with presenting a very controlled and stable environment to their investors rather than sales at any and all costs. One more thing always remember that whether the company is sales driven or process driven they are in business to do business, ultimately they want the sale so remember to always maintain a confident attitude. If for some reason your request is denied kindly find out why so that you can fix it and then go on to find a sales driven supplier to help you build your business.

Well, I hope that you find this post useful in your quest to find practical solutions for helping you do business in or with Africa.

Below are a few related resources

From the leader in business credit Dun & Bradstreet on how to update your business's credit.

Here is a similarly written article on About.com.

This is another type of cash flow management too that is related to trade credit.

I found this one one Yahoo it talks more about obtaining credit cards for your small business.

This is a risk management company operating out of Kenya, but doing business in several African countries. And this is another one out of Nigeria.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ideas for Doing Business in Africa- 2nd Installment




Here are a few of the business start up ideas that I have been able to bring forth...

  1. Food Processing (Canning, Bottler, Preserves, and etc.)
  2. Private Security & Detective Agency
  3. Forensic Accountancy
  4. Software security company
  5. Cyber cafe Technician
  6. Agriculture exporter (fair trade)
  7. Eco-tourism Consultancy
  8. Used Auto parts
  9. Building Contractor (roads, infrastructure, etc.)
  10. Public Relations Agency
  11. Natural Fuel Manufacturer
  12. Business Process Outsourcing (Call center, legal, architecture, accounting, software)
  13. Plastics Recycler
  14. Home Builder (for the affordable markets)
  15. Pharmaceuticals manufacturer
  16. Fisheries & Shrimperies(coastal and/or island nations)
  17. Paper manufacturer
  18. Online Publisher (magazines, journals, newspaper, etc.)
  19. Apartment Leasing
  20. Commercial Finance company
  21. Credit Rating Agency
What do you think? Maybe we can discuss merits of these businesses in the next installment...

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What's A Good Idea for Doing Business in Africa?

What kind of business ideas work really good in Africa? We're talking about business start ups here. My next post will respond with a few of my own ideas that you can check out. But until then, oh-feel free...

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

African Business Women Series: Why So Important

I think that a good place to begin this discussion is to address the perception of Africa's women from those who are outside and looking inside. Before we go deeper about perceptions of African women, let me say that term "African women" can be a bit of a misnomer since the continent of Africa is so ethically and socially diverse. I'll bet if you took 1000 people from different parts of Africa and asked them what does it mean to be African, you'd probably get at least 1001 totally different answers. So it would follow that Africa's women would also fall into many different categories culturally speaking. But the reason that I have chosen to use the broad category "African" women is that although we who have been there know that the people are far from homogeneous, many who have not been there do not know this. And every now and then what others think of us can be almost as important to our identity as what we think about ourselves.

So this post is actually being written not only to argue that it is desirable for the African continent to do better at utilizing its business women for development; but also to try and demystify the perception of African women as being non-assertive in business or life in general.

**Time out** I would like to take a brief recess and take you into some of the experiences that have actually helped to mold my views of Africa. I can recall as a young man barely in high school hearing my fathers report about his first trip to Sub-Saharan Africa-Senegal. He ran down the experience in very careful detail and actually accompanied his synopsis with lot's of pictures for me to see. Outside of the images of South Africa that I had seen as a child this was my first glimpse at Sub-Saharan Africa. Now because my father has always been very passionate about Africa the pictures that he showed me were no big surprise. What I mean is that the fact that these pictures conveyed through beaches, highways, skyscrapers, and etc. a sense of being in a thriving African town was not really new to me. By then I had already been exposed to my father's formal unpaid lectures at local high schools in the predominately black sections of Atlanta, GA. His theme and topic was... guess? Africa..the theme of his lectures at the high schools was letting these young children of African descent know that their history did not start on the banks of Plymouth Rock, but that it actually began in various parts of Africa with some very relevant civilizations that existed from ancient times up until pre-colonial times. The lectures started in Ancient Kemet and usually they progressed into Meroe, Ashanti, Mali, Zimbabwe, and etc. the culminating point of the lecture was the family tree...Our family tree on his Mom's side of the family which he was able trace back to Cape Coast, Ghana. The premise being that if children can be optimistic about their past, then they could be optimistic about their future. Anyhow, one way that that story relates here is in perceptions....After the lectures the reaction from the students was always the same-kids rushed up to share some conversations with my Dad and were amazed to find out so much more about Africa than they would have imagined. Those lectures were my introduction into seeing how one can help reverse the lop sided views that some people have about Africa. But over the years I have found that perhaps the most polarizing views about Africa pertain to the women of Africa. I can recall some of the questions and comments that I received from different folks around the time that my wife and I were still dating. People assumed that because she was from Kenya and Kenya is in Africa that she must not be very self-assured or secure about herself. When I told them that just as we have here in the States I am sure that one could probably find some women in Africa that are more passive. But for some reason I'd have never personally come across any who fit that mold, including my wife, it was like we were speaking different languages to each other. Of course, gradually overtime they began to see that the ideas that they had turned out just to be generalizations...And though this is just another one of my side notes, I think it's useful to the conversation. It is about Wairimu, (whom I am very happily married to by the way) by the time we met, she had already been a two-store manager for a local petroleum company in Atlanta, GA- this was long before she had a degree and when she was just 22 years old. The entrepreneurial aspirations that she shared with me at the time were to engage in health management facilities in Kenya after she learns the system here. I mention my wife's example for two reasons 1) because I think that Wairimu's spirit and determination reminds me a great deal of what the business women that I observed in the parts of Africa that I visited and 2) because I am so proud of her.

So now for the remainder of the post...Why it is so important for Africa to start drawing more upon women owned enterprises as a way to grow economically is what we will now look at. To sum it up Africa needs both more women entrepreneurs and more women entrepreneurs to make the transition from micro enterprise to small business or medium sized businesses and large businesses. This is because
although Africa's business women are already doing a lot to help their respective economies grow, in relation to their population numbers and ratios, Africa's economies are still under utilizing business women. Additionally, in most rapid growth economies the high digit growth often comes from the small business sector. It should be noted that we are distinguishing small businesses from micro-businesses. The number of employees is one of the easiest ways to determine whether a business fits into the micro-business category (6-10 employees) or the small business category(11-50 employees). An observation that I have made and heard by others is that although there are some very strong and competitive indigenous businesses and industries within Africa, there seem to be a disproportionately larger number of micro-businesses than their larger cousins the small businesses. I believe this is more pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa than North Africa because of the population trends. Sub-Saharan Africa has more women than men the aggregate total that I have heard about is that for every 100 men in SSA there are 102 women. In some parts of SSA this is much more acute than in other parts, but if women have more constraints and make up a larger part of the population than men, then that could explain why there is such a gap in Africa between informal1 to 10 person enterprises in Africa versus the formal 11 to 50 person enterprises. One more side note here is that large businesses in Africa are fairly abundant, it is the small businesses that usually lead to economic and employment growth since large firms are sometimes just as prone to lay off workers as they are to hiring them. This concept has allowed economists and policy makers to isolate the small business sector as the missing link to prosperity in many of Africa's economies. Also something that I almost failed to mention is that the majority of Africa's micro enterprise owners are women, so that has allowed economists to go a step beyond just saying Africa needs. This is one of the reasons that many of the social investment and micro-credit organizations operating in Africa target women for business development initiatives. Below is an excerpt which reinforces some of what was just said:

"...Gerry Finnegan, the director of the ILO Program on Women Entrepreneurs told Voice of America reporter Ruby Ofori, “What has happened is that …the larger businesses are not creating any new jobs. The public sector and state-owned enterprises have been cutting back on the number of workers for the past two years. Now people are thrown back on their own reserves, and many of them are starting up in businesses on their own.” Mr. Finnegan says around 100,000 women in Kenya and 200,000 women in Ethiopia run small businesses that have the potential to grow and employ more people if they are able to obtain the right support and funding. These businesses range from trading and services to handicrafts, tailoring, small-scale manufacturing and food processing..."
Source: VOA News

Prior to actually writing this post, my hope was that it would end up containing lot's of data and statistics. Mainly what I found on this topic was very, very outdated. So instead what we will do is include a resources list at the end of this post. This is for anyone out there who just has to see some numbers and also for anyone out there who would cringe at the sight of seeing 10 year old statistics showing up in this post. Win-win situation, right :) Anyhow, I hope that this post was both enjoyable and informative to you. Stay tuned as we head into news covering Africa's business women...and I hope to see you armed with lots of comments for this and the next couple of posts on the topic!

Additional Resources:

African Development Bank Group on gender and inclusion.

Focus International
with statistics on gender, inclusion, and participation in Africa. Some of data is not very current, however it was still difficult to find such detailed figures as the ones that they have provided.

African Development Bank Group overview on issues facing African women in business with suggested anecdotes and resources.

Article from Business in Africa, which looks at business women's achievements in South Africa and in America.

From the UN comes a publication called Africa Recovery, in this issue are a series of profiles and case studies which debunks the notion that Africa lacks strong leadership amongst its leaders.


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Monday, February 26, 2007

African Women in Business Series: Intro


This week we shall focus on the impact that Africa's women have upon their respective societies via entrepreneurship. This is a topic which has been on my mind ever since my first stay in Africa, in Cape Coast, Ghana to be exact, it was there that I saw women from the towns and villages engaging in all sorts of entrepreneurial activities. But then, as I began to travel throughout different countries in Africa, my observations did not change much-in terms of women supporting their respective economies through entrepreneurship. Some of the areas that I observed, which had high concentrations of entrepreneurial women were:

  • agricultural production
  • charcoal production (very heavy duty work)
  • marketing of produce (in the market)
  • food hospitality
  • general supply
  • pharmacy

Here is an excerpt from one of the African continent's leading business news publications...I think this journalist sums up the importance of Africa's women in business very well.

"...Although the research on African women entrepreneurs is limited, anecdotal evidence supports the belief that women who possess economic means invest more in education, their families and communities. And women entrepreneurs typically create linkages with other women-owned firms in both rural and urban areas through formal and informal business networks.

In Africa, despite the persistence of the ‘male model’ of corporate behaviour and the marginalisation of women from the formal economy, the myth of typically female societal roles is fast unravelling.

As a few courageous women entrepreneurs are proving their metal in the corporate environment and demonstrating increasingly their contribution as a force for social well-being outside the home environment.

Not only are women competing with their male counterparts for typically male positions in the corporate arena, they are also starting up and running their own businesses.

Taken as an index of potential wealth generation and job creation, the empowerment of women in the African context could be nothing short of spectacular if implemented as a deliberate agenda for change..."

Source: Excerpt Written by Malcolm Ray for Business in Africa

Although at the present moment I do not have all of the facts and figures to present you with right now, something tells me that in many parts of Africa women act as a backbone to their respective economies. Of course, it is my goal to bring you my findings on this, along with all supporting facts and figures that I can find. This shall be quite a task, but I've got to tell you this is one of the most exciting things that I've done in a long time, so hopefully that means that we're up for the challenge!

In this week long series we plan to bring you several angles on Africa's business women:
  • An overview of their importance in general to the markets in which they serve
  • Entrepreneur Profile(s)
  • Current news coming from Africa
  • African Women bloggers (many of which are entrepreneurs too!)
But if you have anything else that you'd like to see covered or if you have some suggestions or contribution on this series, please contact me at beninmwangi@gmail dot com. Otherwise, I hope that you enjoy!

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Friday, February 23, 2007

New Beginnings!

To everyone who has been regularly visiting The Benin Epilogue, you probably can vouch for me that promoting positive dialogue about Africa's entrepreneurship has been a driving passion for me. Well, I would like to once again thank you for your support. As a result of the dialogue that you and I have had over the past several months, some very exciting developments have come about:

  • I have been asked to do a review of African business blogs on Global Voices
  • Guest contributor for the Kenya Empowerment News (an offline publication catering to the Kenyan Diaspora in America)

Additionally, one more thing is that our dialogue has actually helped spur me to create the Africa Abroad Entrepreneur Exchange. I am very excited about this and a few of you have already heard from me about it...But now it's official!


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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ghana & Brazil-South South Collaboration At It's Best

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
One day while perusing the web, I saw something on Jen Brea's blog about something called "South-South cooperation". What the term South-South describes is an economic movement which has been around for some time, but has recently begun to gather a great bit of steam. The recurring theme here is that of developing nations assisting each other in the following areas- trade, socio-economic strategy, economic policy, tariff reduction, development, and etc. The excerpt that follows, to me was a great example of South South theory put into action, so I thought I'd share it with you.

"...Brazil has chosen Ghana as a key investment destination in Africa and an investment team would be in the country after the 50th anniversary celebrations to explore areas of interest, Mr. Luis Fernando Serba, Brazilian Ambassador to Ghana has said.

The Ambassador was conferring with Mr. Stephen Asamoah-Boateng, Minister of Local Government, Rural Development and Environment in Accra this week. Mr. Serba said the 45-year cordial relationship between the two countries had given the green light for the two to do business. He said Brazil's Amazon Forest housed about 20 million people and the country had also tackled its urbanisation problem in its main city, Rio de Janeiro and noted that Ghana could learn from their experience. Mr. Asamoah-Boateng called for technical support from the Brazilian government inagro-processing to help Ghana solve post-harvest losses as well as the management of the environment. Brazil, he said, was a success story when it came to agriculture exporting over 50 billion dollars of its produce annually..."

Source: AllAfrica.com


So, over the course of time, we have covered several major movements which in some way revolve around expanding business opportunities in Africa-the traditional foreign direct investors, China, the Diaspora, and now South-South economic and social investments into some of Africa's economies. It is from these types of initiatives coupled with the dedication of Africa's entrepreneurs, both at home and abroad, that are poising Africa's economies for a momentous paradigm shift. Without downplaying the significance of South South collaboration or the other two categories, I think that Africa's population abroad (the Diaspora) has been showing some very promising trends-albeit in a very quiet manner...

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