Wednesday, February 28, 2007

African Women In Business Series: Just Curious?

This is just a friendly reminder that I am really curious as to what you think about the way The Benin Epilogue is covering this series. Is there anything that you would like to see covered here that has not been mentioned yet? If so, please let me know. Also, if you would actually like to contribute more along the lines of doing a guest post, here, on this particular topic or any other you may contact me ( beninmwangi@gmail dot com) . As always, thank you so much!

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

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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.

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


My apology-Momentary Interuption-Opportunities in Kenya

Good Day, please except my apologies for this brief interruption of the scheduled series entitled African Women In Business. As I labored through most of the night collecting resources and data for the African Women In Business series-the posts shall resume shortly.

This is sort of my round about way of doing a Public Service Announcement. This comes by way of KIM Media Group, which manages the newspaper called Kenyan Empowerment News-of which I am a regular guest contributor.

If you are interested in learning more about Kenya's business investment opportunities you might find this information very useful:

International Conference & Investment Forum

"The Role of the Kenyan Diaspora in Kenya ’s Development"

March 22nd -24th, 2007
Kennesaw State University

Kennesaw, GA

Join us for an exciting weekend exploring how the Kenyan Diaspora can participate in Kenya ’s Development process.

· Learn about wonderful investment opportunities in various sectors of Kenya ’s

· Take a ride through the fast-growing Nairobi Stock Exchange (NSE) with Mr.
Jimnah Mbaru, Chairman of NSE and learn how you can position yourself to
invest in upcoming IPOs.

· Learn about the fundamental drivers of the recent performance of the Kenya
market and investment solutions offered by Old Mutual Asset Managers (OMAM)
in Kenya .

· Open an Internet Account with Equity Bank and learn about innovative ways of
transferring money to Kenya .

· Explore the Diaspora’s potential at contributing towards Kenya ’s education
sector with Professor Olive Mugenda of Kenyatta University and Professor
Sperling of Strathmore University .

· Meet Kenyan entrepreneurs and potential investors. For more information click
[ here ].

To all who may be interested in attending I look forward to seeing you there and you may also contact me if you have questions beninmwangi@gmail dot com. Otherwise, again I apologize for the interruption, it's just that my memory has a mind of it's own sometimes...Also, thanks for your patience and we will be back with our scheduled series shortly.

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


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!

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


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!

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


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..."


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...

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


Monday, February 19, 2007

Today's Profiles in Entrepreneurship:Yoquai Lavala

After having a few moments to ponder the results of the survey I believe that my friend Hoseah made an excellent point. He commented in the comments section of the post below that it would be very helpful to group of people represented in the survey indicating that they wished to start a business in Africa get some good how to information on how to do so. In as much as I am able to find such information, this I hope, will definitely be a focal point for The Benin Epilogue. In keeping with this theme, here is a story which I think really defines the process of starting a business in Africa by using the resources gained while in the Diaspora. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any other articles on this fellow, normally when this is the case my decision has usually been to wait until more sources become available before featuring the entrepreneur in the Profiles section. But in this case I chose to make an exception and hopefully you will see why after reading it! And oh, just to give you a little bit of background, the person who is actually doing the interview and asking the questions is Tanu Henry of Black Voices.

"Yoquai Lavala (pronounced Yo-kway Lav-lah) landed a job with General Electric when he graduated from North Carolina’s Livingstone College in 1996. By the time the 31-year-old financial analyst quit "in a moment of clarity" last September, he had moved through six promotions and worked in at least eight American, European and Asian cities.

Settled with a wife, two daughters and a farmhouse in Jackson, Wis., the young entrepreneur made the boldest move of his career last November. Cashing in his 401(k) pension fund, he left for his war-torn home country, Liberia, to start his own business.

Now, visiting with his wife and kids in Wisconsin, BV spoke with Lavala about his risky undertaking, his outlook on the future and why he sees the instability in Liberia as more of an opportunity than an obstruction.

BV: You quit your job at GE, making more than six figures. That’s what most people aspire to.

You have to look at it both ways. You can continue to make a six-figure salary working for somebody else or you can pursue your own dreams. There are many opportunities out there. I appreciate my time at GE. It taught me how to run a business. But I could focus on the six figures today and forget about what I can do for the future of my country tomorrow.

BV: What line of business are you in?

I own an investment business with a partner. One of our biggest investments right now is a sales and marketing business for the biggest telephone company in Liberia. We distribute and sell airtime and communications equipment to the public.

BV: How did you get the start-up money?

I took a risk. I went into my retirement funds.

BV: Was it worth it?

Oh, yes. I’ve made the amount I borrowed from myself already. At the same time, we started one of the biggest distribution networks in the country. We have hired 40 Liberians at a time when 70 percent of people in the country are unemployed.

BV: Aren’t you worried about investing so much capital in a war-ravaged country?

No, it's the best time. After a war, a country becomes a virgin economy. For Liberia, since all the infrastructure is broken down, it's an excellent opportunity for investment. You can join in rebuilding the structure of the country from scratch. Its where you want to be if you’re an entrepreneur.

BV: How is business going?

The investment company has opened up two other businesses. The first will concentrate on selling ring tones and other mobile entertainment assets like digital wallpapers. The second will be selling satellite TV services.

BV: How do you balance the political instability and uncertainty of the country with the plans for your business?

Every business is a calculated risk. The Liberian people are hungry for people to come home and invest. They are looking for things to do. They want direction, entertainment and structure. If you wait for the political situation to stabilize, you'll wait forever. The communications industry is also one of the best businesses to be in at this time. People outside the country want to be informed and talk to their relatives. Unfortunately -- or fortunately for my business --when the country is in upheaval, we sell our most phone cards.

BV: You have a home, a wife and two daughters in Wisconsin. Will they join you at some point?

Certainly. I can't live without my family. It's tough being out there without the support of my family.

BV: You've had a remarkable career track. You moved through at least six promotions during your tenure at GE. Do you plan to re-enter the corporate world?

At this point, I don't think so. Being an entrepreneur is fun. All the things you learn in the structure of a company you get to apply to your own business. You also get to write the checks instead of waiting to get one. You provide the vision for the company and you get to oversee its execution.

BV: Are there opportunities for American investors in Liberia?

A lot. The country's linkage to America is big. People respect Americans a lot. People look at America as a big brother. There are huge opportunities for Americans in every industry.

BV: What's the biggest challenge of your new independence?

Its execution -- making sure things get done. Relying on people to get things done. Discipline. After nearly 15 years of civil war and disorganization, people are not used to structure. They aren’t used to process.

BV: What's the biggest reward?

To see the jobless guy or woman who was hungry for work four months ago employed. We have provided opportunities for people to feed their families and give back to their communities. If I can hire 10,000 or 20,000 people, then my job will be done. It's all about giving people a chance."

Source: AOL Black Voices

Well, I hope that this was helpful to anyone of you who has been considering using what you have gained in the Diaspora so that you may start an enterprise in Africa. As Yoquai's story indicates there are many resources that can be found in the Diaspora, which can be extremely helpful to anyone pursuing entrepreneurship in various parts of Africa. One resource that was not mentioned here was trade credit. In an upcoming post I plan to explain how you can use the relative abundance of trade credit in America and other parts of the Diaspora to actually help start a business in Africa. Until the next time have a wonderful week!

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


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Importance of Entrepreneurship-Survey Results

These are the results, there were a few blunders on my part, for which I apologize, like not saying that 1 is least important and 5 is most important on the 1st question. On the 2nd question, I should have put a statement such as, "I am not interested in business in Africa or never really thought about doing business in Africa". But I am very happy that so many of you participated anyway, thank you so much!

It appears that the bulk of you share my sentiments about the importance of entrepreneurship in Africa. Also, it looks like there a many of you that are already doing business in Africa. From time to time, you may find a poll questionnaire such as the this one-being incorporated into this blog as a post. Other times you may find them in the sidebars. My goal is to tailor the posts that you find here on The Benin Epilogue as much to your preferences and experiences as possible. You know, friends, the past few weeks have been extremely difficult for me-as far as family challenges go. You have made your presence known here even though my posting frequency has decreased a bit. Also, your responses and comments have really cheered me up a great deal and make me know that I am indeed blessed to count you among my friends. Thank each and every one of you-a million times over!

1) On a scale from 1 to 5 how important do you think entrepreneurship is to Africa's economies?
(where "1" is the least important and "5" is the most important)

A) 1
B) 2
C) 3
D) 4
E) 5
F) Other

Answers to F:
- Most important although I don't know if 1 is most important or least important
- Extremely IMPORTANT!!
- Very Important
- i always advocate solutions to problems. thats the best entreprise

Which category best describes your current situation, as it relates to entrepreneurship in Africa?

A) I am already doing business in Africa
B) I am plan to start a business in Africa very soon
C) I am just thinking about doing business in Africa
D) I am already importing products from Africa
E) I am planning to start importing products from Africa very soon
F) I am just thinking about importing products from Africa

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


Monday, February 12, 2007

So Why Is Entrepreneurship Important In Africa?

Recently, the question of why entrepreneurship is important to Africa has been on my mind a great deal. I am voicing this question for anyone who may be reading this post or blog and saying to themselves-yeah that's great but what about some of the other issues which adversely affect many of Africa's populations. For me, my thoughts are that entrepreneurship is probably one of the best ways to address some of the challenges that are faced by various African nations. But since I am writing this with you, my readers in mind, your thoughts are just as important-if not more important than mine. To clarify what I meant in that last statement here is something that I came across from Enterprise Africa, which I think comes very close to summing up my thoughts on the topic:

"Entrepreneurship is the true engine of economic growth. Entrepreneurs create value in many ways: providing goods or services for consumers, jobs for employees, vital information to other economic actors, and expanding the local tax base. Economies grow when they create institutions that promote these useful activities while limiting incentives to engage in destructive (rent-seeking or criminal) entrepreneurship.

Before the colonial era, many areas in Africa benefited from extensive trading relations. Gold was shipped from Mali across the Sahara to Libya in exchange for salt and to Egypt for ceramics, silks and other Asian and European goods; Ghanaians controlled much of the trans-Sahara trade in copper and ivory; at Great Zimbabwe gold was traded for Chinese pottery and glass; in Nigeria, leather and iron goods were traded throughout West Africa. Today, Africans are still trading and finding ways to create wealth for themselves and their communities. Whether working locally or internationally, they are taking their unique talents and abilities to the marketplace to satisfy the needs of neighbors and strangers alike. Unfortunately, their powerful stories aren’t well known."

Source: Enterprise Africa

But again, your thoughts and feelings on this matter are highly important to me. And though many of my readers and I have begun to forge some really nice ties, sometimes it still feels like The Benin Epilogue could do more to deliver the topics that most directly address your needs as it pertains to business in Africa.

So, this time we are doing something a little bit different and I would really appreciate it if you would be able to participate. Below there are two survey links, you may choose either one or you can both. The 1st link is a 1-question opinion poll asking how important you believe entrepreneurship is to Africa's economies. The link below it asks what is the nature of your interest in entrepreneurship in Africa-is it because you do business there, do you want to start a business there, or are you interested in buying African products for import to another part of the world? It will only take a second and most importantly it will give me deeper insights as to which topics you feel are most relevant to your particular situation.

Thank you very much, my friends, you really don't know how much your input means to me!

Multiple Choice Question 1) How important do you think entrepreneurship is to Africa's economies?

Click here to take our Online Survey


Multiple Choice Question 2) Why are you interested in entrepreneurship as it relates to Africa?

Click here to take our Online Survey


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Forerunner: Advocate for Business & Social Change in Africa

Today we are going to talk about a legendary individual, an African American who we seldomly hear about in the context of African business. Yet, he almost handedly changed the socio-political landscape of South Africa and he championed the cause of free enterprise and entrepreneurship almost all across SSA. Indeed, when this gentleman talked governments listened, creditor nations forgave debts, and America began thinking differently about Africa as an important business and investment destination. Rev. Leon Sullivan was a very rare individual in that he dutifully fulfilled four posts in life-to such an extent that someone could perhaps write four separate best selling “how to” books on leadership based upon his life and legacy. One on how to be a minister in the church, one on being a business man, another on being a parent and a father, and another on being an agent of social change. To me what is most amazing about this trailblazer is that he proved that a person can be an advocate of progressive business and economic policy change , while at the same time being effective at bringing about serious social reform. Before going further, below are two quotes that I'd like for you to read about Rev. Dr. Leon Sullivan. One highlights his social relevance and the other one illustrates what he meant to free enterprise in Africa and vice versa.

Quote from Former US President Bill Clinton on Leon Sullivan:

“When Leon Sullivan was eight years old, he walked into a grocery store, slapped a nickel on the counter and said, "I want a Coke." The place, being in segregated South Carolina, the shopkeeper threw him out. That moment was the beginning of his life's work. The pastor of two churches by the time he was at the ripe old age of 17, Reverend Sullivan went on to write "The Sullivan Principles," which called upon companies all around the world to act in a socially responsible manner. By compelling dozens of businesses to desegregate their plants in South Africa, his work helped to pull down apartheid.

Today, as the author of the new Global Sullivan Principle, Leon Sullivan is still changing the world. He's too big for anyone to deny him a Coke, but he has helped to win that right for millions of others who aren't so large.

Reverend Sullivan, thank you for keeping your eyes on the prize for nearly 80 years now.”

Source: The White House press

Another quote on Sullivan’s contribution to thoughts on African enterprise via the Leon Sullivan Summit from John Hope Bryant
Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Operation HOPE:

With former U.S. President Bill Clinton, 17 Heads of State from Africa, a Presidential Delegation from U.S. President George W. Bush, led by HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, and more than 1,000 delegates from government, community and the private sector in attendance, 200 of which are African-Americans representing the diaspora traveling from the United States, and delegations from more than 40 African nations, all traveling to be here in Abuja, Nigeria, yes, the late Reverend Leon H. Sullivan, a mentor to me and a hero to us all, would indeed be proud. Good job Ms. Hope Sullivan.

There is no better way to honor Reverend Sullivan’s legacy than the passionate continuation of his life empowering work. Just like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s annual holiday in the United States of America is as much about a “day on” (service to others) than a “day off,” Reverend Sullivan’s lasting legacy is and will continue to be about “the work” here in Africa.

This issue of understanding the free-enterprise system and making it work for us, has to become a core part of any discussion we have around “African entrepreneurship” today, because in a very real sense the future of Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa and other forward leaning countries I have visited recently, literally lies with the ultimate success of its African entrepreneurs and its business class.

What I mean to say is that African governments should be increasingly fed and funded by a healthy and robust and growing tax base, and not foreign aid.

Bottom line, you cannot do this without creating real private-sector jobs and real economic opportunity. In other words, Africa must create a dominant class of very successful African entrepreneurs, at all levels of African society, from the “self-employment project” businessman of sorts, selling his or her wares in the local neighborhood, to the owner of a major telecommunications enterprise providing cell service to millions of African people. Individuals focused on creating wealth (their own), and not simply distributing it (others).

Or as we here at Operation HOPE continue to say, we must be focused on “converting cash economy customers into banking customers, renters into homeowners, small business dreamers into small business owners and entrepreneurs, minimum wage workers into living wage workers with new, marketable job skills, and the economically uneducated into the economically empowered. That education is the ultimate poverty eradication tool, because when you know better, you tend to do better. And when you do this, you move individuals from the poverty rolls into the payrolls. And in so doing, you are creating the new working class and middle class taxpayers that African governments ultimately will need if progressive African countries are ever going to become truly self-sustaining.

Source: Operation Hope

Even today, there is no one else besides Rev. Sullivan that I can immediately think of who fits this unique mold of furthering the cause of free enterprise and entrepreneurship, while simultaneously championing the cause of human rights and social justice. I guess the reality is that it is just so much easier for someone to say “I’m all about business” or “I’m all about the people” and this is very natural for us to do. Sometimes, I even catch myself having to be reminded that Africa benefits not just from free-enterprise; but also from socio-political reform. One almost couldn't exist without the other and to me Rev. Sullivan embodied that message.

So, that being said, this post could go on for a very long time if we decided to chronicle every aspect of his life. To keep the length of this post to a minimum our blog we will only be able to briefly summarize two aspects of his life-business and social change agent. Also though we won’t go into details on his church life, I think that it is worth noting that the business principles which he promoted were firmly rooted upon his faith. For those of you who’d like to learn more about this legendary forerunner to today’s “Friends of African Business” you may find an extensive list of resources and links at the end of this post.

So just who is Rev. Leon H. Sullivan? Well, something tells me that if we were to ask any of his close associates or friends that question today, the answer that you might get is that he was a minister both inside and out of the church who believed in helping others.

For those of you who may not be very familiar with pre-civil rights era America, Rev. Leon H. Sullivan grew up in a time and a place that made it very difficult to be a black American. His childhood was marked by both segregation and poverty. But out of despair comes hope and so it is from this obscurity a young eight year old Leon became who he was throughout the rest of his life-a social and economic reformer extraordinaire. His life from that point on was all about equipping black populations, both in America and in Africa, with the tools that it takes to fight social and economic injustice-education, a voice, and economic sustainability. Today there are millions of black people from America to Africa who are the direct beneficiaries of his dream.

Well while still obtaining his Master’s and Doctorate degrees he, with the support of Adam Clayton Powell, became an assistant pastor at a local church, while also becoming an active participant in America's civil rights movement. He also met his wife to be-Grace Banks during this period in his life; it should be noted that Grace was a very large part of his success. This period of his life watered the proverbial seeds that later matured into several initiatives and organizations:


  • Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC)
    • Very successful training center model, which Rev Sullivan started in 1964. This program trained and placed disadvantaged African American workers into jobs across the United States. By 1980 the program had amassed over $130m per year in funding!
  • Zion Investment Associates
    • Leon strongly believed that the best way for black people to progress, as a group, economically was through self-help. This was especially true in areas such as careers and finance. So in 1962 he started a company called Zion Investment Associates, which the purpose was to help build ownership, employment, and pride. It acted as a holdings company. He offered shares in the company to his church congregation at $10 per week for 36 weeks. As a result 650 people joined and four very notable businesses came out of it. There was an apartment complex, a shopping mall, a garment manufacturing company, and an aerospace technicians training company-which won over $2m in contracts from General Electric Company.
  • International Foundation for Education and Self-Help. (IFESH)
    • In 1982 Leon started the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help. This began with the idea that black people in Africa and in America should work together to help one another. This organization reminds me a little bit of the Peace Corps. As a matter of fact, while living in Ghana I met several IFESH volunteers-they mainly worked or volunteered as professors at local universities-their emphasis was on global competitiveness. These volunteers were very advanced education and career-wise and back then I had no idea why they were willing to put extremely successful careers on the line for volunteer work. For instance, I met a volunteer who, prior to leaving America, was a merger & acquisition consultant. She worked at one of the then-big ten consulting and accounting firms. There was another person who was a medical doctor, the last that I checked after arriving back in America, he was appointed to a high medical related post in the US government.


  • Selective Patronage
    • Selective patronage is the movement that we now know as boycotting. Mr. Sullivan was one of the first leaders to use this method of “behind the scenes protesting” This method was later adopted by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It worked such that if a business refused to treat members of a particular group with equity, in this case people affiliated with Leon or any of his organizations, then the members of the victimized group would officially and publicly agree to stop buying all products from that particular business-until the problem is fixed.
  • The Sullivan Principles
    • Catalyst for promoting social responsibility in a corporate setting. Encouraged US corporations with South African investments to withdraw investment funds from South African companies who supported or contributed to the deliberate disenfranchisement of black South Africans. Through the Sullivan Principles Leon is credited with helping to bring the apartheid regime down.
  • African and African-American Summit (Later Renamed the Leon H. Sullivan Summit)
    • This organization started out with a large (1000 plus) and prominent group of African Americans meeting in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, back in 1991, to discuss ways that African Americans could assist Africa in healing, helping, and building. Today the biannual summit brings together the top political, human rights, and business leaders from all over the globe to find solutions to help improve upon Africa’s economic and socio-political climate. One of the most notable by-products of the first summit was the cancellation of billions of $USD of debt was forgiven by major nations.
  • "People's Investment For Africa" (PIFA)
    • When it started this organization was under the IFESH umbrella. It began with a $ 1m loan commitment from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. This organization received the bulk of it’s financing through individual Americans. The goal of this organization was to address the needs of self-sustainability in Africa through supporting and funding micro-enterprises.

Another position which gave Rev. Sullivan additional leverage to simultaneously address both social and business concerns was his appointment onto the General Motors Board of Directors in 1971. He was actually one of the first black Americans to do sit on the board of a fortune 500 corporation. He used this post as a platform both to help more African Americans become owners of auto dealerships and to help in securing employment, as well.

Well in closing, I hope that you have enjoyed reading this post about this giant of a change agent, Rev. Leon Sullivan. Just to recap two key and recurring themes which he espoused and which are also shared in common by myself are 1) it is possible to address the social needs in various parts of Africa, while also propagating the message of entrepreneurship and free enterprise and 2) that doing so goes a long way towards helping various economies in Africa to become self sustaining. Additionally, let me just reiterate that because of the vast amount of steps, initiatives, movements, businesses, and organizations that Leon was involved in my aim here was not necessarily to give you an entire life story, but rather to implore you (especially if you are thinking of starting a business in Africa) to find some time to study the essence and importance of Rev. Sullivan's message as it pertains to entrepreneurship and socio economic structures within Africa.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The World Bank Seeks Economic Progress?

Geoffrey Kamali writes about the most recent opinion of the World Bank, as it pertains to business in Africa:

"Is Sub-Saharan Africa now a more attractive destination for investment than yester-years?

The World Bank appears to give an optimistic overview in a new report, just released Thursday. Titled 'Snapshot Africa', the report is a result of a survey conducted by the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), the Bank's private sector arm specialised in promoting investment in emerging economies.

The report says about 300 investors, both local and foreign, were interviewed. It compares operating costs and conditions for investors in six industries in nine countries in the region that included Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda.

The study, designed to help investment promotion intermediaries in developing countries attract foreign direct investment (FDI), is the fifth in a series of sector analyses under MIGA. Among sectors sampled include textiles, apparel, food and beverage processing, horticulture, tourism, and call centers."
This article was from a recent online issue of all Upon reading this, my initial thoughts were this dovetails nicely with some of the most recent discussion which have taken place here on The Benin Epilogue lately. So in a sense it also serves as a bit of a self-reminder for me that things are looking up!


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Analyzing Corruption in Africa: In Response to Drima

Hello, I come to write today as a result of a most beautiful exchange between a fellow Africa blogger ( Drima-The Sudanese Thinker) and myself. If you are interested in reading the exchange you can find it in the comment section [here]. My rationale for actually following up the discussion with a full post is two-fold.

  1. Drima's open and frankness opened my eyes, not necessarily to the reality of corruption in Africa, but more so to the difficulties of honest people (like Drima) trying with much trepidation to avoid it.
  2. Also, in overhearing countless other conversations by other Africa bloggers, the topic of corruption often times dominates the floor. Sometimes my personality makes it difficult for me to focus on anything, but the positive. As such, I made a very conscious decision when I started this blog to stay away from topics that may detract from the message of promoting Africa as a serious and legitimate investment destination. However, in not addressing this issue, I have ignored a lesson that life has taught me. That when it comes to tough issues, sometimes the best way to approach them is "head on". Drima, thank you for waking me up on the issue.
Before, continuing let me say this, no one in life is perfect. Anyone can fall prone to lapses in judgement. So please, let us not use this post as a way to harshly judge others. I say this because corruption is such a sensitive issue.

My thoughts on corruption, as it pertains to doing business in Africa, are that one should strive to do open and honest business. Rather than summarize my response to Drima, to keep this post a little more concise, please refer to the original post. Now, that you know my thoughts on corruption let us look at a few facts, figures, & observations:

  1. According to the World Bank, at a UN conference, the world wide cost of corruption is $1.5 trillion USD.
  2. Nigeria's President, Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo, said that corruption costs African countries an estimated 25% of it's combined national incomes.
  3. Corruption costs African economies up to $148billion USD per year.
  4. Corruption scares away investors
  5. Development efforts of a nation are thwarted by corruption.
  6. Large numbers in Africa perceive their elected officials to be corrupt.
These are a few arguments that I came across, in favor of corruption:
  • For every government official offering favors for money, there are at least one to two corporations willing to pay.
  • Some in the business community see this as the only way to secure government contracts.
  • Without bribing it takes too long to start a business in Africa.

Additional related resources:
Well, everyone, I promised in the beginning of this post to keep it short. In closing let me say that I hope that anyone wishing to do business in any part of Africa can do so without engaging in corrupt practices. Also, here is an interesting article that summarizes one of my other viewpoints on the whole issue. It says despite the fact that there are problems, many African countries have shown some progress in fighting corruption. However, the perception of African corruption lags greatly behind these improvements and this is to the detriment of foreign investment. Please take a peek.

Thank you again, Drima! You are very insightful.

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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.....

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