Doing Business in Africa: What We Can Learn from Obama’s Ghana Speech

The question still remains why is Africa still the stepchild in the global economy when its assets, resources and people, are needed worldwide?  While the scene has gotten better, Africa often is misrepresented or underrepresented at global business conferences.  By and large, the media continues to focus on the ills of poverty, corruption, and disease in Africa.

Why should all this matter?  Because millions of people both in Africa and the World are missing out on the economic opportunities that will carry them beyond the global economic crisis and recovery.  Now is the time to take advantage of Africa’s strengths to contribute to global economic growth. 

Could it be that the U.S. has caught on?  Just this week, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced that the U.S. would catalyze small and medium-size American firms entry into global markets, including Africa.  There seems to be a sober awakening to the importance to entrepreneurs to the growth in the American economy, but also that American entrepreneurs in the global markets creates jobs in the United States.

While we wait to see what government does, those of us in business can move forward with an African agenda, but the right Africa agenda.  That agenda cannot be the same as in the past.  Hence, this series on Changing the Way Business is Done in Africa.

Originally published at American Chronicle in 2009, this first piece looks at how Americans, and others, can shift their approach to Africa based on key messages in Obama’s speech at the Ghanian parliament.  Other pieces in this series will look at how media and donors can change the way business is done in Africa.

Obama spoke at the Ghanaian Parliament this past week during his first trip to Sub-Saharan Africa as President. He used this forum to imprint his administration´s perspectives and priorities for U.S. €” Africa relations. While some people may argue motives behind the words and the accuracy of statements, the speech does reveal a needed paradigm shift with how the world does business with Africa. Let´s consider the following points.

First, interact with Africa with purpose. In choosing Ghana, Obama highlighted an African nation striving for values complementary to the United States, and one which his administration would support through its foreign assistance framework. Having purpose provides focus, allowing the placement of assets and resources where they will provide strategic benefit.

Second, be a partner to Africa instead of a patron. Much of the world still patronizes Africa. Yet, there are over 50 sovereign states in which business is conducted every day. As partners with Africans, we recognize that Africans drive and are responsible for their own destiny. Such partnerships would, as Obama said, “be grounded in mutual responsibility and mutual respect.”

Third, recognize Africa as a serious player in the global economy instead of as a bystander. Obama put it this way, “This is the simple truth of a time when the boundaries between people are overwhelmed by our connections. Your prosperity can expand America’s prosperity. Your health and security can contribute to the world’s health and security. And the strength of your democracy can help advance human rights for people everywhere.” In a nutshell, what happens in Africa affects the world. What happens across the globe affects Africa.

Learn more about the right approach and agenda in Doing Business in Africa Part 2.

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