Newfound interest in Africa
By James Clingman
Have you noticed all the current efforts to promote business opportunities in Africa? I sure have. Have you wondered how now, all of a sudden, so much emphasis is being placed on Africa by politicians? I sure have. Have you seen and heard about conferences and initiatives taking place across this nation that stress the importance of business connections with the Motherland? I have, too. Why is this happening now? Why is Africa so vital to our economic interests now?
In 1997, I wrote a book titled “Economic Empowerment or Economic Enslavement — We Have a Choice” in which I cited an article in Black Enterprise magazine (April 1996) that featured African American business opportunities and relationships in Africa. After reading the article, I thought of the irony of a continent — rich with diamonds, minerals and vast natural resources, populated and owned by Black people, our ancestors — just sitting there waiting for us to come back and take care of business.
Moreover, during that same period, nearly one million Africans had been slaughtered in Rwanda, and the United States under the leadership of Bill Clinton, refused to intercede because “we have no interests there.” I am sure they were talking about economic interests rather than human interests.
Despite the fact that Africa is the place where civilization began, the place where diamonds and gold are in abundance, the place where other natural resources flourish and the place where so much commerce and trade were established, it is only now being put forth publicly as an “opportunity” by our government officials.
In Cincinnati recently, a U.S.-Africa business conference was held to “showcase U.S. business expertise to African clients and to highlight trade and investment opportunities in Africa to U.S. exporters and investors.”
Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, was there to talk about those opportunities. In an interview, Carson stated, “For American companies, Africa provides a fast-growing consumer market, and forecasts anticipate Africa will be home to seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies over the next five years.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also chimed in on the African economic opportunity issue at the African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum by calling Africa the “land of opportunity.” In a Cincinnati Enquirer article, Africa is called the “last economic frontier.”
Ironically or sadly, Africa, having been there all the time and having contained all the riches and opportunities imaginable, was not very important to our national interests when hundreds of thousands were being murdered. Now, however, it’s deemed the last economic bastion of the world. One correction: It was the “first” economic bastion of the world.
Notwithstanding King Leopold’s veiled attempt through his International African Society to “civilize” the continent, and the Berlin conference in February 1885, in which European countries cast lots for various countries in Africa, with the exception of Ethiopia who fought against them and won, it is now being held in high esteem by the U.S. powers-that-be.
Although China, Lebanon and other countries have been investing in Africa for quite some time, believe me, the United States will now be in the fast lane trying to catch up and even surpass them in their efforts to cast more lots for Africa’s resources.
But what about Black Americans?
For many years, Black people have known about the opportunities that are now being paraded before us; Black leaders such as Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey advocated for African-African American business relationships, but we failed to take them seriously and follow through. Now we face being left behind and last to the table again.
In my book, I quoted Morris Jeff who said, in reference to this question, “Maybe we were sent here.” He went on to posit that maybe African Americans are the ones who, after gaining all of the knowledge we have today, are supposed to return to Africa and help develop that continent. While others are trying to make an African connection, we have had one for centuries. What will we finally do with it?
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, www.blackonomics.com