President Obama’s Business in Africa Advisory Council Held First Meeting This Week

Last year, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker stood up the President’s Doing Business in Africa Advisory Council, a group of small, medium and large US businesses currently engaged in business on the continent and tasked with helping shape U.S. policy for business engagement with the continent. 

The makeup of the council is very interesting. You’ve got people ranging from Dominic Barton, head of McKinsey, to Kevon Makell, head of a renewable energy consultancy based in Charlotte, to Karen Daniel, CFO at Black and Veatch. 

If you’re as slow as I am at washing dishes, that two hours will give you enough time to watch this two-part recording of the advisory council’s first meeting on April 8. 

Part 1

Part 2 

Three things caught my attention during the meeting:

  1. Mr. Barton challenged the Council to think big, specifically in positioning the US to double its share global trade with the continent in five years. In 2013, our share was down to 7 percent from 13 percent in 2001. Compare that with China which has gone from 3 percent to 14 percent in the same window. 
  2. Wal-Mart was very clear in communicating that African countries not meeting its logistical needs amongst others should not expect partnerships equal to what countries that did meet their needs would experience. 
  3. The various US agencies that have significant engagement on the continent don’t really know what tools they have respectively for engagement on the continent. This includes OPIC, USAID, the State Department, and the U.S. Ex-Im Bank. Their representatives seemed to agree on the need for better coordination. 

One of the recommendations that stood out was a US-Africa Infrastructure Center which would equip US infrastructure developers to more effectively compete for deals on the continent. This struck me as a platform that could be helpful in tracking progress in closing the gap on the World Bank’s projection of $93B per year for 10 years investment in infrastructure across the continent

Further, the platform could serve as a helpful marketing tool in showing the effectiveness of US infrastructure developers in terms of time to completion, total project cost, lifespan of finished projects before maintenance, among other metrics.  Then again, it may be a better move to invest in the work already done by the African Development Bank, World Bank, and other stakeholders in setting up a platform focused on infrastructure development. 

The council meets next in September or October. I look forward to tracking their progress. Hopefully, I would have figured out how to be helpful to their work in some way by then. 

Do You Remember the T-Mobile Sidekick?

Do you remember the T-Mobile Sidekick? Did you ever ask how it was made? I sure did not. Here’s a cool profile on the phone, its creator – Andy Rubin, and its evolution into Android. Incredible stuff.

I remember some of my classmates at Woodberry having the phone. My only thought on it was that I could not afford it, let alone ask questions about how it was made. Who made it? What is the software like on the phone? What does it take to make that kind of software? Could I make something like that? Pretty simple, but mind-shifting questions, right?

Growing up, I loved taking apart our home PC and figuring out how to navigate its applications. In response to questions about what I wanted to do in life, I always said computer engineer. At some point, I lost interest thinking that taking apart and putting computers together was as much as I could do in that field. Perhaps, had I not nearly paralyzed myself the first day I ever hit somebody playing football in 7th grade, I would have had the awareness to ask one or two of the above questions (probably not). By this time, I placed a lot of my identity in being an athlete and spent a good bit of my time trying to get better there.

Over the past few years, I have started asking more of the above questions, and it is fascinating to dig below the surface on the technology we use on a daily basis. I really believe that encouraging these sort of questions in the African-American community is one of the gamechangers for the wealth of the African-American community. Since Black in America aired four years ago, I have discovered more and more black folks who are absolutely killing the technology game – Tristan Walker, John Thompson, Erin Teague, Eghosa Omoigui, Paul Judge, and Chinedu Echeruo, to name a few.

There’s no limit on how many more black tech leaders there could be. There are certainly a lot of questions that could use some solving:

  • How do we insert more African history into our daily media consumption?
  • How do we increase the efficiency of purchasing Air Jordan’s on release day, and use that event as a teaching moment for investing? How do we create real-time playback analysis of those butt whippings from grandma?
  • How do we nurture the identification of business opportunities between what a kid is learning in school and the real world experiences of his dad who is working two jobs to provide for the family?
  • The list could go on…

I’m excited about encouraging myself, Anna Olivia, my siblings, and kids who grow up on streets like the one I grew up on to ask and take the next step of building solutions to address them.

The Diaspora Connects Over Dinner

A couple weekends ago, I had a blast at a Dine Diaspora event that focused on connecting folks of African descent. We had a delicious meal prepared by Chef Dadisi Olutosin, and discussed Africa’s leadership challenges among other issues. The diversity of backgrounds among the participants was cool to see. There was a restaurateur, an investment banker, a diplomat, and an owner of a corporate gifting business, to name a few.

What was so powerful about the dinner was the manner in which it brought together a group of people who spend a good bit of their time doing stuff to contribute to Africa’s economic development. We need more dinners like this, where people can contribute their perspectives on Africa’s development, and how they are contributing.

Kudos to the Dine Diaspora team, and I look forward to the next time I get to attend.

Reflections from Yale’s 2014 Sankofa54 Conference

While doing research for another article, I ran across my talking points from a presentation I gave at Yale’s Sankofa54 conference. They were interesting to take a look at a year later. I figured it could not hurt to post them here.

Reflections on role models for Anna Olivia
Last night was incredible for me. Seeing all of these dynamic women at the head table, hearing from Madame Leymah Gbowee and Vivian Onano. I have a 17-month old daughter and think about her path through this world quite often.  I’m excited about her getting to follow your examples as she grows into her own person. Keep up the good work because I’m going to be name dropping Kiki Ochieng, Ruth …. Let’s go! Get it done. Take Africa’s development to the next level.
Anansi and the Birds
  • He wanted to fly, so he did everything he could to get wings
  • Once he got wings, he practiced and practiced until he got it right
  • One day when the birds went up to a mountain to feast, Anansi surprised them and joined along
  • He saw the food and started eating so quickly that the birds got mad
  • When he went to sleep, they took his feathers
  • When he woke up, he did his routine run to take off, only to discover that his wings weren’t there when he took off
  • Fortunately, he remembered that he could spin material and shot some web to catch a tree from which he could lower himself to the ground
  • For me, As Africa makes its push to take development to greater levels, we need to make sure that we do what we do best, rather than try to use wings that aren’t ours. The principle of Sankofa is key here. Remember our roots.
Regional organizations and panafricanism
  • AfDB and NEPAD work on regionalization
  • the sixth region conversation
  • World Economic Forum bringing together higher level members of the Diaspora – Mayor Reed and President Jonathan
  • Ecobank, Dangote Cement investing across the continent
Regional orgs and investor attraction
  • AfDB and Turkana
  • AfDB and contract negotiation training
Internal markets and latent potential
  • Incorporating the informal economy – Nigeria’s economy rebasing finalized this Sunday, but Nigerians more than likely will continue to feel poor. Revenue to GDP ratio more than likely will decrease.
Capital flow w/o oil
  • Rise of consumer
  • More countries entering the capital bond markets
  • PE encouraging more companies to go cross border
Remittances and repatriation
  • I don’t want to get left behind!
  • Homestrings
Regional organizations and panafricanism
  • A continent where nationals don’t need a visa to travel to 80% of the other countries in Africa
  • Regionalization perhaps not the level of having a single currency, but systems talk to each other. As people move from one country to another, they are able to do business, engage people smoothly and efficiently.
Regional orgs and investor attraction
  • An environment where it is quite easy to get financial data on an African company
Internal markets and latent potential
  • Increased inclusion of informal sector into economy
Capital flow w/o oil
  • An environment where there are 50+ stock exchanges where your every day person can learn about an agriculture company in Côte d’Ivoire that produces the cocoa beans Nestle uses for its products and invest in them
Remittances and repatriation
  • A world where there are direct flights to multiple countries from Atlanta, DC, New York
  • Systematic use of remittances on a macro scale

Lumumba Was Here

Yesterday was the 54th anniversary of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, independent Congo’s first prime minister.

Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, one of the first blacks to attend my alma mater, wrote a nice piece on the importance of Lumumba and his death. He recently published a biography of Prime Minister Lumumba that I look forward to reading.

Here’s a letter Lumumba wrote his wife, Pauline some time before his death.

Tomorrow, we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, President Obama gives his State of the Union address.

Lumumba and King were decades younger than President Obama when they died. It’s incredible how productive they were in such a short time. Much more work to be done still to realize their massive dreams.

Nigerians Feel Good About Their Well Being?

PWBISo, personal well-being in Nigeria is trending upward, according to data compiled by NOIPolls. December produced the highest results for the year – a month when the naira stumbled significantly, the Nigerian Stock Exchange went for a wild ride, and Boko Haram deadliness persisted.More than anything, I think this displays the resiliency of this country’s people. President Jonathan’s team must be pleased to see these results with elections approaching next month.

Here, you can see the dive the naira took in December.

Source: Bloomberg
Source: Bloomberg

Here is Nigeria’s All Share Index for 2014. You can see the ride the market went for in the month as foreign investors sold off and local investors filled the void.

Source: Nigerian Stock Exchange
Source: Nigerian Stock Exchange

Here is a tweet Ian Bremmer sent out on the fatalities by Boko Haram.