Thursday, April 26, 2007
By: Muzamba Sibajene
South African Consul General in Chicago, His Excellency Yusuf Omar, was in the Twin Cities yesterday to address the Minnesota Business Community and Africans in the Diaspora before attending an award ceremony later in the day. The Chicago Consulate covers the entire Midwest region of the United States.
The Global Business Roundtable was hosted by the International Leadership Institute (ILI) at the law office of Igbanugo Partners. Herbert Igbanugo, a Nigerian-American lawyer, and Judge LaJune Lange, president of ILI co-chair the roundtable. The roundtable, an initiative of ILI’s continued global outreach, meets monthly with business leaders to “provide a unique opportunity to obtain [global] strategic business information. This month, the meeting focused on maximizing trade and investment in Africa.
Speaking about South Africa’s economic growth, Omar established that his country was “Open for Business” encouraging participants to streamline their investment efforts by consolidating shared interests, instead of duplicating ideas, leading to exponential growth in trade. With investment in tourism, among other things, South Africa has an emerging middle class that continues to wield economic power resulting in South Africa reporting its first budget surplus.
South Africa plans to introduce a US$60 billion infrastructure program investing in companies that will engage in the growth of the South African economy. The construction projects will include the services of 50,000 engineering undergrads as well as American companies that would work in collaboration with local companies for the benefit of all.
On South Africa’s challenges, especially violent crime and HIV/AIDS prevalence, Omar assured investors that his government is keenly addressing these issues. Through scientifically approaching crime identifying its root cause, Omar asserts that crime has reduced greatly. A country-wide campaign in fighting HIV/AIDS has resulted in reduced number of new infections.
Omar was pleased to walk into a prestigious law firm run by an African in the United States and highly commended Igbanugo.
“Africa needs to find solutions to economic woes so that the world does not view the continent as a virtual beggar. It is not impossible to collectively change the world’s perception of Africa.”
During a question and answer session, Igbanugo inquired on the availability of forums initiated by the South Africa to engage the rest of Africa in using that country as a business model.
Citing the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Africa’s peer review program, Omar noted, “Although organizations have been put in place to facilitate inter-African communications, they are not as effective as they need to be.”
Igbanugo who is implementing a business plan to serve as a gateway for US businesses to invest in Africa said, “African countries have tremendous economic potential.”
His law firm is currently working on establishing relationships with other law firms in South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria in order to expand its services.
Judge LaJune gave an example of how Africa was beginning to change its suspicious view of South Africa through the recent elections held in Nigeria. For the recently ended elections, the South African government printed and flew millions of ballots to Nigeria, but also sent senior South African election officials to assist with the voting process.
Also present at the roundtable was Hyon Kim; president of Minnesota Best Enterprises, Inc. Kim impressed on African leaders South Korea’s eagerness to explore opportunities in Africa through its unique method of engineering.
Fred Adiyia, a Ghanaian-American, whose expertise is commercial banking and lending, said his company was coordinating efforts to successfully facilitate the commercial and banking needs of small scale businesses in Africa through the Export-Import Bank (EXIM) in the United States.
The chair of the Kenyan Community in Minnesota (KCM), Joash Maangi, announced a planned African Investment summit in September which would provide a forum for African leaders to showcase to US corporations the economic opportunities available in the continent.