Tuesday, November 6, 2007
By: Swallehe Msuya
The three-day Pan African Trade and Investment Summit (PATIS) that took place in Minneapolis last month, the first of its kind, has come and gone! The energetic organizers of this momentous event, mainly African-born immigrants in Minnesota, gave their time and leadership skills for free to ensure its success.
On the one hand, they brought on the table the importance of Africa, a vast continent of almost a billion people with tremendous resources virtually crying out that “Africa is open for business.” It is not stretching its hands for handouts, it is not “a beggar-continent” – no, it is stretching an olive branch to the outside world, and more specifically to America, literally saying, “Come and invest in Africa, be our development partners.”
This kind of message being directed to America is both timely and imperative since Africa is the future of global trade and investment. The Chinese are aware of it as they are making in-roads in pouring vast investment dollars into Africa. The Americans have been late comers in this race, mainly because of the negative images that mainstream media houses in America project about African being land of the hungry, the begging, the sick and war-mongering Tarzans.
This distorted view of Africa in the eyes of many Americans will require the likes of many PATIS conventions to awaken the mindset of our American friends to the realization that there is much that Africa can offer to the rest of the world. Both in terms of global investment opportunities and trade “outside the box” of abject poverty and underdevelopment!
When America lately introduced the now famous African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) during the last term of the Clinton administration, now extended under the Bush administration, it was out of pity that sub-Sahara Africa’s share of global trade (by WTO statistics) in the world market was less than 2 percent! So miniscule that under AGOA, the region was granted access to the over 3 trillion dollar American market – “duty free / quota free” for a long list of its exports.
America is a consumerist society. But walk into a number of U.S. supermarkets like Target, Wal Mart, Rainbow and Walgreens, you can hardly come across any products with the label “Made In Africa”. I know there can never be any such thing since Africa is a continent of 53 sovereign nations. I used the expression deliberately to convey the American silly question of “how can the U.S. export to Africa?” – as if Africa was one country!
On a more serious note, I can challenge anyone to walk into those supermarkets and bring out a comfortable list of 53 items that come from the African continent. I am making the assumption that each African country is (at least) exporting one item to the U.S. market! There is no such list! This scenario is not good for Africa, and PATIS was all out to correct it.
The inaugural PATIS concluded last month was a young baby learning how to walk. At the end of the day, the participants agreed that they should make it an annual event, certainly more elaborate and more inclusive. The first attempt was virtually dominated by Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Kenya, making small nations like Rwanda and Burkina Faso virtually non-existent.
The MC of the event had to run up and down the Conference hall to seek compromises and rearrangement of a confusing schedule. Plenary sessions virtually fell apart and when they were to report back to the conference participants, there was a void. Some small countries when making their presentations were unable to attract any of the American firms that attended the conference.
Yet, we are proud to say that the good-intentioned organizers were able to bring to us heavyweights like Holly Vineyard, Deputy U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Africa, Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Ambassador Amina Salum Ali, the current African Union Permanent Representative to the U.S. Also a couple of senior African diplomats showed up. Networking was good, the fraternity dinner was a success and the Mall of America Africa Day was a brilliant showcase of African culture, merchandise and the ever-growing human capital from that region.
Regrettably, one of the organizers complained to our African American brothers in the U.S saying, “We do not feel you.” Like much of underdeveloped Africa, our black brothers in America are still struggling to be part of the American dream and – “we don’t feel you” was a wake up call for them to step up and find their rightful position in this U.S.-Africa emerging partnership.
The Kenyan diplomat who spoke at the closing ceremony, Ambassador Oginga Ogego, challenged his country men who have spent many years in the US “without valid papers and with nothing to show” to come out of the closet and be a part of the American dream. He may have been very blunt at best, but he was only expressing a desire to see such immigrants rise up to the challenge of being a part of this emerging partnership for progress between the United States and Africa.
PATIS has basically been a pacesetter. We look forward to an even more inclusive event next year and the years to come. Who knows, it could be a vital building bloc of the much talked about United States of Africa! PATIS is certainly on track. Good job organizers