Coming in from the Cold

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In a move unprecedented for a U.S. publication, The Network Journal launched an Africa edition of its
signature “40 Under Forty Achievement Awards,” an annual program that honors outstanding Black professionals and entrepreneurs under the age of forty. The launch, which recognized Africa-based professionals and entrepreneurs, took place on Nov. 6 in Accra, Ghana, with Ghana’s Vice President John Mahama Dramani as honorary chair, keynote speaker and recipient of the first TNJ USA Chairman’s Award. A delegation of TNJ’s U.S. 40 Under Forty honorees, friends and well-wishers, some of them first-time visitors to Africa, traveled from the United States for the festivities.

 Combining U.S. corporate and traditional African ceremony, the rousing dinner gala introduced TNJ’s strictly business footprint in Africa. No less rousing was the open-air ceremony of dance, song and speeches six days later, when TNJ adopted Okagyakrom Senior High Technical School in Ghana’s Volta Region, some four hours’ drive from Accra. That occasion brought out the local chief and community elders in full ceremonial dress, local officials and all of the school’s 410 students (in uniform), its headmaster and staff. Beyond the core English language, social studies, math, integrated science and information and communication technology, Okagyakrom Senior High offers specialization in metal work, applied electricity, woodwork, building and construction, visual arts, general arts, agriculture, business studies, food and nutrition, and clothing and textiles. Its graduation rate is consistently above 90 percent (96.7 in 2009). TNJ will support it with money, equipment and materials, expertise and mentorship. For TNJ Founder and Publisher Aziz Gueye Adetimirin, it’s “an investment in the future of Africa.”
That investment, and the sentiment behind it, is indicative of a growing trend among expatriate Africans and people of African descent to invest in Africa, be it through small brick-and-mortar ventures, export-import, capital markets, equity partnerships, philanthropy, tourism or remittances. The delegation to Ghana saw examples:  

• Jazz Tone, a jazz club and restaurant in Accra, owned by African-American jazz vocalist Toni Manieson, who moved to Ghana in 1997;

• Elmina Bay Hotel
, near Cape Coast in the Central Region, built, owned and managed by Ghanaian-born Ben Idun, who retired from corporate Britain, and his wife, Suzi; 

• A young Jamaican family
cultivating a variety of tropical crops in the hills outside Accra;

• Mabel’s Table Restaurant
on Elmina Beach, owned by African-American expatriates;

• One Africa Guest House
and Restaurant, located next to Mabel’s Table, founded by a group of African-Americans from Brooklyn;

• Strictly Roots
, a line of locally manufactured skin-care products using unrefined shea butter, plantain soap, sea-salt and natural oils, owned by an Afro-Canadian expatriate.

The World Bank projects that Diaspora remittances to sub-Saharan Africa will reach $21.5 billion in 2011 and $24 billion in 2012. In East Africa alone, overseas Kenyans remitted $1.8 billion, or 5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, in 2010, overtaking horticulture and tourism to become the country’s No. 1 foreign exchange earner. Ugandans, meanwhile, sent home $773 million, topping traditional exports of coffee, cotton, tobacco and fish as the largest foreign exchange earner; Rwandans sent $98 million; Tanzanians $17 million; and Burundese $3 million.

Governments are turning to so-called Diaspora bonds to finance infrastructure, housing, health and education projects. For example, CBZ Bank in Zimbabwe and the African Export-Import Bank are jointly working on a $50 million Diaspora bond to raise funds for infrastructure projects. Preliminary World Bank estimates suggest that sub-Saharan African countries can raise $5 billion to $10 billion a year from such bonds. By retailing at small denominations, typically from $100, and offering a higher interest rate than bank deposit rates overseas, they can attract even the relatively poor. Marketing channels include churches, community groups, ethnic newspapers, stores and hometown associations in Diaspora communities abroad.

In a recent survey of participants in the African Diaspora Marketplace, a program of the U.S. Agency for International Development and Western Union that supports Africans based in the United States who create sustainable businesses in sub-Saharan Africa, 62 percent said they invest in their country of origin to create jobs and income for themselves; 65 percent said they wanted to acquire personal financial independence; 83 percent said they derived a feeling of accomplishment from their investments; 79 percent said the investments help them to feel better about themselves; 76 percent said their investments enhance their self pride; and 72 percent said  their investments fulfilled a sense of personal duty. The survey was conducted by researchers at The George Washington University Center
for International Business Education
and Research.

While the Diaspora trend is nowhere near China’s investment tsunami, at least not yet, “it’s good that they’re coming, even with challenges of bureaucracy, infrastructure and even financing. They’re coming home; literally coming in from the cold,” laughs one Ghanaian.