WASHINGTON — A leading African billionaire said on Monday that “misinformed” US businesses need to study up on the continent’s opportunities, suggesting they start by googling.
“I have always been optimistic about Africa, and Africa is where I make my money, without paying bribes… In 15 countries we have built a mobile communications [company] there and we did not pay a single dollar [in bribes].”
This is according to Sudanese-British telecoms billionaire Mo Ibrahim, speaking to an audience at an event on the sidelines of the US-Africa Leaders Summit, currently being hosted in Washington DC. The Summit, the first of its kind, is being attended by US President Barrack Obama and close to 50 African leaders to discuss a number of issues concerning US-Africa relations.
Ibrahim pointed out the irony of so many African leaders having to travel to the US to discuss opportunities for US businesses in Africa.
“Wherever you go in Africa there is Chinese business people, there is Brazilian business people. None of us went to Brazil or to India and China to tell them to come and invest in Africa. They find out themselves and they come and invest… Why must we come and inform this ‘misinformed’ American business? You guys invented Google, invented all these media platforms. Use it, please,” he told a chuckling audience.
It’s the tone of this that is telling, and it reflects a detectable sense of frustration and distrust which seems to percolate through the broader US-Africa relationship. It creates a minefield for Mr Obama, as he treads the line between lecturing on human rights and encouraging on development, all without sounding somehow patronising. reports the Telegraph
A delegate at the conference, who is a lawyer with lots of experience of financing and contracts on African infrastructure projects and who has meetings with several African leaders this week, fears that the big ambitions for the conference risk remaining unrealised because of two mistakes by the Obama administration.
The first is relatively trivial: Mr Obama didn’t grant any of the leaders a bilateral meeting, despite lobbying by some of the larger countries like Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, which has meant that some of the big players have arrived with noses already out of joint. The intention, say officials, was to avoid accusations of favouritism, but that missed a golden opportunity to stroke the egos of some of the big players.
Much more fundamental, is the unspoken uncertainty that clouds the gathering which is happening in the sixth year of the Obama presidency. That’s six years too late. And bafflingly so.
“This is a great event, but how much greater would it have been if had happened in the first or second year of Obama’s term in office, not the sixth? If Obama is so keen on Africa, why did it take this long?” asks the delegate, who can’t be named since he doesn’t have authorisation to speak for his employer.