It was a carefully orchestrated road show that saw some of Nigeria’s brightest government and business stars selling potential investors on the “new” Nigeria. From Nov. 8 through Nov. 10 in Washington, D.C., and New York City, delegates from Nigeria spoke passionately of the “emerging, investor-friendly democracy” that their country is today. Nigeria is remaking itself with appropriate regulatory structures to root out corruption, welcome foreign investors and demonstrate transparency in its business policies, representatives told attendees at the receptions, forums and roundtables hosted by the likes of Chevron Corp., Credit Suisse First Boston, J.P. Morgan Chase and Co., Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP, one of the world’s largest law firms, and Forbes Inc.
Perhaps the brightest star of the delegation was Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whom Nigeria’s president, Olusegun Obasanjo, wooed home from her Washington, D.C., job as vice president and corporate secretary at the World Bank. Referred to by one news report as an “economic hit woman on the prowl” and by others as “the corruption cop,” Okonjo-Iweala has a B.A. in economics from Harvard University and a doctorate in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since her appointment in 2000 as Nigeria’s first female finance minister, she has trimmed the country’s civil service, cut fuel subsidies and begun accounting for money the government spends. The antifraud team she helped create to crack down on those infamous letter and Internet advance-fee scams has snared more than 500 con artists. She has overseen the tripling of the country’s reserves, 6 percent annual GDP growth and a lowering of inflation to single digits from the double-digit levels she inherited.
Last October, her relentless push for debt relief resulted in a cancellation of about 60 percent of Nigeria’s $30 billion debt to the Paris Club (which comprises Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Britain and the United States).
Okonjo-Iweala has taken an equally hard line on giving Nigeria a new image. “It is a sense of anger that drives me. Anger that this country [and] the Nigerians that I know are being maligned by a small percentage,” she told the MIT Alumni Association.
Nigeria’s Investment Promotion Commission, in collaboration with other government agencies, organized Nigeria’s “Business and Investment Road Show.” To make sure it reached its target audience in the United States, the Commission worked with two high-profile U.S. consultants—the Business Council for International Understanding, the group the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower founded to promote dialogue between business and government—and Coltrin Associates, which has offices all over the United States, as well as in Britain and Singapore.
The entire event was a far cry from the more intimate visit to Harlem in early December by the director of the Rwandan Investment and Export Promotion Agency (RIEPA), the director general of the Rwanda Coffee Board and H. E. Stanislas Kamanzi, Rwanda’s permanent representative to the United Nations. Over a relaxed down-home lunch hosted by Harlem-based Global Trade & Technology Center at Sylvia’s Restaurant, RIEPA Director Williams Nkurunziza told Black business owners about the “new” Rwanda that was emerging from the shame and stigma of genocide. Rwanda is healing politically, socially and economically and it’s open for investment, he said. “We came to Harlem because the Black American business presence is missing,” he declared, and then proceeded to spell out specific opportunities for investment.
There’s talk about a move afoot to keep the African diaspora from forging business and cultural ties with Africa. I myself have heard from Africans and African-Americans alike that certain Americans are telling Africans not to visit Harlem (it’s too dangerous) when they come to the United States and not to do business with African-Americans (they’re so different from you). In her “Freedom Rider” column in the Jan. 5 issue of The Black Commentator, Margaret Kimberley berates The New York Times for suggesting that Black Americans should forget about visiting Africa or forging links with Africans.
Taking stock of Nigeria’s Road Show and its obvious “uptown” target audience, I wondered for a long time if that great country had bought into those tales. Then the following e-mail from Jerry V. Curry, chair, National Council of Minorities in Energy, Washington, D.C., arrived in my box. It reads: “We would like to take this opportunity to extend our congratulations to the management team at Osyka Corporation, Houston, TX. Osyka has become the first African-American owned and operated energy company to win an oil block in the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s recently concluded 2005 Oil and Gas Licensing Round. More detail of this historic success story can be found on the NCME Web site at www.minorities inenergy.org ‘Press Releases.’”
By Rosalind McLymont