President Obama hosted the first ever U.S.-Africa Business forum last week here in Washington, DC. Leading up to the conference, the U.S. Commerce Department announced:, “On August 5, 2014, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the U.S. Department of Commerce will co-host the first-ever U.S.-Africa Business Forum, a day focused on trade and investment opportunities on the continent. The U.S.-Africa Business Forum will be part of President Obama’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the first summit of its kind, and the largest event that any U.S. president has ever convened with African heads of state or government.”
I must admit that the various panels consisted of executives who all had a track record of great achievement. Panelists included Americans, Indians, Africans, and women. But, I couldn’t help but notice that there was not one Black American on any of the panels.
Not only has the first Black president continued to ignore his most loyal voting block, the Black community, but by his actions he has made it perfectly clear to African leaders that Black business leaders are totally irrelevant within the U.S.
There was not shortage of Blacks who could have fit the bill: Ken Chenault, CEO of American Express; Dick Parson, former CEO of Time Warner; Dave Steward, CEO of World Wide Technology ($ 6 billion in annual revenue); Junior Bridgeman, owner of 195 Wendys (doing more than $ 500 million in annual revenue); Bob Johnson, CEO of RLJ Holdings, who has already invested money in hotels in Liberia.
There was one panel that had five African presidents: Macky Sall (Senegal), Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Jacob Zuma (South Africa), Jakaya Kikwete ( Tanzania), and Moncef Marzouki (Tunisia). The panel was moderated by Charlie Rose. I guess the White House has never heard of Black interviewers such as Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Michelle Norris, or Gwen Ifill.
The first question Rose asked was about the ebola virus. The presidents seemed to have been quite offended by the question and pushed back that America only views Africa in terms of the negative.
The blame is totally Africa’s fault for the negative portrayal they receive in U.S. media. African presidents come to the U.S. and rarely, if ever, engage with the American media and definitely not with the Black media.
Kagame admitted as much when he told Rose, “We [must be] able to own up to our weaknesses, our mistakes and own up to our solutions and contribute to our solutions. We can’t even tell our story. We even depend on others to tell our stories which leads to distortions.”
When the president of Cameroon landed in the U.S. on his presidential jet at Andrews Air Force Base (where Obama’s presidential jet is stored), there was a huge story written about his arrival in the Washington Post. No, no it was not on the front page. No, not in the business section, But on the gossip page. There was not one mention of the president’s name. The full page story was all about the president’s wife hair. Yes, you heard right, her hair; and the author of the story was a Black female (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/reliable-source/wp/2014/08/04/the-first-lady-of-cameroon-and-her-hair-have-touched-down-in-d-c/).
This is how irrelevant Africa is viewed by the U.S. media. This is what happens when African presidents and their U.S. based ambassadors have no meaningful engagement with the media.
Africans can’t continue to demand to be a player on the world’s stage in the 21st century and yet govern and lead with a 20th century mentality. In many ways, having a media strategy is just as important as having a military strategy.
Controlling how you are perceived in the global market place has a direct impact on the investment community throughout the world. One needs to look no further than Equatorial Guinea to prove my point. It is one of the most corrupt countries on the planet; and outside of the oil industry, it’s almost impossible for them to get investment in their country.
I didn’t see or hear one media interview with any of the presidents during their stay in the U.S. The daily media coverage was focused on all the traffic problems being created by the street closures because of the various presidential motorcades.
Obama spent more time discussing the unemployment rate in Africa than he has the unemployment rate within the Black community here in the U.S. He talked about targeted incentives for investment and job creation on the continent of Africa; but can’t find the time to create opportunities for Blacks here at home.
Obama even created the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. According to the White House, “through this initiative, young African leaders are gaining the skills and connections they need to accelerate their own career trajectories and contribute more robustly to strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, and enhancing peace and security in Africa.”
How about a similar program for Blacks in the U.S.?
(Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site, www.raynardjackson.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at raynard1223.)