Group outlines opportunities in Africa; Columbia meeting to urge business ties to continent


Local entrepreneurs and interested individuals will be encouraged to keep Africa in mind when they consider trade and investment opportunities at a Saturdaytown meeting at Howard Community College in Columbia.

The event, organized by the Constituency for Africa and the Institute of African Commerce and Culture, will introduce participants to business opportunities in Africa and discuss how to pursue them, said Melvin Foote, the constituency's executive director.

Those who attend will learn how to improve the political environment for investment in Africa through contact with the U.S. and local governments, how to meet and communicate with contacts in Africa, and how to make use of federal agencies that have programs there.

Round-table discussion

Rosa A. Whitaker, assistant U.S. trade representative for Africa, will deliver the keynote address. A round-table discussion on "Opportunities To Do Business in Africa" is to feature ambassadors to the United States from Swaziland, Kenya, Ghana and Uganda.

"Strategies and Resources for Investing and Doing Business in Africa" will be the topic of a panel discussion. Organizers have invited representatives from Overseas Private Investment Corp., the Corporate Council on Africa, the Southall Walker International consulting firm, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Africa Travel Association and Desmond International, a businesswomen's network.

Other trade organizations, government officials and African business representatives will offer comments and respond to the speakers, and audience members will be invited to ask questions and participate in an open discussion.

In the Baltimore-Washington corridor, "there is a lot of interest, but not a corresponding lot of knowledge" about the topic, said Claude M. Ligon, a Maryland public utilities commissioner and volunteer director of development for the Institute of African Commerce and Culture.

After using the town meeting to generate interest, the institute, a branch of the African Art Museum of Maryland, plans to help local businesses follow through by opening a clearinghouse of information and contacts. The Columbia-based African Trade, Technology and Investment Center will initially be a modest project, Ligon said, but he would like to see it grow nationwide.

Technology emphasized

Many people who wouldn't have thought of Africa as a business opportunity found success there once they became aware of it, Foote said.

He said technology is a major area in which Howard County and the rest of the Baltimore-Washington area could work with companies in Africa.

Ligon said business opportunities could also include importing and exporting seafood, textiles, precious stones and agricultural products in African nations, tourism here and overseas, and selling crafts such as beadwork, statues and clothing.

Africa is a diverse and often misunderstood continent, said Carole Oduyoye, event coordinator for the African Art Museum of Maryland. Americans often see depictions of rural cultures and scenes of poverty in the news media, but African cities have skyscrapers, bustling downtown areas, resorts and hotels. The museum tries to educate the public about the many facets of Africa.

The event is not about "what you can do for African businesses, but what you can do with them," Oduyoye said.

Admission to the meeting is $20, or $15 for students. A continental breakfast will be served. Reservations are not necessary. Information: (410) 730-7105.

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