Martin Schram: A rare glimpse at a hopeful Africa
Africans who invest in domestic companies are the ultimate solution
to the troubled continent.
By MARTIN SCHRAM, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Today is a rare moment. We are about to get, not just a glimpse,
but a good look, at a hidden part of the planet's undercovered
continent. It is Africa. And we are about to see the sort of Africa
news that rarely makes it to the West.
It is good news. Solution-oriented
news for a continent that makes news in the West only when some
American or European comes to cover a massacre, a famine, a government
in ruins or a dictator's declaration that he just won re-election
by 99 percent.
To a nation of theatergoers
whose most recent insight about Africa came from the riveting "Hotel
Rwanda" comes now a new
documentary film that simply tells stories that are as hopeful
as the Oscar-nominated film was troubling.
"Africa: Open for
Business" — a documentary produced
by Carol Pineau, a Washington journalist who covered violence and
starvation in Africa for more than a decade for CNN and other outlets — portrays
the Africa that hasn't made it to the page-one, prime-time print
and TV news. Pineau introduces us to something unseen in the West:
prosperity in Africa. Indeed, the best sort of prosperity, generated
not by foreign handouts but by Africa's own resourceful entrepreneurs:
Africans who are investing and profiting in Africa.
We meet Adenike
Ogunlesi. She is a sophisticated, upper-middle-class woman in Lagos,
Nigeria, who tells a story that is heartwarming, uplifting and — hold
the front page — newsworthy. She
explains that it was "quite by accident" that she started
her company that makes children's clothing: Her kids ran out of
pajamas and she made them some new ones, then a few shirts and
shorts. Soon, friends were asking her to make clothes for their
She talks about how she couldn't get financing from any bank,
and poignantly about how she was treated with disdain when she
traveled through Europe on her Nigerian credentials; when she asked
why during a visit to Zurich, she says, emotionally, that she was
is nothing good about Nigerians."
Now her company, Ruff 'n'
Tumble, is a label much in demand in Nigeria. Her company is quite
profitable, her employees well-paid, their working conditions and
lives are better than ever. She concedes that there are problems.
Workers are not highly motivated and the government (in this country
rife with official corruption and crime) refuses to give her a
copy of the laws by which her company must abide.
if you know the rules, you can comply with them," she
explains. Some officials prefer to catch companies violating rules.
But still, her company prospers.
In Somalia, where there has been
no central government for more than a decade, we meet Mohammed
Yassin Olad. He turned the collapse of the government and the government
airline into a business blessing. He leased one small plane and
started his own airline, Daallo Airline. Now he's got big jets,
big business and four competitors who have done the same thing.
Maybe no government is a good thing, he opines. After all, it means
no red-tape regulations.
We meet 10 people, telling 10 stories
of profit and prosperity in Africa. Pineau's documentary was funded
by the World Bank. As faithful readers know, I have long argued
that bringing hope and investment to Third World countries is more
than just a humanitarian notion — it is a national security
imperative for all industrialized nations because impoverished
nations, where hopelessness is pervasive, have become places where
terrorists can operate unrestrained.
But big solutions don't always
require big money from big powers. This column (and my last book, "Avoiding
has celebrated solutions such as the micro-credit model started
in Bangladesh when professor Muhammad Yunus founded the Grameen
Bank, which granted one loan to one person in each village at a
time. In just a few years the Grameen Bank had 2.4 million borrowers,
95 percent of them women.
"Africa: Open for Business" premiered
the other day at the Washington headquarters of the U.S. Chamber
of Commerce, which is hardly an opening-night hot spot on the red-carpet
circuit. But it will be a shame if this film remains just a flick
of the business elites. It will open many eyes and many minds of
all political persuasions when and if it comes to a theater — or
a television screen — near you.
Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.
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