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Entering a new era of African investment
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) would have brought a smile to the face of W.E.B. DuBois by taking a congressional delegation to meet with Nigerian billionaires Aliko Dangote and Tony Elumelu in late August in Nigeria.
In the absence of an Africa policy from the executive branch, the move was all the more important. In 1919, DuBois convened the first Pan African Congress to reconnect the scattered children of the African continent.
Dangote and Elumelu represent a new face of the continent by promoting a vision of prosperity and progress based on leveraging its assets for the betterment of its own people. As their profile has grown globally, Dangote has expressed an interest in expanding his investment portfolio into the United States and Europe. Another African billionaire, Isabel Dos Santos of Angola has already become one of the largest investors in Portugal, reversing historic capital flows.
Dangote built his fortune through cement and other industrial businesses; Elumelu by growing a small Nigerian bank into one now serving 19 countries and Dos Santos has leveraged Angola's energy wealth.
African Union Ambassador to the United States Dr. Arikana Chihombori Quoa, a Tennessee family practice physician, has become an advocate for more economic ties between Africa and its diaspora.
In a June speech to the African Methodist Episcopal Church General Board in Los Angeles, the ambassador-physician said, "Our leaders through their coming together and discussing the issues of our global village - the village that is Africa - realize the importance of the African Diaspora and their involvement in the development of Africa because sustainable development of Africa is only going to be brought in through the strong involvement of the African Diaspora."
Like Coons, she is working to build connections without any leadership in the top Africa posts in the State Department. Such ties expand the range of involvement beyond military and geopolitical considerations. Coons was the first to raise the issue of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Timbuktu because of the historic importance of the manuscripts of the medieval universities and libraries. With 75 percent of all African-Americans descended from that area of West Africa, it was profoundly important to preserve that legacy.
Another part of the legacy is wealth. Those universities were the result of the success of the Songhoy Empire, which was reputedly worth $400 billion in current dollars because it controlled half of the world trade in gold and salt.
Not since those days 500 years ago, has Africa been able to marshal its own natural wealth to project its imprint on the global agenda.
As American leaders continue the dialogue with these business leaders, a new compact of mutually beneficial commerce can move forward. Both African and African Americans are starving for more direct investment. African business leaders have raised the scale of commerce to levels not seen by African-American firms, despite a more lucrative market to start from. Rather than Africa facing lectures from the West, the success of its entrepreneurs now gives the continent a voice in shaping the future of global markets. People are listening now.
John William Templeton is executive editor of blackmoney.com and co-founder of National Black Business Month.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.