(HN, February 14, 2011, Las Vegas) – This was how Sebastian Kopulande, Chief Executive Officer of the Zambian International Trade and Investment Centre opened the historic first ever Africa-USA Business Executives Conference tonight in Las Vegas, Nevada. The conference runs February 14th-15th.
For the first time, the city of Las Vegas, has welcomed hundreds of African business executives from countries such as Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia for two days of meetings with their counterparts from the US, for the first-annual Africa - USA Business Executives Convention and Expo.
The conference is designed to explore and create relationships and alliances between business leaders of both continents, allowing them to meet investment partners in a dynamic and vibrant environment of panels and exhibits for the purpose of forming sustainable and capacity-building agribusiness partnerships locally, regionally and internationally.
“Many global commentators agree that this is the `African Century’. For investors, this means an understanding of the available opportunities as well as offering the chance to develop meaningful relationships among those doing business together,” says Ted Alemayhu, Executive Chairman of the event.
Five areas have been identified as being the most attractive for growth, namely agriculture, banking and finance, energy, telecommunications and aviation, travel and tourism. All will be featured at this year’s meeting.
Realizing the need to go beyond discussing issues, ideas and strategies for increasing livelihoods in Africa, the organizers say they are taking bold steps to not only learn how to “fish for our own food but to create partnerships to sell the fish”.
One of the most prominent delegations at the conference are the Zambians.
Zambia is one of the most highly urbanized countries in sub-Saharan Africa with 44% of the population concentrated in a few urban areas, the largest city being the capital Lusaka with more than 1 million people. Unemployment and underemployment are serious problems, while most rural Zambians are subsistence farmers. Yet, in 2010 The World Bank named Zambia as one of the worlds fastest economically reforming countries.
The Zambian economy has historically been based on the copper mining industry, yet attendees here say they are interested in talking about issues such as solar power, farming (agriculture) and financial services.
Over the past 30 years the infrastructure in Zambia has been crumbling and the government is seeking not only new investment from the likes of Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse and Societe Generale - who are all here too - but also from the entrepreneurial Diaspora Zambian community here in the US to help make their homeland a star in the African growth landscape.
This element is so important in fact that the central Zambian government has set up a special office as a representative from the President’s office to the Diaspora community, and given the community a full time staff member.
The country has sent 54 people from Zambia to the first of its kind gathering. More than 50 other people who now live in other countries around the world - such as Belgium, the UK and Canada, and the US - have also come to see how they can be a part of `making Z the first letter of the alphabet’ as Angel Mondoloka, Chief Operating Officer of the Zambian International Trade and Investment Centre, says.
“We are lucky that the previous President Levy Mwanawasa began intensive business reforms in our country before his death (in 2008),” said Mondoloka. “This is our future and we are going to make it happen with smart investment, and entrepreneurship”.
The conference is serving as a matchmaker between small and medium sized businesses in Africa, US counterparts, and investment firms. Participants were asked to submit proposals before the convention began so they could be matched with the most appropriate contacts.
Patrick Kolata, who had travelled from Lusaka, wanted to create a solar power business and has been matched with a solar panel manufacturer. He said, “We have had to learn as Africans to be resourceful, now we want to be cutting edge entrepreneurs. Solar power will be a big industry for us in our future.”
He finished by saying, “We’re ready!”
The formal panels and business expo begin later today.