Envoy Hopes to Put Africa on the Map for Business Students
Jan. 31, 2012
International Management Society vice president Pichan (Pop) Kanjanakantorn (left) exchanges business cards with Zambian Ambassador Sheila Siwela.
Extolling the virtues of her home continent and her home country, the Zambian ambassador to the U.S. recently exhorted a largely student audience at UT Dallas to “think of Africa as your next employer.”
“This is the continent people are calling the next frontier,” Ambassador Sheila Siwela told listeners who had come to the Naveen Jindal School of Management to hear her speak on the business outlook in Africa. “There’s more to it than the Lion King and Tarzan.”
In fact, JSOM Professor Habte Waldu said in introductory remarks, 23 of Africa’s 54 nations have recorded “economic growth of 7 percent to double digits” in recent years, but “the economic crisis elsewhere in the world overshadowed this.”
Adviser to the International Management Society, a JSOM-based student organization, Woldu introduced the ambassador on behalf of the society. The group brought the ambassador to campus Jan. 25 with the help of DFW African Chamber of Commerce President Sanmi Akinmulero.
Woldu, a native of Ethiopia, told the audience that Zambia is the country other African nations see as “a shining star, a symbol of freedom” known for its “peaceful people.”
Habte Woldu (left) and Zambian Ambassador Sheila Siwela.
Siwela, a career diplomat who has been U.S. ambassador since 2010, explained Zambia is often cited as a model for democracy. After gaining independence from Great Britain in 1964, she said, Zambia became a center for helping neighboring countries, such as Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, gain their freedom.
Although Zambia operated as a one-party democracy until 1991, the two decades since have ushered in a multiparty democracy and a new constitution.
In the early days of democracy, the state controlled Zambia’s economy, Siwela said. “The government got into the business of business.”
But the 1990’s also marked the beginning of Zambia’s free-market economy. Today, she said, 99 percent of companies there have been privatized. “The job of the government now is just to set the rules of the game.”
The world’s No. 3 producer of copper, Zambia also promotes its agribusiness potential — “Seventy percent of the land is virgin,” Siwela said, with plenty of water resources — and tourism.
Victoria Falls, a famous tourist attraction named by Scottish explorer David Livingston, lies between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The falls, combined with abundant, “world-class” wildlife and the unspoiled wilderness make Zambia a great tourist destination, Siwela said. “Hospitality is Zambia’s brand. We love visitors.”
Her homeland’s positive selling points also include a youthful population and high education rates, she said.
But Woldu, director of JSOM’s Global Business and International Management Studies programs, later commented that Africa has not done a good job of offering its highly educated citizenry enough incentives to stay in their homelands.
This diaspora issue — the scattering of educated Africans away from the continent — will be addressed in a new U.S.-Africa initiative launching in April, Siwela said. “Zambia needs the diaspora, and the diaspora needs Zambia,” she said.
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