Thursday, April 17, 2008
Is Africa Like The "Wrong Side Of Town" From The Perspective Of White Folks?
(Please Note: For personal reasons I choose to be ambiguous and non-specific about certain details due to my interests to retain my employment and not breach the confidence of the clients that I support)
Today I was asked to do a presentation for a multi-national firm which has a major expansion plan for Africa and Asia. I was the only Black person in the room. There were about 3 people of Asian descent and the rest of the group was White. On the one hand I have a strong interest in the development that is taking place on the continent of Africa - especially in my area of expertise - telecommunications.
As I listened to one of the ladies that represented the customer - I could not help but to notice her continued negative references about Africa.
As we finished the formalities of introducing the account team to the customer and vice versa prior to the start of the meeting I learned a bunch about her experiences in Africa. She stated that she had recently traveled to Johannesburg on business. She left her hotel room to go to dinner, having stayed out for about 2 hours. Upon returning she noted that someone had entered her room and stolen all of her jewelry. To add insult to injury when she returned home to the states she received an e-mail stating that her valuables had been found. They asked her to forward her bank account information so that they could credit her account with the value of the jewels. Clearly, she figured, this all was an inside job. Who else would know when she departed her room and then know that she had filed a stolen property report with the hotel security BUT someone operating inside of hotel security? They would have cleaned her bank account out had she provided this information in response to the e-mail.
When we were in the meeting the customer detailed their expansion plans for their African presence (in addition to other parts of the world).
I noted that every time she mentioned Africa it was accompanied with comments such as:
"If I had my choice I would not go there but this is one of the last areas for growth"
"Who would want to go there if they didn't have to?"
"Certain parts of the continent are in the stone ages and it is impossible to connect into there".
Now to be clear - I realize the difference between having my own "personal opinions" and also interacting with "corporate assets". The very same instincts that give me the insight not to "mess with the help" (the ladies in the employ of the company) and also not to discriminate against some of the very effeminate male candidates that I have run across with regard to their equal access to job opportunities ALSO had me to make note of the comments from this woman but not "call her on it" in the conduct of the meeting.
It was interesting that when we talked about Asia and the difficulties in conducting business there on occasion the reasons were due to government road blocks not "backwardness" or underdevelopment as was the case in Africa.
What did I choose to do about the situation? RESEARCH and make additional contacts. I have a personal interest in having a more international presence in my field. I have given up my aspirations of going to Dubai for 2 years for now. At the same time it is clear to me that there is a bunch of untapped potential in Africa. Just as I made note of how beneficial the investments in Internet bandwidth has been to the Caribbean in my sister blog "Technological Reparation the same seems true and possible for Africa.
In my office I have a picture of the "Africa-One" fiber ring that is planned to make a loop around the perimeter of the continent with spurs jetting inland to connect the land locked nations accordingly. Interestingly enough where as in other parts of the world you'd have a big telecom conglomerate or partnership to put the funds together for the build out of a major network - in Africa there was a NGO type organization that advanced this project for the sake of providing essential communications services as a foundation for future growth.
For me - I will choose to work with this customer because their opportunity represents an opportunity in hand to focus my research on African telecommunications and obtain additional contacts in the process.
I sometimes wonder, however, if in seeing a Black person in their presence a White person who makes generalized critical comments about Africa ever temper their comments because a descendant of Africa is present? For some reason they make a distinction between me and them via nationalistic loyalties over racial binds.