Black Businesses Face Familiar Struggles in Africa

By Freddie Allen
 | 8/22/2014, 2:31 p.m.
As the United States pivots to strengthen economic ties with Africa, there’s a good chance that Black-owned businesses may be ...
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NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As the United States pivots to strengthen economic ties with Africa, there’s a good chance that Black-owned businesses may be left behind because of to some of the same factors that limit their growth in America.

During the recent U.S.–Africa Summit, a historic meeting of nearly 50 African presidents, prime ministers and diplomats in Washington, D.C., Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Department of Commerce hosted a business forum to highlight the need to increase trade and build relationships between firms in the U.S. and African-owned companies.

The African Development Bank reported that more than one-third of the population of Africa is considered middle class and by 2040 the African labor force will be bigger than the labor force in China.

White House officials estimated that the African economy will grow at 5.4 percent this year, expanding at a higher rate than the rest of the world’s economy.

In an effort to encourage U.S. exports and investments in Africa, President Barack Obama pledged $7 billion in new spending under his Doing Business in Africa (DBIA) campaign, a program launched in 2012, and partnered with private firms, the World Bank, and the government of Sweden for an additional $12 billion deal.

In a press statement released during the business forum, the White House said that U.S. firms committed to “new deals in clean energy, aviation, banking, and construction worth more than $14 billion.” The statement continued: “Taken together, these new commitments amount to more than $33 billion, supporting economic growth across Africa and tens of thousands of U.S. jobs.”

Black-owned businesses and Black leaders of major U.S. companies were largely invisible during the business forum, and omission that drew criticism from members of the Black community.

Despite significant contributions to the U.S. economy, Black-owned businesses continue to face significant hurdles that limit their ability to take advantage of opportunities abroad.

Ian Oliver, a senior international trade consultant at the Small Business Development Center in Washington, D.C., said, “One of the biggest challenges, this goes for all entrepreneurs, but it affects minority businesses to a greater extent, is the access to finances and resources,” said Oliver. “There’s a concerted effort, at the federal-level to fix that, but there’s a gap between what they hope to do and what community-based organizations, that have the sole purpose of helping to grow small businesses can do.”

The U.S. Small Business Administration designed the 8(a) Business Development Program to support small, disadvantaged businesses. Companies owned by minorities, women, veterans and people living with disabilities often benefit from the program.

The SBA website said that the overall program goal is to graduate 8(a) firms that will go on to thrive in a competitive business environment.

“There are many successful minority- and women-owned small businesses that participate in the 8(a) programs that provide access to mentors so that small-businesses can partner with larger more sophisticated companies and co-bid on things, but it also opens up a whole world of federal bidding opportunities,” said Oliver.