Rachel Oguntola


August 24, 2017


Last month, I attended the Africa Business Forum, a partnership with the U.S.-Africa Business Center and the Presidential Precinct hosting 25 Mandela Washington Fellows from 18 African countries. The Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative, empowers Africa’s best and brightest youth through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking.

The Africa Business Forum convened global business executives, government officials, academic leaders and the fellows to discuss opportunities for spurring economic growth, strengthening good governance, and accelerating private sector investment.

The forum was packed with moderated panel discussions, roundtables on business themes, and an informal networking lunch. The panels reinforced ways in which youth empowerment would drive significant change in Africa by highlighting crucial aspects of trade facilitation, workforce development, and small and medium enterprises.

Participating in the forum brought me back to my time at the African Leadership Academy, a top-notch two-year pre-university program in South Africa aimed at developing the next generation of African leaders. At the Academy, I met and interacted with youth from all over the African continent. Through those interactions, I developed a network of life-long friends and a deep fondness for expanding my personal and professional network.

Moving to the United States and being so far away from the African continent, I have actively sought out avenues to continue interacting with African youth and contributing to a robust African narrative. Over the past four years, I have become more observant of the one-sided and dominant Africa perspective that only focuses on the challenges faced by the continent. As fellow Nigerian and acclaimed author, Chimamanda Adichie, eloquently said in a TED Talk, “the danger of a single story is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete.” While Africa has its challenges, the opportunities on the continent are so vast and it is important to recognize that side of the story.

The Africa Business Forum provided such recognition. As a fellow at the U.S.-Africa Business Center, listening to the Mandela Washington fellows talk about the change they are driving in their hometowns and the many ways the U.S. business community is driving change for mutual economic benefit was very inspiring.

I also interviewed some of the fellows participating in the forum, whom expressed gratitude for the opportunity to engage U.S. business leaders in an intimate setting. . Responding to a question on economic growth, Christian Fonye, a Cameroonian human rights and peace lecturer, said the public and private sector should join forces to resolve conflict as a mechanism to spur economic growth on the continent. Focusing on women rights, Kyapalushi Kapatamoyo, a Zambian national, encouraged the business community to provide women with the tools needed to contribute to the global value chain in retail and other sectors.

To see other energetic young Africans like me passionately engaging about U.S. business growth in African markets gave me a sense of pride and comfort, and restored my belief in Africa’s bright future. Youth are the true change makers on the continent with the transformative power to rewrite the tired African narrative. As such, it becomes increasingly important that the onus to provide the necessary tools they need to create change does not rest solely on the government, but also on the business community. By organizing a forum like this, the Chamber’s U.S.-Africa Business Center and the Presidential Precinct made strides to challenge that one-sided view of Africa and emphasize the opportunities that abound on the continent.

I remain grateful for the many opportunities I have to network with Africa’s youth and senior U.S. business leaders, who understand the unique challenges of operating on the continent but also see the upside potential.

About the authors

Rachel Oguntola