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Ghanaian American advises African diaspora: Learn to leverage collective wealth

Published: 
Sunday, August 3, 2014

Judith Aidoo thinks that people of African descent are the next big global economic force and is predicting that it is only a matter of time before this happens.

Aidoo visited T&T, for the third time, to speak at the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Symposium, hosted by the Emancipation Support Committee last Thursday.

In explaining her position to the Sunday BG, the Ghanaian-American entrepreneur and investment banker said the environment was ripe with opportunities that people of African descent needed to come together to take advantage of.

“Over a year ago,The Economist would have said seven of the top ten fastest growing economies in the world were African. Reason being, commodity prices are high, populations are growing and income has been increasing in the region. Those regions of the African subregion will double in population over the next 25 years. Ghana has 23 million and, in 25 years, it will be 46 million. Nigeria same thing, it will literally double. 

“So you can imagine in such a short period of time, another 600 (million) to one billion people are going to come into earth, in that particular part of earth. They need water, housing, education, food, clothing, everything. There will be a high demand for goods and services.”

Data from The Economist and the IMF for the period 2001 to 2010, included six African countries on the ten fastest-growing economies list based on annual average GDP growth. Those countries are: Angola (11.1 per cent), Nigeria (8.9 per cent), Ethiopia (8.4 per cent), Chad (7.9 per cent), Mozambique (7.9 per cent) and Rwanda (7.6 per cent). 

Forecast data for 2011-2015 for fastest growing economies included seven: Ethiopia (8.1 per cent), Mozambique (7.7 per cent), Tanzania (7.2 per cent), Congo (7.0 per cent), Ghana (7.0 per cent), Zambia (6.9 per cent) and Nigeria (6.8 per cent).

“We can take some percentage of our retirement savings and we should be looking at investing in places we see opportunity,” Aidoo said. 

“Don’t just watch from a distance. Let’s take our little money—which isn’t always little by the way, sometimes its big money—aggregate our funds, like a sou sou, and we want to create an investment fund, to invest in places we see opportunity, be it Brooklyn, be it Nigeria, be it Venezuela or our own home. Assuming we don’t have exchange controls or we work with the authorities to allow it.

“If we were to actually aggregate, what would it look like? Do we want to aggregate $1 million and next year it would be another million, two million or ten million?” Aidoo asked. 

“If we were doing that for the past 15 years, by now we may have had more than $100 million invested in these countries easily. It’s a question of starting.”

Pooling resources

Aidoo’s said her grandmother set an example for her. She told the Sunday BG her grandmother was poor, but would always save whatever money she could. The entrepreneur said, “She knew that it is important to save.” 

“If she can save, we can save. If we can save, we can come together and start to invest in the future. I’m not saying put 100 per cent, I’m saying put one to five per cent of our savings. For some of us young people, it should be 10 per cent because we have time to make it up if we lose part of it. We have to save and from our savings, a portion of it should be put into places that we see are growing and will grow in the next 20 to 30 years. We want to be there. We don’t want to watch other people enjoying it.”

On the other side of the equation, Aidoo said, entrepreneurship and investment were also key.

Likening entrepreneurship to a game of football, she said that taking that path required skill, passion and drive.

“You run up and down the field for 90 minutes; maybe you score, maybe you don’t. But you keep moving. It’s the same in business and in life. That’s what we’re looking for: do I have an idea, do I have a plan, do I have a team, can I execute against it? If I can, I will win. That’s why we’re playing. We have to play in order to win.”

For those who cannot be entrepreneurs, Aidoo recommends that they invest. 

“If we never created another entrepreneur, OK, I can live with that. But, back a black entrepreneur.”

But Aidoo does not believe that funds from those of African descent have to remain within that community. 

“The Chinese are investing, not only in Chinese hands, but they’re investing around the world. Why? Because they are going to grow their assets. Their wealth game is growing an asset—making it grow from one to two to four to ten to a hundred—that’s the goal,” she said.

“From my grandmother to the Head of State, everyone should be investing in the diaspora regions, because they are growing faster. It is not me saying it but The Economist. Secondly, for those of us who have a passion, who have the discipline, who have a vision and can build a team, become an entrepreneur.”

The world of African wealth

Aidoo said getting people of African heritage to have this perspective on savings, investments and entrepreneurship, was an “education issue.” 

“If people in the Caribbean are not aware that black millionaires are in abundance—and I’m not talking about the people that shoot a basketball, I’m talking about the people that own the team—they should be made aware.

“The wealthiest black people I know, in the world, are not entertainers or baseball players or basketball players. They are Africans who own their own companies. People who started cement companies, cellphone companies. The number of black millionaires that were made in the last 10 or 20 years is astounding.”

The Sunday BG was unable to get statistics on the number of black people that became millionaires in the last 10 to 20 years. However, the number of black billionaires is available. 

According to Forbes’ list of black billionaires, over the past decade the list has gone from three to 10. Robert Johnson from the US, Mohammed Al Amoudi, a Saudi-Ethiopian and Michael Lee-Chin, a Jamaican living in Canada, were the only black billionaires listed by Forbes in 2004 with a worth of US$1.6 billion, US$1.5 billion and US$1.1 billion respectively. Johnson and Lee-Chin, though still having considerable wealth, have fallen off the list of billionaires, but Al-Amoudi has increased his wealth to a reported US$15.3 billion in 2014. 

Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote, whose wealth comes from mainly cement, sugar and flour, reportedly became a billionaire in 2008. He is now recorded as the richest black person and one of the 23 richest people in the world with a reported worth of US$25 billion.

Knowing that this success has been happening is “imperative”, Aidoo said. 

Giving a synopsis of the rise in African wealth, she said: “Opportunities opened and some people appreciated the opportunities when governments were privatising. Fifteen years ago, in Ghana, there was a state-owned broadcasting company. Now there are over 300 private broadcasters, some of them are millionaires in US dollar terms. Before, there were five or 10 banks, now there are 30 or 40 banks in Ghana alone—believe me—all of these guys are millionaires in US dollar terms. Telephone, same thing. There was one phone company, now there are at least six cell phone companies. Today, all millionaires. So, to me, this has been the best time to be alive for black people.

“The greatest wealth for black people that I’m aware of in the free world has just been dispersed in the last 10 to 15 years when governments went from a state-centralised planning structure to a private-oriented structure and almost literally gave licenses to people to print money through telecom, financial services, oil and gas.”

Opportunities in T&T

“I asked somebody the other day, what are black people doing here in the oil and gas sector? What do you own? If you don’t own something, then, what should you own?

“There is an opportunity to do something in Trinidad and the oil and gas sector. I heard someone on the television this morning talking about dry docking. If there is a dry dock, that is going to require hundreds of millions of dollars, what’s the role of the diaspora, in addition to the locals coming together? 

“How can we join forces and, say, if there is going to be a dry dock here, how do we put it together or could we get a piece of it, if not all of it?” 

For the purpose of bringing people of African descent together, she believes the Emancipation Day celebration “is an amazing idea that has not been fully leveraged.” 

She said: “The idea of Emancipation Day is that there are more than a billion people around the world that share a heritage. What if we remind ourselves of the things that bind us: our history, our art, our culture, our food, our names. I know Ghanaians who have ties to the Caribbean, their great grandfathers came from the Caribbean; from St Lucia, Trinidad, Jamaica. 

“We see the world is changing around us and if we can pool our resources and use our minds, we can actually drive some of those changes or benefit directly from some of those changes as they occur. That’s the opportunity, to go from being a spectator, to being an actor. You have to have funds and, in order to have funds, we have to come together.”

Aidoo said the good news is that only a few people are needed to start the groundswell.

In most movements like this, or of any kind, there is always a pioneer or two who are willing to go forth, she said.

“I’m not saying put 100 per cent of our savings in this. I’m saying can we find a way to put five per cent of our savings and, as a group, we want to win or fail. We want to direct. The Chinese don’t always win or the Europeans don’t know they are going to always win but they are willing to invest, to get smarter and more strategic in their thinking and find their opportunities. That’s what we want to do as well.”

Strategic thinking

Getting black people to understand strategic investment is not “difficult,” she said. Rather the issue was arousing interest.

Drawing again from ability of the Chinese to strengthen their global presence, she said: 

“The Chinese have more than one billion people; a huge market and huge savings. Why are they investing around the world? It’s for strategic reasons. Let’s come together. We don’t have the same money as the Chinese, but aggregate it, we can do something, our presence can be felt. 

 


Some of the richest in the world 2014

Name Worth (US) Industry Nationality

Aliko Dangote $25 billion cement, sugar, flour Nigerian

Mohammed Al-Amoudi $15.3 billion oil refining, mining Saudi Arabian/Ethiopian

Mike Adenuga $4.6 billion telecom, oil, financial services Nigerian

Isabel Dos Santos $3.7 billion investments Angolan

Patrice Motsepe $2.9 billion mining South African

Oprah Winfrey $2.9 billion television American

Folorunsho Alakija $2.5 billion oil Nigerian

Michael Lee-Chin $1.9 billion communications, financial services Jamaican/Canadian

Abdulsamad Rabiu $1.2 billion cement, sugar Nigerian

Mohammed Ibrahim $1.1 billion mobile telecom, investments British

Michael Jordan $1.0 billion sports, apparel American

Source: Forbes; Wikipedia; BlackEntrepreneurProfile.com; Canadian Business

 


ABOUT JUDITH AIDOO…

Dr Judith Aidoo was born in the US to a Ghanaian father and an African-American mother. 

In 1984, she graduated from Rutgers College and Harvard Law School in 1987. 

She holds the position of chief executive of Caswell Communications Inc, a radio broadcast company based in Charleston, South Carolina and The Aidoo Group Ltd, a Wall Street-based merchant bank she founded in 1991, along with its African regional affiliate, Capital Alliance Company Ltd, which has offices in Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa. She lives in both the US and Ghana. 

In 2004, Aidoo was profiled on CNN, National Public Radio and the Oprah Winfrey Show, regarding her efforts to assist a young Nigerian student attending Columbia University.