CNN Interview with Rosa Whitaker

Ms. Rosa Whitaker, CEO and President of the Whitaker Group (TWG), was recently interviewed on CNN’s “Marketplace Africa.” While speaking with CNN Host Robyn Curnow, Ms. Whitaker shared her insights on U.S.-Africa trade and experiences doing business on the African continent.

Prior to founding the Whitaker Group, Ms. Whitaker served as the first-ever Assistant US Trade Representative (USTR) for Africa during the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and William J. Clinton. She also served as the Senior Trade Advisor for U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel, and was a hands-on-architect of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the first comprehensive US trade policy toward Africa. She now serves as the CEO of TWG, which is widely recognized as the leading strategic consulting firm for global companies seeking investment and business engagement in Africa.

The video clip and transcript from the interview can found below.

Video of interview: Marketplace Africa Interview

Transcript: (as follows)

CURNOW: Our guest on “Face Time” this week is a woman who knows a thing or two about doing business on the continent. Rosa Whitaker is the former assistant U.S. trade representative to Africa.


CURNOW: What are the lessons you’ve learned working in Africa for America?

ROSA WHITAKER, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE TO AFRICA: I think the lessons that I’ve learned that we have evolved finally from a very paternalistic approach to Africa to a partnership, a genuine partnership that’s braced on enterprise, mutual respect, capital and the fundamentals of what it — what is required to build economies and to create jobs.

And so I’m really pleased that our relationship in — with Africa is not what it was when I started working in the region some 30 years ago.

CURNOW: How significant is the U.S. in Africa at the moment? And we — the story of the last decade, perhaps, has been this Chinese emergence into Africa. Does the U.S. feel threatened by this?

WHITAKER: I think there’s some concern. But I think it’s a healthy competition because in America, for too long, we had an approach of merely giving Africa aid, you know, almost like a charity case.

And some few years ago, it started with President Clinton, continued with President Bush, I think it’s continuing with President Obama, we realized that there are mutually beneficial opportunities in trade and investment.

And that you cannot really transform economies through aid. And I think that our civil society in America started saying, OK, we’ve spent some $30 billion in aid over a course of time. And we’re still seeing acute poverty by every social and economic indicator Africa is still the poorest region in the world. Why?

Yet, when we look at the shift towards more capital and private investment going into Africa, like 85 percent of the capital flow is now from a private sector, we’re now seeing the kind of transformation that we have been hoping to see all along. We’re now seeing job creation.

Now there is some concern with China. China recently replaced America as the largest trading partner with Africa. The Chinese are financing a lot of infrastructure projects which America has moved away from. But I think it’s a healthy kind of competition.

CURNOW: And so it’s a conversation, then, in a place like Milwaukee, perhaps, or even New York or even San Francisco. Are people saying, listen, the opportunities back home — we’ve had such a tough time in the past few years — are they looking towards Africa so far away to get them returns?

WHITAKER: Yes. Now they are. They’ve finally realized that Africa has the highest returns on investment in the world. And we were so isolated from Africa for so long.

But I think now, with a lot of the African diaspora moving home, with Africa, you know, now taking charge of its own destinies, showing that they can conduct free and fair elections, making, investing in regional integration and the kind of incentives that would attract business, and also I think that the economic crisis forced American companies to look at other destinations.

And so the entire narrative has changed. No longer will you hear companies merely talking about Africa as a charity case and the poverty. They’re now talking about mutually beneficial opportunities.

And those opportunities are being realized. Power is among the highest cost of doing business in Africa.

So if we can come in and partner with African governments and private sector to solve the power problem. And I think with American investors come a certain social entrepreneurship that when they come, largely they come with the concept of shared value.

And there’s another phenomenon that the broader consumer base, they’re now more — they’re more interested in where products are produced, how they are produced, will there be social transformation in that production process. And that’s driving — helping to drive business into Africa as well.


CURNOW: Rosa Whitaker there. Remember, you can find us online at I’m Robyn Curnow. Thanks so much for watching. Join us again next week on MARKETPLACE AFRICA.


Source: Transcript of Marketplace Africa Interview with Rosa Whitaker

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