Meridian Hosts Evening Spotlighting Two of Africa’s Rising Stars

The Council on Women’s Leadership (CWL) at Meridian and THIS for Diplomats co-hosted the discussion, “Africa Rising - Unconventional Pathways to Economic Empowerment: The View from Botswana and Tanzania,” on November 19, 2013, as part of the Insights at Meridian series. The well-attended program featured Ambassador Tebelelo Seretse of Botswana and Ambassador Liberata Mulamula of Tanzania who spoke about economics, innovation, investment climate and women’s empowerment in a robust discussion facilitated by Michele Manatt, Chair of the Council.

Context for the discussion was provided by Rahama Wright, Founder & CEO of Shea Yeleen International, a social empowerment enterprise. She framed the program with an inspiring story of creating her company when she was only 24. The returned Peace Corps volunteer saw the need to promote sustainable economic development for women in rural West Africa. By organizing and training women-owned cooperatives to produce, market, and sell high quality shea butter, Shea Yeleen International now helps more than 700 women earn a living wage by mastering every aspect of the business from manufacturing through sales. Ms. Wright highlighted the importance of training, access to capital and market access in creating a sustainable business. She underscored the community impact of business training as so many women support different generations of their family and neighbors through cooperatives.

The program continued as Ms. Manatt, Ambassador Seretse and Ambassador Mulamula discussed the general economic outlook in Botswana and Tanzania while sharing insights on strategies their governments are initiating to diversify economies and attract foreign direct investment. Ambassador Seretse noted that Botswana is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world with a well-developed infrastructure and a strong tradition of representative democracy. To draw the value chain of the diamond industry closer, the government of Botswana persuaded DeBeers, the world's biggest diamond firm, to move its global trading operation from London to its capital, Gaborone. In further exploring diversification strategies, they are promoting a leather industry (shoes, handbags. wallets), to take advantage of large cattle population in the country.

Ambassador Seretse described Botswana’s Innovation Hub, launched in 2012 to accelerate the technology component of its economy by promoting a culture of innovation and competitiveness. She outlined Botswana’s top priorities for improving the economic landscape including investing in rural electrification, promoting women and youth entrepreneurship training, and seeking regional and international trade partnerships.

Ambassador Mulamula highlighted the reforms Tanzania has put in place to liberalize its economy along market lines by encouraging foreign and domestic private investment. Tanzania's economy grew by 6.9 % in 2012 according to the World Bank figures, but she cautioned that “we want to see this trickle down to the people, we want to see more business, more trade.” Ambassador Mulamula noted that Tanzania provides abundant opportunities for foreign investment in the tourism and transportation sector.

During Q&A with the audience, Ambassador Oliver Wonekha of Uganda agreed that Africa is indeed rising and implored the audience of policy-makers, academics and diplomats to come experience the beauty and the opportunities of the continent for themselves. There was consensus among all of the African ambassadors and analysts present that the biggest obstacle to greater investment and integration across the continent is an outdated perception of Africa as a continent constantly in crisis and with inadequate infrastucture. The media plays a preponderant role in this, focusing on political instability and natural disasters and under-reporting positive trends like penetration of mobile technology and the lack of armed conflict across southern Africa.

A special guest of the Council, Shawn McQueen-Ruggiero, Executive Director of the Santa Fe International Folk Art Alliance, spoke of the need for artisans to have improved access to opportunities in the global markets to ensure their viability and success. The Council took its inaugural trip to the Folk Art Market in July 2013 and met several artisans there, including Janet Nkubana of Gahaya Links, which employs 45,000 people in 40 cooperatives across Rwanda making peace baskets that are sold in major U.S. retailers such as Macy's.

The program was made possible by The Walter and Isabel Cutler Endowment for Global Understanding

Project summary

Meridian Hosts Evening Spotlighting Two of Africa’s Rising Stars
Regions: Africa
Countries: Botswana, Tanzania, Uganda
Impact Areas: Empowering Women and Girls, Civic Engagement, Entrepreneurship
Program Areas: Forums
Partners: Private Sector, Diplomatic Corps, Individuals/Donors