by Fred D. Thompson —
Special to The New Tri-State Defender
Ghana – the West African country the Memphis in May International Festival has been trying to salute since 2020 – turned 64 on March 6, with a delayed holiday observed on Monday.
The Memphis in May (MIM) salute now is scheduled for 2022, bowing to the wisdom of two postponements because of COVID-19 and the ongoing public health emergency.
As an international total quality management and performance management systems consultant, I’ve been consulting in Africa since 1993. I was in Ghana last year when the MIM contingent visited and had brief exchanges with key MIM representatives.
The MIM “Salute” to Ghana represents a unique opportunity for the Mid-South and especially its people of African descent. A large number of African descendants reside in the region and Ghana is a leader in reaching out to Africa’s diaspora in the Americas. The year 2019 – designated by Ghana as the “year of return” – was an enormous success measured by the visits of so many Africans from the diaspora to the continent.
Over the last 18 months, I have been working fervently, doing my part to make Ghana’s salute a well-conceived, broad scale economic opportunity for Memphis and the Mid-South. I traveled to Ghana from my base in South Africa to explore potential business-to-business (B2) and economic development opportunities for the Memphis region, Ghana, and West Africa.
In the fall of 2019, it became clear to me that the potential economic development opportunities that could benefit Memphis and the Tri-State region far exceed what the planning up to this point would yield. And to that I add the unique opportunity for Black businesses to lead.
Ghana is in West Africa situated on the Atlantic Ocean. Operating under the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), the country is aggressive in pursuit of involving the continent’s diaspora (and friends) in Africa’s development.
The African Union (AU) has established a 6th region referred to as the Diaspora and most of Africa’s 54 countries have diaspora outreach strategies.
Ghana’s approach to the Diaspora reflects a warm extension of a welcoming mat. Entry travel visa requirements were relaxed. The duration of allowed stay was flexible, with some from the Diaspora awarded citizenship. The involvement and/or return of slave descendants and Africans who left the continent in search of greener pastures is serious business.
Ghana’s tourism increased two-fold during the year of return. The country now has a decade-long (2020-2030) strategy, with a special focus on key projects aimed at the diaspora.
The recently passed “African Continental Free Trade Agreement” (ACFTA) is touted as the most significant event that has happened on the continent since the 1884-85 Berlin Conference, where Africa was divided without any Africans’ presence. The division created geographical boundaries, trade barriers, visa requirements, no common currency and languages foreign to the indigenous people.
Current efforts to eradicate and/or eliminate the “clause for the continuation of colonialism” imposed by France on its colonies makes West Africa a key continental development region.
Memphis and the Tri-State area have a lot in common with Ghana and West Africa.
The USA’s “Africa Growth Opportunity Act” (AGOA) provides duty-free entry of selective products and services produced on the continent. Economic opportunities are available on both sides of the Atlantic and across the Americas. Memphis to Accra, cargo and passenger logistics are possibilities.
Ghana is one of the largest producers of high-quality gold. It is also a major producer of Shea Butter, along with cocoa. The country has a variety of plants, herbs and vegetation that are organic in nature. Beneficiation, fabrication and continuous processing of the country’s resources are priorities.
The country is a digital leader and is home to numerous tech companies. Possible B2B exchanges include digital platforms for education and healthcare.
My view is that while the USA and China scramble to position in Africa, and the colonialists grapple with holding on to their vestiges on the continent, Memphis and the Tri-State region can uniquely position the Mid-South for economic opportunities internationally.
I envision the Salute to Ghana as a springboard for sustainable exchanges with Ghana, ECOWAS and the continent. A few practical solutions could be, but are not limited to:
- Develop a stronger B2B and economic exchange focus for the MIM Salute;
- Create minority-majority business partnerships to venture into Ghana, West Africa and the continent as a whole;
- Create educational and research exchanges with universities, hospitals and other entities focused on Africa;
- Invite the five previously honored African countries to Ghana’s Salute and benchmark Ghana’s Diaspora efforts as a possible best practice;
- Establish an African Business Centre as a joint venture between the Memphis Minority Business Council Continuum, Greater Memphis Chamber, the Black Business Association and other interested parties as a sustainability strategy after the MIM salute to Ghana;
- Support the Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival, Inc. because of its continuous focus on the continent.
- Encourage even more collaboration between Africa in April and Memphis in May.
(Fred D. Thompson is an international Total Quality Management (TQM) and Performance Management System’s (PMS) consultant, has consulted in Africa since 1993. His view is that integrating QMS, PMS and digitization can be the means for Africa to become globally competitive. Reach him at [email protected].)