The African Americans behind the Corporate Council on Africa
BY BILL J. FIGHTER
The Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) was founded in 1993 in Washington. David H.
Miller, who served as executive director of CCA from the organization’s inception until he stepped down in April 1999 to go in business for himself, recalled in an interview with The African that year: “For the first four years, we were the little train that could. People were betting on us. We would make it or we wouldn’t make it.”
At the beginning, when Miller sat behind the wheel of CCA on May 1st, 1993 at the young age of 28, he was the only staff member. But the initiative came from four, less youthful pioneers: Kevin Callwood, then vice-president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC); Ambassador David C. Miller, an independent consultant; Jack Edlow, CEO of Edlow International, and Frank Kennedy, CEO of Equator Bank.
The vision crystallized in the mind of one of these four pioneers, Kevin Callwood, an African American, who told The African in an exclusive interview conducted during the 1999 U.S.-Africa Business Summit convened by CCA in Houston, Texas: “I had the privilege of being the person who convened the first group of people to talk about the need for such an organization.” Callwood felt, in 1991 and early 1992, the newly democratic countries of Africa such as Benin (in the west) didn’t really have a strong background in dealing with American businesses. So Callwood would invite African leaders to OPIC to meet with American corporate leaders to talk about business opportunities, due to the lack of an organization specifically charged with such a mandate.
At the same time, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, Eastern Europe received a lot of attention from the American business community. Said Callwood: “We didn’t want Africa to be left out completely.” Thus, faced with the need to have that type of activity done outside of OPIC – whose mission was to finance and insure American investments abroad – Callwood approached an influential businessman, OPIC’s client Safi Qureshey – then chairman of AST, a giant in the computer industry – to chair a meeting involving key African leaders such as then president of the African Development Bank, Babacar Ndiaye, and the leaders of the African Business Round Table, to discuss the idea. The Corporate Council on Africa was born.
David H. Miller, who was responsible for putting together the organization, to find out a way to get paid to do that and build the CCA, reminisced: “We didn’t have any money, we didn’t have any members, we didn’t have anything but a good ideal.” Today, CCA’s member companies range from Fortune 100 and 500 companies to small and African American-owned businesses which, together, represent nearly 85 percent of total U.S. private sector investment in Africa.
Kevin Callwood, who remained committed to his brain-child, served as the chairman of the organizing committee of the 1999 summit. He stressed the importance of people-to-people relations during that gathering: “This has been a tremendous opportunity for people in companies and people in government – our government, African governments – to be together in a place somewhat secluded and comfortable, to enjoy each other, to be in an atmosphere where they can meet, talk and get to know each other. It’s not just the deals, it’s also the relationships this is about.” Callwood made it clear that the individual deals are not CCA’s mission: “Our mission is the big picture. We’re looking ahead at helping transform, with the help of African governments, the African private sector and the African economy.”
Percy Wilson, an executive of the Coca Cola company who served as CCA’s chairman until he stepped down in April 1999, is another African American who has left an indelible mark on the organization. Despite the good results of the past, he told The African’s publisher and founder Soumanou Salifou: “we must work harder to help African governments make the policy reforms and the structural reforms necessary to make it easy to do business in Africa.”
Walking in the footsteps of the above-mentioned African Americans who have shaped the Corporate Council on Africa, Noluthando Crockett-Ntonga, a well-known journalist and communications executive with more than ten years of business and management experience in Africa, became CCA’s director of communications in May 2005, as the organization was preparing the 2005 summit held in Baltimore, Maryland. Crockett-Ntonga, previously known as Phyllis Crockett, was a seasoned journalist whose long career includes serving as White House correspondent for NPR, a chain of U.S. radio stations that broadcast commercial-free and listener-supported high-quality programs. The winner of several prestigious awards, including the Robert F. Kennedy First Prize for radio journalism, Crockett-Ntonga has positively impacted The African magazine. Prior to the 2005 summit, after an unfriendly CCA staff member proved an obstacle to this publication’s interview with CCA’s media-friendly president, Stephen Hayes, Crockett-Ntonga stepped in and made the interview happen within hours.
CCA has enjoyed over the years the strong support of some of the most successful businessmen in the United States. Among these, its chairman in 1999-2000, Maurice Tempelsman. This wealthy, influential tycoon was then the chairman of the board of directors of Lazare Kaplan International, Inc., the largest cutter and polisher of “ideal cut” diamonds in the United States. He was also senior partner in the firm of Leon Tempelsman & Son, a company active in mining, investments and business development and minerals trading in Europe, Russia, Africa, Latin America, Canada and the Far East.
Today, CCA’s staff is composed of top-notch professionals with impressive track records. The organization’s president, Stephen Hayes, has spent nearly half of his adult life in the international arena. Before joining CCA in September 1999, he served as North American director for London-based Winnington Limited, a privately-owned holding for which he traveled extensively to Africa. From 1985 to 1996, he was founder-president of the American Center for International Leadership (ACIL), a non-profit organization specializing in off-the-record dialogues between emerging leaders of the United States and those from nations with which the United States entertained generally poor or tenuous relations. An easy-going and media-friendly man with vast international experiences, Hayes has chaired and directed some forty international conferences.
The Corporate Council on Africa’s current vice-president for business development, Tim McCoy, served very competently as the organization’s media’s coordinator during the very successful U.S.-Africa Business Summit held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2001.
The growing interest shown by both African and American business leaders and officials in CCA’s activities is impressive. In 2004, 15 African heads of state and more than 100 African cabinet ministers personally called upon CCA. The sharply-increasing numbers of participants at CCA’s biennial summit is another measure of the organization’s relevance. According to CCA’s own records, the First Summit, convened near Washington in 1997, attracted more than 700 African and American business leaders, including five African heads of state, 70 African cabinet ministers and a large number of U.S. government officials. Attendance more than doubled, reaching 1,450, at the Third Summit held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in October-November 2001, only weeks after the tragic events of September 11. President George W. Bush personally addressed the Fourth Summit convened in Washington in June 2003.
Routinely, African officials and business leaders visiting Washington appear before the Corporate Council on Africa. After meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on July 29, Presidents Yayi Boni of Benin, Alpha Condé of Guinea, Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger and Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire appeared before the CCA membership to appeal for American support for their democracies, including increased investment and trade.
While CCA has positively impacted the African economy, not everything the organization has touched has turned gold. The African has occasionally heard African business leaders complain that the summit is more a vehicle to serve American business interests than Africa’s. Jeamille Bittar, one of the most successful businessmen in Mali, West Africa, who later became the president of his country’s chamber of commerce, sounded upbeat in an interview with The African conducted at his office in Bamako, Mali in 2003, weeks before the Third U.S.-Africa Business Summit held in Washington. Bittar, who was eagerly looking for American “strategic partners” for several projects, told The African at the end of the summit that he was bitterly disappointed that his “projects have received no attention.”