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Is Africa that far?


Suvra Chakraborty, Dubai, UAE

Whenever I start a discussion on Africa, in Ukraine, in most of the cases I come across dogmas,
myths and stereotypes. Deadly diseases like AIDS, Ebola, Malaria and pictures of extreme
poverty come into the mind at first. Pathetic stories of drowning immigrants close to the
European shores and pictures of malnourished children on television screens certainly do not add
appetite to explore the region any closer. Moreover, the continent is too far from home territory
and is quite unknown, still hidden behind dark mysterious legends.
For centuries, we have been fed by media, which has generally shown Africa in dark shades.
From childhood, we are brought up by the stories where ‘the good’ fights ‘the evil’ and good
always turns out to be the winner. If you observe carefully, you will see in popular cartoons we
raise children with character traits, like “Lion King”, “Bamby”, “Nu pogodi”, the evils and the
villains are depicted in distinctive dark colors. In classic ballet “Swan Lake” we see evil Odile
clad in a black attire among the ‘’snow white good ones’’. The colour black is still waiting its
turn to be glorified some day!
The recent history of Africa is marred with colonialism, apartheid, slavery, ethnic conflicts,
genocides and the continent have had very few opportunities to be glorified in front of the world.
It does not mean, that the world did not know about Africa. Western Europe smelled the wealth
of those regions and reached those borders centuries ago and eventually concurred and colonized
them. They lived there, ruled there, looted them out of their wealth completely for more than a
century. It won’t be an overstatement to say that a major source of Europe’s wealth is Africa.
When Africa came out of its colonial days, like in Asia, they not only found their wealth looted
but also found that the overwhelming share of their population were kept far away from the light
of basic education for generations.
Ukraine fortunately has no such colonial past across ocean and may be therefore not that well
versed with people and culture of the these places. It’s quite natural that when you don’t know
somebody, you are apprehensive about them.
For some unknown reason, many in the world refer to the continent Africa as if it’s a large country as a whole. It is
amusing, just like the way most Americans refer to the vast Soviet Union as Russia. The continent of Africa contains fifty-four sovereign countries and the land of the Africa can house whole of China, India, contiguous US and much of Europe. People and cultures of Africans starting from Egypt to South Arica is as different and diverse as that of Siberia to Uzbekistan.

One beauty of Africa today is that the continent is extremely young. Around half of the population of 1.2 billion people is less
than twenty-five years of age. These young populations empowered by internet and smart phones can do wonders.

You know, countries of the African continent are leaders in mobile banking today. In my last trip
to the tiny nation of Malawi, I visited the picturesque lake Malawi. For a landlocked country, this
beautiful lake with white sand beach is a major tourist attraction. My local driver Chikondi
bought fish on the way back with all the money he had with him for his family. Then came a call
from his sister. She came to know that brother was visiting the lake side on duty and wanted
some fish too. It is very much like the practice in Ukraine; when we buy 'Bichki' on the way
from Odessa to Kiev. Chikondi confessed he used all spare money to buy fish for his family and
can only buy for her if she sends some. In no time came a signal on his mobile device. An
intimation of money being transfered from his sister and Chikondi bought fish instantly on the
roadside. Indian company Airtel has made a major investment in that region.

My job takes me to many countries in different continents. I have seen traffic jam in all the major
capitals. Dar Es Salam is also notorious for its traffic jams, especially on their airport road. We
got stuck at the jam. The hotel taxi driver said, it looked like we were to stay on the road for
quite sometime and offered a service of connecting to Wi-Fi for an hour in his car. I paid close to
a dollar and spent most productive time in a traffic jam.
You know Ghana to be a leader in testing “blockchain” for their land and property registration
process. I am fortunate to have met the famous university professor whom the President has
appointed as an advisor for this purpose.
Ukraine, being a bread basket, has a lot to offer to the developing countries of Africa in the field
of food security. With rich experience and expertise Ukrainians can be of much help to the
agricultural and food sectors in Africa, where in many cases they are at the early stages of
introduction of modern cultivation, irrigation and storage. In addition to direct supplies of
readymade food products like poultry, dairy, vegetable oil, Ukraine has a lot to offer to the
nation building aspirations in Africa with their expertise in heavy engineering, mining
equipment, infrastructure development, post-harvest grain handling, food processing and IT
During 11th-15th May 2018 in the major event - Fifty-first Session of the Economic Commission
for Africa and the Annual Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic

Development - finance & planning ministers of fifty-four countries gathered under one roof in
the UN headquarter Addis Ababa (https://www.uneca.org/cfm2018). There, once again I felt the
diverse aspirations of different African countries and also their aspiration and desire to create a
continental free zone for business.

Meeting with Ms Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission on Africa
For any business, that is willing to explore the opportunities in Africa, the first and most
important step is to identify the areas of focus. Small countries can show good prospect, but
individually offer small clientele. Therefore, considering the ground realities like logistical and
financial aspects, one has to decide on an effective entry plan.
Africa is large and diverse, you can find there; the pristine beauty of Zanzibar (Tanzania),
wildlife extravaganza of Maasaimara (Kenya), the remains of the oldest human Lusy in Addis
Ababa (Ethiopia) and unknown pyramids of Sudan. Fresh Tilapia at the Source of Nile in
Uganda or Nile Perch at the Junction of two Niles at Khartoum can meet the expectations of any
demanding taste buds. No wonder ‘Visit Rwanda’ is the sponsor of the English football team
Arsenal for the season 2018-2019.
We start the day with a sip of Arabica (a region in Ethiopia), relish the tests of Cacao from Ivory
coast, greet the loved ones with Kenyan roses, engagement rings with diamonds from Congo and
dance with rhythms of Africa - Africa somehow helps us celebrate our lives. So maybe it’s high
time to know Africa closer?

Suvra Chakraborty, Dubai, UAE

Director AMC Overseas FZE// Promoter of Ukrainian products in the Middle East & Africa//
Official Representative of the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Federal
Democratic Republic of Ethiopia//
International Consultant of ITC (UN & WTO), Geneva, Switzerland//
Visiting Lecturer of Maastricht University, the Netherlands//
Visiting Lecturer of Polytechnic Institute of Tomar, Portugal//
Honorary President of Kyiv Classic Orchestra, Ukraine