As President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both prepared to make visits to Africa recently there was a sense of excitement and anticipation. While the excitement was primarily within the African diaspora, other communities around the globe also began to share in the excitement. But as Obama and Clinton have come and left the continent, many have questioned if the “historic event” had a big enough effect on investment and perception the African continent. It may be too soon to tell but if the statistics are any indication, heightened global interest in Africa may already be starting to wane. So might African countries have missed an opportunity to move the continent’s re-brand efforts to another level and capture global attention in a BIG way?
According to Snapstream.com’s TV trends tracking service, between October 2008 and the months up to Obama’s visit to Ghana, the average mention of the word Africa on the primary American television networks was about 20 to 30 mentions per day with mentions reaching the highest of 169 in any one day. In the first two days of Obama’s arrival in Ghana, mentions of Africa on US television jumped to about 719 mentions on July 11th, the day Obama gave his speech in Ghana. Also Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recently concluded tour of Africa and the momentary controversy in Congo, has kept Africa in the news for the second month straight in 2009.
By all standards, and considering the context, these are enormous global opportunities where African countries could heighten awareness and promote any partnership opportunities they have. While some might say that the attention was only regulated to political forums, an analysis of the overall mentions of Africa across social media media platforms shows the contrary.
An analysis of Google search trends shows that global search for terms associated with Africa have begun to climb as the continent stays in the news. As both President Obama and Sec. of State Clinton went on tour in Africa, the countries they visited have seen an increase of search activity, another great opportunity to the tourism industries.
But with all the possibilities of global business, I still wonder how much sustained business opportunities are really being made available for African entrepreneurs and non-governmental businesses.
In their reflection of Obama’s visit to Ghana the Daily Kos writes
In Cape Coast where the Obamas visited the slave fort – Cape Coast Castle, and the palace of the Oguaa Chief (of Cape Coast), the crowds were similarly excited yet disappointed that they had no opportunity to see President Obama’s remarks given while there. Nevertheless, the mood remained upbeat with local residents stating that they understood the need for all the souped up security arrangements for this particular US President. At the airport later in the early evening, prior to departure, the crowd that gathered there did finally get the chance to see and hear Pres. Obama. Everybody else simply stayed glued to their teevee sets all day. My other beef was that not a single local Ghanaian journalist was granted an interview with President Obama, yet Anderson Cooper of CNN gets one. Yes, Obama had an interview with AllAfrica.com prior to his arrival in Ghana, but a local interview would have helped cut through the physical security cordon and enabled the US president to directly hear from the local media that he praised so much in his speech for their critical work in advancing democracy in Ghana.
Certainly tourism to Ghana and possibly Africa in general is going to rise as many in the west will associate the country with a presidential visit, stability, and democracy, but will that be the end result? Could the Ghanaian government have done more to secure long term more widespread attention to Ghana? Could Secretary Clinton’s visit have been more impactful to everyday Liberians or Kenyan’s beyond the prestige factor? Neither Obama’s or Clinton’s trips were merely for entertainment and there are policies in the works, but if Africa is to truly benefit from them the attention and information exchange must be sustained by Africans over a longer period of time. Only through synchronized planning between African entrepreneurs and governments, could such high profile events truly be maximized for the rapid growth of African countries.
What do you think? Were the President Obama and Secretary Clinton visits a boom or bust for African business?