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Botswana: A Well Kept Secret

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(NNPA) There are 54 nations comprising the continent of Africa. We look at these nations, too often, as all the same – third world striving to enter the second world. South Africa is an exception as it, in total economic terms, is first world. The problem here is that the wealth is greatly weighted to a distinct minority of the population and that is by race, i.e. white. Slums, violence and hopelessness are as prevalent in South Africa as they are in the lowest rung of nations that endure wholesale poverty. Last week, I was in for a revelation. We took a Trade Mission to Botswana and found a modern nation with a solid middle class and beautiful neighborhoods. It is time for the rest of the world to look at Botswana as something special.

How did Botswana get it right? Perhaps the major event is a consistent democracy and good governance. This nation gained its independence in 1966 and has not had one day of political unrest or manipulation. Prior to that it was a “British colony” by choice. Yes, they asked Britain to take it in. Not because they wanted to be colonized but they had a big fear of invasion/annexation by South Africa, Namibia, Angola or Zimbabwe –all of which borders the nation. Being part of the British Empire was insurance for the time being. Early in the 1960’s there was a significant finding under the surface of the land of the nation. Botswana, as it turns out, has been blessed with diamonds. They have diamonds by the billions of annual dollars and for many decades to come. Wisely, and quickly, they set themselves free from the guidance of Britain and became its own “boss”.

Today, the diamond industry accounts for 50% of the national revenue of the nation. Their good governance allows them to invest this revenue into the lives of its people. There is free education through four years of college for everyone. The medical delivery system is offered to all as a right not a privilege. Their infrastructure is more advanced than most nations on the continent. I must admit that their asphalt roads seem superior to ours. The structure of their downtown buildings would rival any U.S. city. The proper management of their natural resources has brought many blessings to the whole nation not just to a few Swiss bank accounts owned by corrupted officials.

We had the opportunity to visit the richest diamond mine in the world, the Jwaneng Diamond Mine. It was absolutely awesome. The biggest highlight was meeting the General Manager of the mine. He was a well educated and articulate brother. That’s right – the world’s richest diamond mine is managed by a child of Africa. The majority of the staff was also indigenous Africans. The nation has a joint-venture with DeBeer’s Diamonds (South African firm). It seems to be working out for both. One of the participants of our Trade Mission was Signet Diamonds (Kay’s Jewelers, Jared, etc.). I believe they were convinced at the end of our trip that they must put a significant office in Botswana and concentrate their new efforts in this fantastic nation. Remember, the majority of all diamonds in the United States come from Botswana and most of us don’t know that.

Another natural resource the nation has is the natural beauty of its women. We heard about this but couldn’t imagine until we journeyed. All the men on the mission had sore necks from looking at all the Lena Horne/Halle Berry types walking here and there. My wife and I are now kidding our sons that they must first visit Botswana before they decide on a wife (mother of our grandchildren). In recent years, Botswana has provided two Miss Universe’s and many in the final selections.

Most important to us is the fact that Botswana has a great inventory of entrepreneurs. The banks are lending and there is an ample amount of quasi government/private investment and technical assistance resources for the growing businesses. The Bank of Botswana suggested that we establish a Holding Company made up of firms wishing to do business in Botswana and listing the company on the Botswana Stock Exchange. We are making plans for that.

The Chamber of Commerce of Botswana, BOCCIM, opened its arms to us and we are now working on a Memorandum of Understanding. Our entrepreneurs and theirs will have a living process of interaction, joint venturing and doing business in both nations from here on out. Together we will grow from this. Before we left, one of our participants had already established a joint venture with one of BOCCIM’s members. Let it be known, that if you want to do international business COME TO BOTSWANA.

Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

Letter to the Editor: City Manager Responds to Editorial

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The Black Voice News recently published a commentary critical of the City of Moreno Valley’s efforts to fund infrastructure improvements in the “City Center” area of our community. The commentary opined that the City Council “voted to push through a proposal to improve the value of 200 acres of land owned by developer Iddo Benzeevi by shifting $75 million of the city’s street improvement funds to improve street for a large medical complex on his undeveloped land.”

I appreciate the opportunity to address the opinions stated in the commentary.

Yes, the City is committing a total of approximately $75 million for the following infrastructure improvements:

• New ramps and bridge: Nason/State Route 60 interchange ($30 million)

• New southerly ramps: Moreno Beach/State Route 60 interchange and construction of the connection of Eucalyptus to Moreno Beach ($10 million)

• Cactus Avenue widening from Nason to Lasselle and Nason extension to Iris ($20 million)

• Ultimate improvements on Nason from Eucalyptus to Cactus ($15 million)

We are not shifting all $75 million from street maintenance projects in order to fund these improvements, as was implied in the commentary. In fact, nearly half of these funds were planned long ago for Nason and Moreno Beach interchange projects. Interchange projects take years of design and approvals prior to construction and Nason is currently under construction. Moreno Beach is currently being designed and is scheduled for bid for construction in June 2012. All of the projects noted above have been included in the City’s capital Improvement Program and Traffic Circulation Plan for years.

Moreno Valley adopted a medical overlay planning zone in this area over 4 years ago with a vision to develop a medical and health services corridor serving Moreno Valley and the region. Essentially, the City wanted to capitalize on the presence of the Riverside County Regional Medical Center and Kaiser Community Hospital, the emergence of Moreno Valley College with its emphasis on allied health services, and the planned UCR School of Medicine to bring quality health care and jobs to the region.

In February of this year, as City Manager I asked developer Iddo Benzeevi to reconsider the land use for 200 acres of his Aqua Bella housing development to advance the City’s medical overlay concept.

In just a matter of a few weeks, conceptual plans were prepared by the developer depicting a wellness campus with medical offices, retail stores, a hotel, office space, and classrooms.

The Black Voice News commentary was critical that the developer would benefit from Moreno Valley’s capital investments. I don’t disagree with that statement, but it must also be noted that other entities that will benefit include Kaiser, RCRMC, Moreno Valley College and other properties located in what is essentially the geographical center of Moreno Valley. More importantly, Moreno Valley residents will benefit as all of the following will be vastly improved: emergency vehicle access; access to the expanding Auto Mall and the shopping opportunities at Stoneridge Towne Centre and the Moreno Beach Plaza; residents’ commutes will become significantly safer and shorter. Additionally, the safety of the residents and shoppers that use Nason, Cactus, and the freeway interchanges will improve.

In the past capital improvement projects have been spread out by Council District, however through this commitment of funding we are concentrating these expenditures in one District to solve traffic problems experienced by all our residents. This strategic capital investment makes sense for all residents, as half of Moreno Valley’s top 20 sales tax producers are situated in this area of the community. Committing funds to preserve and increase this revenue, which goes into the General Fund and pays for citywide services such as public safety, is particularly critical for our community as we have seen our revenues tumble.

The medical corridor is a key element in an aggressive economic development action plan focused on creating much-needed jobs. With an unemployment rate of 16%, Moreno Valley cannot continue to wait around for development to bring the jobs. Strategically investing capital improvement funds in this critical area is our best opportunity to do so.

Henry T. Garcia is the City Manager of Moreno Valley

Blacks Make the Cell Phone Business

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(NNPA) Major wireless (cell phone) corporations should be conscious of the fact that much of their business and future depends heavily on the African American community. Fortunately, Verizon and AT&T understand this and are heavily involved in our community. T-Mobile will become much better, if the merger with AT&T takes place (AT&T guarantees this). The others should take serious notice with the latest studies now being released.

Wireless communication is an invaluable and increasingly necessary way to do business and stay connected with friends, family, and our local communities. While it seems just about everyone has a cell phone or smart phone these days, wireless use is especially prevalent within the Black community. According to Nielsen, African Americans talk and text on our cell phones more than any other race or ethnicity in the country – on average using 1,300 voice minutes and sending about 780 SMS (text) messages each month.

We’re also increasingly leading the way in how the technology is used. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project was released this past August, and it shows African Americans use wireless more than any other ethnic group – to access the Internet, send or receive email, play games, access social networking sites, post photos or videos online, and to bank online. We are also among the most likely to use our cell phones to download an app, play music and participate in video calls and chats with our wireless device.

African Americans of all ages are clearly relying on wireless technology to improve their professional and personal lives, which leads me to an extremely perplexing question: If Black communities are using wireless as a lifeline to connect themselves and to improve our daily lives, then why is such a vital service taxed at such incredibly high (and still growing) rates in this country?

The average American now pays more than 16 percent in combined monthly local, state and federal wireless taxes and fees; and in this age of budget-strapped governments thirsty for revenue, there is a very real threat of that taxpayer burden going ever higher. Often, tax levies are being heaped on us, per device – which certainly adds up for families with children and seniors relying on them, as well as small business owners providing them for their employees. These regressive state and local wireless taxes across the board hit those on fixed incomes, such as seniors, small businesses and our minority community families the hardest. It makes no sense to me how we are discouraging the use of such an important tool by imposing a tax and fee burden that’s at this point more than double that which we pay, on average, in general sales tax (7 percent on average).

Luckily, the U.S. Congress is trying to help taxpayers and consumers alike. It is considering the bipartisan and strongly-supported Lofgren-Franks ‘Wireless Tax Fairness Act of 2011,’ or H.R. 1002, and S. 543 (Wyden-Snowe), which would place a five-year ban on all unfair, new state and local wireless taxes and fees. If enacted, this legislation would be a substantial step in the right direction for establishing a fair and rational tax structure on wireless. The bill was ‘scored’ by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) at zero additional cost to government, and after being approved by the House Judiciary Committee, it stands ready for a vote on the floor of the full House.

Congress is also considering the bipartisan Smith-Cohen ‘Digital Goods and Services Tax Fairness Act of 2011,’ or H.R. 1860, and S. 971 (Wyden-Thune), which would create a fair, responsible 'national framework' for the state and local taxation of digital purchases – such as songs, apps, E-books, ring tones, video games, movies or TV shows. The legislation would bring tax uniformity to how we purchase such items with wireless/Internet, as right now, multiple jurisdictions can claim tax rights over the items you buy, and you can wind up paying them all taxes for the very same purchase.

Wireless is clearly the leading communication choice of African Americans of all ages to stay connected, and to move our communities forward. For education, employment, healthcare, research and simply navigating our day-to-day lives, accessing the Internet via wireless is something that Black Americans have embraced and then some. We MUST insist that an invaluable resource such as wireless remains affordable and accessible to ALL Americans, regardless of location, race or ethnicity, nor income. Please stand up and let them know you’re watching – let your elected officials at every level of government know that when it comes to wireless taxes, enough is enough. Take a moment to contact your Mayor and City/County Council, your Representative and your Senators, and better yet, contact all the Members of the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C. today – and tell them these proposed pieces of pro-consumer legislation are important to you and for our country’s future.

Harry C. Alford is the Co-Founder, President & CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

Sending Troops to Uganda?

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By Bill Fletcher, Jr., NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) Reports that the Obama administration is planning on sending U.S. troops to Uganda to hunt down the so-called Lord's Resistance Army sent chills up my spine. The Lord's Resistance Army, a group of maniacal terrorists running around Uganda for years, has been a major thorn in the side of the people of Uganda. Their atrocities are countless and it is in every one's interests that they are destroyed. That said, I ask myself, why is the U.S.A. sending troops there?

If the Obama administration wants to help Uganda defeat the LRA, they should limit themselves to advising and training Ugandans to fight their own war. Better yet, they should support the African Union in carrying out a coordinated, multi-country assault on the LRA (since the LRA crosses borders, including back and forth to what is now the South Sudan). They could also supply Uganda other forms of assistance to help the areas that are blighted by the LRA. But sending U.S. troops to Uganda starts to feel like an old film we have all seen, i.e., Vietnam.

Once U.S. troops are on the ground in Uganda, it almost automatically changes the dynamics of a struggle. The LRA, as terrorist as they are, can claim, much as the Al Shabab terrorists in Somalia, that they are fighting not just the Ugandan government (in this case) but the U.S. government and its intervention. As we witnessed in Somalia, when Ethiopia invaded with the active support of the U.S.A. in 2006 in order to crush the Union of Islamic Courts (a conservative Islamist force that had stabilized the situation in part of Somalia), this inflamed the situation even more. Instead of crushing Islamists, the Ethiopian/U.S. invasion provoked the growth of dangerous terrorists and warlords, a fact that author Jeremy Scahill has recently documented in The Nation. A similar danger could await the U.S.A. through the deployment of troops to Uganda. While it is only alleged to be 100 troops, as we know from previous U.S. interventions, there is no reason to believe that the intervention will stop there, particularly if there are U.S. casualties. Therefore, as the intervention grows, the battle cry against the U.S.A. will grow and with it the very real possibility of a prolonged engagement in Uganda.

The Obama administration needs to rescind it proposed deployment. It should support the African Union and other forces who wish to crush the LRA. But U.S. troops on the ground needs to be out of the question. Given the disasters in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, enough is enough.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the co-author of Solidarity Divided. He can be reached at papaq54@hotmail.com.

President Obama's Solution for Minority Business – Kill it: Part II

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(NNPA) It all looked so good in the beginning. There was going to be a change. There has been a change but it is not what we expected. Unemployment is higher than ever for African Americans. While there are many reasons there is one direct correlation. The amount of contracting by Black owned firms at the federal government level has drastically been reduced. It is to the point of less than one percent. That is an all time low.

Instead of exhausting all avenues to improve the amount of Black contracting, this administration is now taking formal action to end all minority goaling from the agencies. There was a time a few years ago that HUD was enjoying a 40% level for minority contracting and most of that was with Black firms. Even the Congressional Black Caucus awarded Secretary Alphonso Jackson for that accomplishment. Today that level is below four percent and it fell with lightning speed. The following is an open letter that I received last week:

“The following is a statement by the American Small Business League: As one of the most influential minority leaders in America, I am asking for your help in stopping a policy that could cost minority communities millions of jobs. On Friday, September 9, the Obama administration proposed a policy to end one of the most successful federal programs to create jobs and stimulate growth among minority-owned small businesses. The policy, announced in the Federal Register, aims to end a program that established a five percent minority-owned small business federal contracting goal for the Department of Defense, NASA and the U.S. Coast Guard. I estimate that this change will have a significant, negative economic impact on a substantial number of minority-owned small businesses, costing millions of jobs.

It is difficult to understand why, in the middle of one of the worst economic downturns in U.S. history, and when unemployment has hit minority communities especially hard, the Obama administration would end one of the most successful programs to create jobs for minorities. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the jobless figure for African Americans is 16 percent and 11.3 percent among Hispanics. Close to 35 percent of the U.S. population is made up of ethnic minorities and 5.8 million businesses are minority-owned. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, small businesses create 90 percent of all net new jobs in America. I estimate that this change will divert billions of dollars in federal contracts away from minority-owned small businesses, thwarting the power of those businesses to expand and hire.

I have been a small business advocate for two decades and have rarely seen policies as detrimental as this latest proposal from the Obama administration. I have launched a national campaign to block its implementation. Minority-owned small businesses have until November 8, 2011 to comment on the proposed change in the Federal Register. The administration will tell you that the impact of this policy will be minimal and that you have been misinformed. Nothing could be further from the truth. I need you to help tell President Obama, Congress, the U.S. Justice Department and the media that there is indeed discrimination in federal contracting, and this program needs to be saved. “ SOURCE: American Small Business League

We certainly agree with this association. We are calling out to all groups, associations and individuals to actively protest the above. We all should write letters to our senators, congresspersons and the Congressional Black Caucus. This is a call for action to all of us who want to see our businesses grow and increase the amount of jobs they produce. There is no time to wait. The end of the comment period for the Federal Register’s Request for Comment is November 9, 2011. Please comment in the name of the African Diaspora. If you need details on how to formally comment please go to the NBCC website at www.nationalbcc.org and look under latest news. There is no time to wait.

Mr. Alford is co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce(r). Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

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