I was really proud to travel last year as a guest of the Ugandan Financial Literacy Week organizing committee, and to speak on what I call the new civil rights issue for all people, and the spark for a new global silver rights movement — or financial literacy, and financial dignity empowerment for all. I saw so much promise, and very real opportunity, while there in the country. I have said before, that if I didn't have a full agenda based in North America, I would spend most of my time in Africa — helping her to develop herself, and moving on the incredible untapped potential and opportunity that lies almost everywhere you look. I could even live, in Africa.
That said, I was reflecting today on my visit to one African country, Uganda, and the frustration that gathered inside of me as my hosts recounted the fairly common tale of what is happening along the lines of small business and entrepreneurship in many African cities, and villages. My host explained to me that even an hour or two outside of the capital city of Kampala, Uganda, where there are no paved roads and public services are spotty at best, you have Chinese businessmen and entrepreneurs, selling fruits and vegetables from karts and stores on corners in these small towns and villages. Not only do I have no problem with my Chinese brothers and sisters doing this (selling in towns and townships in Africa), I commend them too. What a sense of enterprise.
My frustration lies with my African brothers and sisters, and specifically, my Ugandan African family.
How in God's name did we allow someone — not a humanitarian with special resources, nor a scientist with a patented, special cure, but a simple buy/sell businessman – to travel thousands of miles from China, to Africa, to then sell us our own stuff? Literally. These Chinese business people literally traveled from their homeland, arrived in the capital city of Kampala, somehow found their way to a little village or township 1-2 hours outside of town, set up shop, and are now selling us the fruits and vegetables grown in our own backyards. How can this be, and how could we do this — to ourselves?
The Bible says "where there is no vision, the people perish." It is time, not to become upset, but to learn from our mistakes, to see our immense opportunity — opportunity sitting right before our eyes — and to move our agenda, as a people. This is not about what someone else has, or does not have, but what we can do. What we can create, for ourselves.
Africa is a market of 54 evolving, fast growing countries, and a continent that will soon number one billion strong.
African-American buying will reach $1 trillion by 2015, and every opportunity in an African village can be multiplied by 100 in any urban, inner-city city in America. Rural cities and township in the American south, seeing an increase in black migration tied to the national economic downturn and southern affordability, will also see increased pockets of entrepreneurial and small business opportunity. The question is, who will secure this opportunity for themselves?
What we must do now is to flip the script in and for our lives, from mere consumers to producers. From victims to victors. From those who are locked out or manipulated by bad capitalism, to those who understand the language of money (financial literacy) and then move to both protect our families from predators, and leverage the incredible opportunities for silver rights right before our very eyes (financial dignity).
My pastor and the man who raised me, Reverend Dr. Cecil "Chip" Murray once said, "we all keep talking about Dr. King's I Have A Dream speech, but the reality is, the best way to start living your dream, is to start by waking up." Wake up Black Africa. Wake up Black America. Wake up, to the opportunity that lies right in front of you.
It is you. It is me. It is us.
Onward and with HOPE
John Hope Bryant is a thought leader, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass) the only African-American bestselling business author in America, and a Member of the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for President Barack Obama. Mr. Bryant is the co-founder of the Gallup-HOPE Index, the only national research poll on youth financial dignity and youth economic energy in the U.S. He is also a co-founder of Global Dignity with HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Professor Pekka Himanen of Finland. Global Dignity is affiliated with the Forum of Young Global Leaders and the World Economic Forum.