African business consultant for Philadelphia's Trade Office.
Herbert Ushewokunze's father held many prominent positions in the Mugabe administration in Zimbabwe--from the country's first health minister to director of energy and transportation to director of political affairs.
Flamboyant and often controversial, the elder Ushewokunze, a fervent Zimbabwe nationalist, often clashed with the Mugabe administration and was thrown out of the government, welcomed back in, then thrown out again. He died in 1995 and was buried in Zimbabwe's national cemetery. He was declared a national hero.
After graduating from high school, Ushewokunze, the son, went into business in Zimbabwe, then made his way to the U.K. until a Philadelphia friend finally convinced him to relocate to the United States.
Since his arrival in 1997 he's been swept into Philadelphia's international business scene, installed on numerous business development boards and asked to consult on city and state trade issues related to Africa. He's considered one of the fastest rising and most exciting voices on Africa-U.S. business relations within the international business community.
High school: Watershed College, Marondera, Zimbabwe.
Where we met: La Colombe (130 S. 19th St.)
Where he lives: Center City
Accomplishments: First black high school student body president in Zimbabwe; on boards of Philadelphia Professionals Committee, Sister Cities Program (Cameroon) and Call to Action (enhancing Philadelphia's global image); won citizen diplomacy award from International Visitors Council.
Early reactions from Americans: "It was very weird how people were relating to Africa, actually asking questions like, 'Do you go to work on the back of an elephant?' People have no orientation with Africa whatsoever. People don't understand the regions: East, South, North, West Africa. People don't understand the cultural differences from country to country, and within countries."
On educating people: "I tell them it's a fun, incredible place. The diversity in Africa is so rich. The only orientation people have of Africa are the safaris and conflicts. 'Oh, they're always shooting at each other. Oh, the governments are really unstable. It's a risky a place to do business,' and so on. When I came in announcing, 'Look guys, there are real business opportunities here,' I got their attention."
On overcoming resistance against doing business with Africa: "The perception is that the risk is too great. But I say, 'There are so many countries in Africa.' That's like saying, 'We're abandoning the whole United States because there are some problems in a couple of the states.' That's ridiculous."
On the state of business in Africa: "There are conflicts, particularly in Ivory Coast, but now is a very good time. People are realizing that no international business destination is a safe haven. Things are picking up. African oil-producing countries are suddenly gaining priority with the U.S."
On opportunities in Africa: "The really important thing is to maximize people's exposure to Africa. At least now people will pick up the phone and say they want to do something in Africa. We've gotten over the silliness with the animals. Africa is wide open. People look at Africa in terms of its natural resources, but the gates are flung wide in so many other industries, especially technology."
On when it's best to do business with Africa: "You don't wait for things to happen. It's the defining characterization of anyone who's a leader. When Henry Ford made the car, people weren't banging on his door saying, 'Please, we need a car.' They had no idea what a car was. But there was the need. So that's the attitude I'm trying to take. Let's not wait. Let's go and create it. It's time for mutual activity."
On a possible political career: " I had enough of it growing up. I'm more interested in staying within the private sector. My father was a very prominent, very public political figure. He was a very outspoken individual. He had his fair share of good and bad. He really did. When you're in politics, it's heightened. When you're such a strong personality, sometimes people have a hard time relating to that."
On his father's legacy: "If I can give any advice, it's, 'Don't think your parents are crazy.' I took so much from my father. Commitment to purpose, discipline, where to make a difference, not to change the world but to play your part. I've learned to say what I feel when I feel it. I learned discipline from him. He's where much of my passion for Africa comes from. I miss him. There's times I'd like to pick up the phone and ask him what to do."
His dream for U.S.-Africa relations: "To see that Africa becomes as prominent in the decision-making process as U.S. executives and policymakers, and to be on as even a playing field as Europe, the Middle East and South America."
Calendar: March 25-April 1
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