Brent Omdahl, the recently appointed senior U.S. commercial officer to Nigeria, was back in Atlanta Sept. 22 in the wake of a U.S.-Africa Business Forum in New York where President Obama said that “We want Africa as a booming, growing, thriving market, where we can do business.…”
Following two years in Atlanta at the U.S. Export Assistance Center from 2010-12 where he was focused on the international activities of Southeast franchising and chemical companies, Mr. Omdahl has served the past four years at the U.S. Mission to South Africa in Johannesburg.
During an interview with Global Atlanta, he was no less enthusiastic about the opportunities on the African continent than the president. He said he had no difficulties in pinpointing locally-based companies that should be able to find opportunities in Nigeria and set up appointments to visit them.
Among them were water technology and franchising companies, and a health care information technology provider. He even went to West Point, Ga., to meet with a security canine company.
“Security, of course, is a big issue in Nigeria,” he said, “with Boko Haram and the Niger Delta Avengers,” referring respectively to the Islamist terrorists based in the country’s northeast who have held hostage young women they captured from villages in Borno state and the militant group that has attacked oil producing facilities in the Niger delta.
He described the port city of Lagos, Atlanta’s sister city, where he now lives as entrepreneurial marked by “hustle and rapid urbanization.” He travels across a lagoon by boat to get to work and is amazed by the land reclamation projects including spreading of garbage, which is then covered by sawdust to accommodate the city’s expanding population now already estimated at more than 21 million.
But all is not disorderly, with a vibrant financial sector and highly educated professionals in many fields, many of whom have been educated in the U.S.
In view that by 2050 25 percent of the world’s population will be African, this demographic change, he said, will obviously mark a dramatic surge in the number of youths on the continent and provide an expanding middle class. The percentage is even expected to expand further, he added, with Africa having 40 percent of the world’s population by 2100.
Echoing comments that Mr. Obama made in New York earlier in the week, he pointed to the expanded presence of the U.S. Commerce Department on the continent with recently opened offices now in Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Tanzania, and the recognition among Africans that they want “trade not aid.”
He also pointed to the growing U.S. investment in Africa, which in 2014 was ranked as the second largest on the continent after the United Kingdom, amounting to $64 billion in contrast to $44 billion in 2009.
And he cited U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker’s address at the beginning of the year during a visit to Nigeria titled “Unleashing Africa’s Entrepreneurs: Strengthening the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem to Empower the Next Generation of Africa’s Business Leaders.”
Prior to moving to Nigeria, Mr. Omdahl worked in Johannesburg alongside Don Nay, who currently is the regional senior commercial officer for sub-Saharan Africa as well as the minister counselor for commercial affairs to the U.S. Mission in South Africa.
They also served together at the U.S. Export Assistance Center in Atlanta, and earlier in their careers in Vietnam.
These Atlanta connections to sub-Saharan Africa were further strengthened when Ms. Pritzker announced at the New York meeting that Martin Richenhagen, chairman, president and CEO of Duluth-based AGCO Corp., has been reappointed to the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa.
He is to be joined on the advisory council by Laura Lane, president of global public affairs at United Parcel Service Inc., who is to serve as its vice chair, and 21 other senior executives whose companies have an interest in Africa.
In Africa AGCO has invested in manufacturing capabilities in Algeria and in improving distribution and parts support in South Africa. In Zambia, AGCO has launched its first Future Farm project to train local farmers and dealers in modern farm practices. It also hosts the annual AGCO Africa Summit to promote international investment in African agriculture.
Mr. Omdahl may be reached by email at: Brent.Omdahl@trade.gov