Atlanta has a key role to play in linking the U.S. with Africa, which is widely seen as the next frontier in the global economy, Mayor Kasim Reed told Global Atlanta in a wide-ranging interview at City Hall.
“I’ve got news for everybody – the rest of the world cares about Africa, and when you’re moving around the world there is more conversation about Africa than there is about the United States,” he said in mid-March citing his conversations with officials in China and elsewhere.
“If you don’t engage in the (African) continent, you’re really giving up a layup,” said the mayor, who is planning a trip to Nigeria and South Africa in October.
Mr. Reed referred to his attendance in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he met with political and corporate leaders.
Among them was Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan.
“Why do you think the president of Nigeria would see me immediately?” he asked rhetorically.
The main reason, he said, is the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta, which gives the city widespread recognition across the continent.
But a close second are the extensive relationships that Andrew Young, the former Atlanta mayor, congressman and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has built up over the years.
Mr. Reed spoke of Mr. Young’s role as a mentor.
“We’ve been friends since I was 19 years old,” he said, recalling the criticism that Mr. Young received when he returned from trips to Africa during his tenure as mayor.
While Mr. Young had to face a barrage of questions concerning who was running the city when he was developing ties to officials in Africa, Mr. Reed said the city has benefited enormously from those relationships.
He quickly cited the extensive Nigerian community, which has invested heavily in real estate here, including upscale residences.
He also pointed to the number of votes that Mr. Young was responsible for garnering for Atlanta’s 1996 Summer Olympics bid.
When he is questioned about his own motivation for an African agenda, he linked the initiative to his goal of keeping Atlanta the cultural and business hub of the South.
“I think we’re going to be there early, and I think that we’re going to be the center of action for the continent,” he said.
He added that seven of the 10 fastest growing economies are to be found in Africa and the continent is part of his major objective for the city.
The mayor in February presided over the opening of Africa Atlanta 2014, a series of cultural, educational and business events celebrating transatlantic ties between Atlanta, Africa and Europe.