I was recently at a friend’s place who invited few of his loved ones to his family for barbeque on a cool Sunday evening at Ikoyi and as we all ate, chatted and were having fun, my ‘date’ for this week is introduced to me and from the first word she uttered, I could decipher she was from a francophone country…gosh! I have always loved to speak French and till date I am wondering how it never happened, perhaps I just never took it seriously…I will certainly get on it sometime soon.
Ok, back to my Lunch ‘date’ for this week. After spending some minutes with her, I knew I had to have an interview with her. I am always intrigued by people seeking to improve themselves and others irrespective of age, tribe, race, gender or religion hence the need to have her on this column. I introduce to you, Angelle Kwemo.
Angelle Kwemo started her career in France at Bestaux Law firm. In Douala, Cameron, she served as executive in one of the largest French investor firm in Africa, as Chief of the Maritime Claims and Disputes Department, and later as the General Counsel for Bollore Technology Group and Geodis Overseas.
As Chief of the Maritime and Claims Department at Bollore Technology Group, Angelle was one of the youngest executive at that time. According to her, “It was very rewarding in a sense that it put me in the heart of maritime and global trade, import export activities, customs and multimodel transportation issues. Handling claims gives you a great picture on how global trade works. I can say that during those five years, I learned about the reality of the African private sector, the importance of what was then called ‘informal sector’, an important fabric of African economies. That experience helped me when I later worked on public policy, having firsthand knowledge of the reality Africans are facing, from the farmers to small and medium size enterprise.” She says.
Angella worked 7 years in the US Congress as legislative counsel for two members of congress including Rep. Bobby L. Rush, senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. She was instrumental in the U.S. Congress, playing a key role in policy formulation on issues affecting the global economy, coordinating the Middle East economic partnership, African Partnership for Economic Growth Caucuses including actively working for the passage of legislations to increase U.S. – trade relations and to improving the U.S. National export policies.
Having served seven years in the US congress, she tells me of her experience “I was born, raised and worked in Africa and this was a plus during my years advising Congressman Bobby L. Rush. It helped me anticipate a little bit on policy change in Africa and better communicate with the African and corporate constituency. I worked on implementing my boss’s pan African vision by helping to draft and passing legislations including the Africa Growth and opportunity Act (AGOA), reauthorizations, recognizing the strategic and economic importance of Africa to the US, several legislations including the US export legislation, the African investment and Diaspora legislation, to mention a few.” She quips.
Speaking further on her involvement at the US congress, Angella says “I am obsessed by the will to have a meaningful life and to have an impact on my generation. I consider myself extremely blessed with my career. It comes with a great deal of responsibilities. The late congressman Donald Payne and congressman Rush contributed a lot to what I have become today. They inspired me. Payne always tells me ‘don’t you ever forget where you are coming from’. That is why I have decided to launch Believe in Africa, (BIA) an African Diaspora -led initiative founded by former U.S. congressional staffers and African leaders and friends of Africa in the U.S., to empower young Africans, harness the power of the African Diaspora, educate policy makers and the public about African economic growth and highlight the continent’s gradual rise in the global community. Our main goal is to give back to our community. We want all Africans to fulfil their potentials.
Our goal is to empower the African Diaspora, promote the role of the African private sector and help formulate African response to African issues.”
“We did our kickoff event with ‘Believe in Africa Day’, with a high level dialogue and an award diner where we recognized congressional leaders who believe in Africa when nobody did, inspiring leaders like Heirs Holding and GE who are not only doing good business but also defining the model of mutually beneficial partnerships. We want to see this duplicated in the continent. Believe in Africa is the vehicle God is helping me to use to continue to advocate for US Africa relations and African economic development. By God’s grace, we had a very successful African led program. It is an African led organization in Washington DC because it is time for us to be the master of our own destiny. We need to take responsibility, even outside the continent and tell our own story, advocate for our own future. Nobody can do it better than us.” Angella elaborates.
Kwemo is the founder and past president of the Congressional African Staff Association (CASA) aiming at educating members, senators and staffers on the positive progress of Africa. She has received a number of recognitions for her exemplary work in promoting Africa’s economic growth, including a citation from Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley, the district of Columbia public service award, the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business Leadership Award” by the Minority Business Magazine and was named as one of the “World Most Influential African in the Diaspora” by a Paris based Africa 24 Magazine.
She regularly publishes articles and featured in the news, including Voice of America TV (VOA) France 24 TV, Africa 24 TV, China Daily, and Africa Report.
Kwemo is founder and Chair of Believe in Africa and the advisory board member of the Congo Infrastructure Capital Management (CICM), the Congo Infrastructure Hedge Fund (CHIF), and the Brazil USA Africa Infrastructure Fund (BUSIF). She is also the MD/CEO of Rimsom Strategies. Kwemo holds a LLM degree in Economics Activity Law from the University of Rouen in France and an LLM degree in International Business Transactions and Human Rights Law from American University in Washington DC.
Angelle was born in Cameroon from a very conservative Christian family. The last born of a family of six siblings in a very disciplined environment. She had to ‘report’ or be punished by five people before being corrected by her parents. “It put me in a lot of pressure in my early age. It inculcated in me a great deal the need for hard work, discipline and forced me to become independent” Angelle tells me and continues “while this was happening, it made me more observant of my parents especially my mother who like many African women, is ‘a silent hero’. She played a critical role in my father’s career and built up our entire family yet, women are not adequately recognised. My parents have a big influence in my life even till date. I thank God they are still alive and will reap the benefit of all their sacrifices to make us fulfil our potentials. I used the lessons I learnt from them to tutor my daughters. Children do not just do what their parents are telling them to do, they do what they see their parents doing. My parents are role models to me and I am trying hard to be the same for my daughters.” Says Angelle.
Angelle has always been driven by passion, having learnt early enough in life that one will always excel if you do what you enjoy doing. “I am very true to myself and try to stay authentic. In my career, I led various initiatives, changing activities and having dealings with various countries. From practicing law, to corporate law, to public policy and now to entrepreneurial activities and advocacy. Those changes have always been driven by my quest for bigger challenges. I meet many people who always ask me the same question: ‘what is next?’ truth is I don’t know. I strongly believe, staying in one’s comfort zone is very dangerous. If you want to reach higher heights, you need to be ready to face big challenges. The same way you can not harvest your honey if you run away from the bees. This is what has driven my career. I have surrendered to my passion even if it sometimes forces me to swim against the current but it has not failed me.” Angella discloses.
Rimsom Strategies is an international consulting firm that provides strategic and practical solutions to public and private sector clients seeking to do business between the emerging markets and the developed world. By offering government relations, financial advisory, international business development, public relations, advocacy, communications and capacity building services, they are able to transform needs into ideas and concepts which produce measurable business results and sustainable economic development.
As MD/CEO of Rimsom, hear Angelle’s view on Nigeria’s economy and intended relationship with Nigeria. “Nigeria has become a big engine for the entire continent’s economic growth for many reasons including the size of its economy, its great potential and a business environment that enables the private sector to grow. The recent African Leaders summit hosted by President Obama last August has ushered US – Africa relations into a new paradigm, with a stronger private sector involvement. Rimsom Strategies wants to be the bridge between Nigeria and the US.”
“We are also committed to serve as a bridge between Nigeria and other francophone countries. This falls under the general understanding that intra Africa trade can play a big role in the continent’s economic transformation as a whole. I am one of those who believe that Cameroon for example should take advantage of its proximity with Nigeria. I am doing that at a personal level. I am only 45 minutes (by flight) away from my home country. We have designed capacity building and non oil export programs to assist small and medium sized enterprises to meet international standards. If it works in Nigeria, it will work in other countries as we expand regionally.” Angella reveals.
The summary of Kwemo’s anecdote centres on promoting intra African trade, global positioning for Africa among many others and she ends the dialogue telling me the challenges involved. In her words, “the challenges are inherent to the nature of my profession. Opportunities abound in Africa and here at Rimsom Strategies, we are receiving projects almost every week. Everyone is requesting for financial partners and they all need access to capital. At the same time, there is a rush by Americans seeking for business opportunities in Africa and we are therefore spending a lot of time to explain that Africa presents investment opportunities not just contract opportunities.”
“Access to capital is a challenge. Also turning ideas into bankable project is paramount. Our job is to facilitate communication for both sides, especially as there are big cultural gaps. We want American firms to succeed in Africa and African firms to succeed in the global market helping them meet international standards. It is always challenging to serve as a catalyst. How do we service both in a cost effective way, having both sides exercise patience and teaching then to understand the process? You almost have to carry all the stress. At a personal level, it is not always easy as a woman but this is not discouraging at all to me. I have been a minority all my life. If you cannot climb a mountain, you go around it. The challenge is as big as the reward is. I have trust in my God. He will not give me a baby I cannot carry.” She concludes.
Read the original article at: Angelle Kwemo, promoting intra Africa trade and economic transformation