MIAMI LAKES — Priscilla Dames-Blake had her eyes set on South Africa.
The owner of Wingspan Seminars, a training and conflict resolution company, eagerly explored the African country, intent on finding a way to join the growing list of African Americans doing business there.
After she was encouraged to look instead at doing business in Rwanda, where she could “lead the pack, not become a part of the crowd,” Dames-Blake said she decided to visit Washington and Boston to introduce herself to Rwandan officials.
During Rwanda Day in Boston last fall, she said, “The president of Rwanda told of all the advantages of coming to Rwanda. He was opening his arms and welcoming American businesses there.”
The self-described “strongly Afro-centric woman” and her husband, David, hosted a reception at their Miami Lakes home Sunday afternoon, March 22, to introduce a small group of their friends to Rwandan officials. They wanted the group to learn how to do business in the country being touted as the “Switzerland of Africa.”
Tucked between Uganda to its north and Tanzania to its south, the eastern central African nation is best known for the horrific atrocities it endured during its 1994 genocide, in which nearly 1 million people were killed, hundreds were maimed and more than 2 million fled for their lives.
The country’s tourism officials want you to know that not only did the genocide end 15 years ago; but also that the country is now a serene haven where former perpetrators and victims of the brutality peacefully co-exist.
Bryant Salter is intimately familiar with the world of trade missions between the United States and Africa. The former NFL player, now a trade developer with eFlorida, spoke candidly with the group, providing valuable information on the state’s efforts to establish trade ventures between Rwanda and Florida.
“I work for you,” Salter told the group, explaining that his role with eFlorida is to facilitate Floridians’ ability to do business with Rwanda, and vice-versa.
The company is a public-private partnership serving as Florida’s primary organization devoted to statewide economic development.
Businesses interested in merely making money can certainly do so in Africa, Salter explained. He cautioned, however, that profiteers’ myopic focus on simply raking in the cash can hinder a business’ ability to truly flourish in Rwanda. The Rwandan people are interested in creating mutually beneficial, long-term business relationships with African Americans, from whom they anticipate learning a great deal.
Dames-Blake said the country’s president, His Excellency Paul Kagame, made it clear that his people are not looking for a hand-out, but rather strong partnerships and an opportunity to absorb the vast knowledge and expertise that the U.S. has to offer.
African Americans arriving in the country expecting to be revered simply because of their presence should probably stay home.
The country’s education ambassador, Carol Rugege, the education officer for the Embassy for the Republic of Rwanda, attended Sunday’s reception, unwittingly teaching the attentive guests an endearing African custom. As she greeted guests with a gentle handshake, Rugege (pronounced Ru-gay-gay) extended her right hand as her left hand softly supported her right elbow.
The American-born Grambling University graduate said her African parents made certain to teach her traditions of their homeland, traditions she said she holds dear. As a part of her presentation,
Rugege showed the group a DVD promoting Rwanda, complete with lush, five-star resorts as well as the country’s famous guerilla mountains.
Charles Kasaana is the founder of the Rwandan/American Chamber of Commerce. He said his struggling organization is beginning to make strides. Its logo of a bridge linking the United States and his country, Kasaana said, accurately depicts his vision.
Dames-Blake said that she and her husband – who were married recently – are planning to spend a belated June honeymoon in Rwanda. They’re also planning a fact-finding mission to the country within the next year.
Andrew Shirley has taken Kagame’s advice, and has started an advanced security technologies business in Rwanda. The Brown Mackie attorney’s effort to subdue his visible passion for the country could easily qualify him as its honorary spokesman.
Shirley said he was overwhelmed by the warmth and hospitality extended to him by the Rwandans, and that the peacefulness was addictive.
“God exists everywhere, but sleeps in Rwanda,” he whispered.
For more information, contact Priscilla Dames-Blake at www.wingspanseminars.com or www.eflorida.com.
Photo: Priscilla Dames-Blake