Florida full of potential, African leader says

Florida may seem like a long way to travel from Southern Africa in search of building partnerships, but don’t tell that to Namibia Prime Minister Hage Geingob.

Geingob was among several politicians and world leaders, including Organization of American States Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, who attended the International Economic Forum of the Americas in Palm Beach last week.

When it was over, Geingob didn’t just pack up and go home. He toured Miami-Dade County, visiting the port and the Miami Free Zone and meeting with private sector leaders.

“Everybody is offering, ‘What can I do for you?’ ” said Geingob, who included among the list Gov. Rick Scott. “When there is good will, you can develop other repertoire.”

Namibia, a resourced-based country where mining for diamonds, gold, silver and uranium helps make up the backbone of the economy, is desperately in need of strategic partnerships and joint ventures, Geingob said. The country is 23 years old, having achieved independence from South Africa.

“It is clearly a gem on the African continent and a country where anyone can feel safe and feel at home,” Geingob told attendees at the Palm Beach forum. But even with an average 4 percent annual growth rate, Geingob conceded that it’s not enough to help his people prosper.

His goals include providing expertise to the country’s booming young entrepreneurs, creating jobs and adding value to resources.

“We want to export finished products,” he said. “Florida offers a lot of potential. It is like one of the Caribbean countries, and it’s really not that far.”

In addition to strengthening ties with Florida, Geingob is on another crusade. He wants the World Bank and others to stop classifying his tiny nation as a middle-income country. “Africans are poor, but the country is mathematically declared rich,” he said. “We don’t qualify for soft loans. We don’t get grants because we’re so rich.”

Geingob said one person who did get it was former U.S. President George W. Bush, who waived the classification, allowing Namibia to qualify for about $300 million in grants that went into various areas, including education.

Hoping to continue the programs, he said, his administration will try to get the Obama administration to do the same.

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