Jordan Garcia is the founder of the Los Angeles-based Alicante Group, a company that provides advisory services to small- and medium-sized U.S. companies looking to establish operations in Africa. In 2012, he was appointed by the government of Guinea to serve as the country’s honorary consul in California.
Garcia recently sat down with Billionaires.Africa to discuss why U.S. companies shy away from expanding into Africa and offered some ideas on how the United States can bolster trade with the continent.
Who exactly is Jordan Garcia? I know you as the CEO of Alicante Group and the honorary consul of Guinea to Los Angeles. What’s your educational and professional background, and why did you set up Alicante?
I was born in France from entrepreneurial Spanish immigrant parents. I think like so many first-generation immigrants, I had a feeling of not totally belonging to the place of my birth. It is a strange and unanchored feeling of not really being accepted as French nor Spanish, yet I am both.
Since I was young, I have had an interest in Africa: its art, its music, its people, its way of life and its rich history. The first time I was able to visit was a dream come true in so many ways and I was immediately hooked and I felt at home. I am reminded of a quote from Kwame Nkrumah: “I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.”
I always knew that my career would involve business in Africa. Although in school I focused on my strengths, sales and marketing and received a bachelor of science in technical sales and marketing in France. It wasn’t until I moved to the U.S. where I had the opportunities to go into business for myself. I established Alicante Group to advise U.S. companies seeking to invest in or develop their business in Africa. Many U.S. companies don’t have the patience nor an understanding of the complexities of doing business in Africa. I found that there is a need to help navigate the market. Creating partnerships also means that we help African leaders and entrepreneurs develop contacts in the U.S.
Another driving force in establishing my company was witnessing so many public relations firms in D.C. making false claims about contacts and assured results for African or American clients. It was evident that these firms were never going to do the work they claimed and they did not have close to the extensive contacts that I have. I felt that there was a real void that I could fill. At Alicante Group we have a team from Africa, the U.S., and Europe making us one of the few organizations with high level contacts in these three continents. It is really our force.
My European and American background and extensive network are truly unique. It is not unusual that in the same day I will speak to a Minister in Mali, Guinea, or Central Africa, and a congressman in France and in Washington, D.C. My fluency in French, English, and Spanish are a tremendous asset in my day-to-day work.
May we know how you became honorary consul of Guinea Conakry and what your functions entail?
Over the years I developed contacts and relationships with people in leadership positions throughout primarily West Africa. When the government of the Republic of Guinea contacted me to represent them in California in 2012, I jumped at the opportunity.
As a diplomat, I promote Guinea and serve as a point of contact for Guineans living in California. As honorary consul, I represent Guinea at the Los Angeles Consular Corps, the third largest in the world. Having a seat at this table provides exposure for Guinea and opportunities to collaborate with consulates regionally and of course internationally also. Given that Los Angeles is among the most economically powerful metropolitan areas in the world, there are endless opportunities to promote Guinea.
It has been a privilege to represent the people of Guinea in California.
U.S. trade and investment with Sub-Saharan Africa is abysmally low. According to a March 2021 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the United States did roughly $32.6 billion in trade with the continent in 2020, down from $36.8 billion in 2019. This means that, in the past two years, U.S. trade with Sub-Saharan Africa has represented less than one percent of all U.S. trade in goods. What in your view can be done to bolster U.S.-African trade ties?
The U.S. must first recognize the strategic importance of the continent and put the weight of the government through policies and resources that help U.S. companies do business in Africa. Similarly, the U.S. government and companies must understand that hiring and collaborating with Africans is an essential part of gaining and understanding of and a foothold in Africa.
To be clear, the U.S. cannot maintain its position in the world order and compete with China without Africa.
For decades now the U.S. has not any, good or bad, foreign policy involving Africa. The void left by the U.S. has been filled with aggressive investment from China. Almost anywhere you go in Africa, you will see Chinese investment and it highlights how far behind the U.S. is in its investment in Africa.
I believe that if the U.S. makes Africa a policy priority providing opportunities to do business in Africa, Africans are ready, willing, and able to collaborate to make mutually beneficial partnerships across strategically important business sectors. I would start by leveraging the African diaspora. They are a powerful resource eager to play a major link between the two continents. Another important human resource is African Americans. More and more African American interested in learning more about their history are creating opportunities to bridge the U.S. and Africa. Ghana has invested heavily in tapping into this economic opportunity with their “Year of Return” encouraging African American to come to Africa to settle and invest in the continent specially Ghana, I think many African countries need to have this can of initiative.
We need also to open more Africa-U.S. Chamber of Commerce in different African Capital in Guinea we don’t have one and I think it will be very helpful for American investors to have these structures in Africa on the ground.
Americans fail to understand that doors are automatically open to them in other countries. In Guinea, teenagers wear Nike, dress like hip-hop, listen to rap, watch the Lakers, and they dream to live in NY or LA. I don’t think China makes them dream like that.
Speaking from your years of experience in helping American companies establish their businesses in Africa, what do you find are some of the reasons large and mid-sized U.S. companies shy away from expanding into Africa, and how can African governments make their individual countries a lot more appealing to American investors?
Not to ignore the very real need for good governance, transparency, and streamlined process for investors, but one major overlooked hurdle is as simple as the U.S. business approach. U.S. investors operate quickly and expect immediate return on investment. Africa is about developing relationships and connections. So, the American business mindset can be the first roadblock. It is disappointing to see some American investors who aren’t genuinely interested in developing relationships and then inevitability they get frustrated with complexities of doing business. Yes, doing business in Africa is complex, but many other foreign investors willing to invest the time and resources are securing lucrative deals, American investors can too.
What are some of the most important questions American investors must consider when looking to invest or establish businesses in Africa?
What is the investment, expected return, timeline, and what benefits are you willing to bring to the community where you intend to do business, do we know the country and it’s history? These are the first questions I ask investors. I don’t think anyone wants to recreate colonial times, so taking without giving is out of the question. In addition, a proper due diligence is critical. Only win-win deals and solutions will work in the long term.
What are some of the hottest and most lucrative sectors that you may recommend for companies both in the United States and Africa to invest in?
Agriculture. Many places in Africa are considered food baskets of the world and the most underutilized rich soil on the planet. It is disheartening to see African countries importing agriculture they should be producing. Guinea, for example, should be competing with California to feed the world. Imagine if the rest of the world tasted Guinea’s produce, they wouldn’t eat anything else!
I am style in chock when I see in Guinea we are importing rice and chicken knowing that the local one are a million time better, like Professor Theophile Obenga said, in Africa we are eating imported chicken we don’t know where they come from with no color no test probably chicken no one want in Occident…
In Africa we urgently need an agriculture and livestock revolution!
There is so much demand and there are great opportunities in infrastructure, health, education, energy, and finance (specially in stock market).
Outside Alicante, I am aware you recently ventured into a business that deals with bauxite and gold mining permits to air transport for mine workers in Guinea. Can you tell us about those new ventures, and how can African governments get more American junior mining firms to start looking into Africa?
Enticing smaller firms and investors to fill the opportunity gap that the large firms leave behind is my goal. Living in Los Angeles with access to investors is a benefit but as you mention, it remains a challenge without stability, stronger infrastructure, and help from the government. African governments should advertise, participate in trade shows, and establish an African chamber of commerce in the U.S. These are relatively easy ways to make connections with small to mid-size firms. In the meantime, I approach one opportunity at a time and I think that demonstrating success will pave the way to more investment in the future. Currently, I am working with Guinean partners on interesting gold and bauxite research permits. I am optimistic that we will find the right investors for these projects.
To those in the United States who are still nervous about Africa what can you tell them based on your experiences about Guinea and the rest of the continent?
To travelers I advise, go to as many parts of Africa as you can, spend as much time as you can, go as often as you can, you will never regret it!
From a business perspective, I see that often the mistakes smaller investors make are really self-inflicted, so I would advise people to just use common sense. Beyond that, I would say that your future is in Africa. It is the new El Dorado not only because of the rich soil and land, but because of the people, a young, talented, and entrepreneurial generation looking for opportunities. Investors in the U.S. need to be nimble and learn to speak their language to understand African culture.
There are enormous opportunities in Africa generally and specifically in Guinea: it is a very rich country not only in terms of minerals (60 percent of the world bauxite, the biggest world reserve of iron ore, major deposit of gold, graphite, and rare minerals) but we have major opportunities in agriculture and infrastructure.
Without being too controversial, I am more nervous to visit parts of the U.S. than to walk in a street in Conakry, Accra or Abuja.