Kayler Williams: A Team Leader in Linking Houston with Africa

At a time when Houstonians were shivering with late-autumn cold, one of its best "behind-the-scenes" representatives was "down under" in November's summer in southern Africa and it had nothing to do with a vacation! Country liaison and Community Relations Manager Kayler Williams was arranging the visitation to the 1999 Houston International Festival of some amazing talents at the downtown venues April 17-25.

From the Capetown area the "Zip-Zap Circus" of up to two dozen variously aged children will come to Houston to perform amazing stunts and daredevil feats of acrobatics. From the other side of South Africa, "Moving Into Dance," a group of a dozen teen-to-30 aged dancers, will show that county's traditions. Houstonian Silvia Glasser developed this cultural bridge in 1978, and is happy to "bring it home" for fellow citizens to enjoy. Other countries will also be represented in arts, crafts, dance, and folklore.

Williams began her current position in 1996, and tells USAfrica The Newspaper, it was her first trip to Africa. While she saw both more- or less-fortunate people than here at home, her impression of the shared human spirit leads her to conclude, "We're all the same!"

Beyond the entertainment aspects of the annual event, the groundwork she helped to lay through coordinated efforts with Ambassador Cynthia Perry, City Council member Jew Don Boney, Houston Mayor Lee P. Brown, and Houston International Festival President Jim Austin resulted in Houston simultaneously hosting the African National Summit. The Corporate Council on Africa, promoting international trade and exchange, helped set up the third biennial event to coincide with the Festival. As a result, many heads of state and ministers of trade were in Houston to give person-to-person guidelines and advice to Houston-area business leaders and individuals interested in the growing African market.

Among those available for business conferences and meetings during the April 24-28 period were several hundred dignataries, trade ministers, and heads-of-state from individual nations throughout Africa, as well as administrative groups such as ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), SADC (Southern African Development Community), COMESA (Common Market for East and Southern Africa), West African Economic and Monetary Union, the African Development Bank, African Export-Import Bank, Farmhouse LDA, UNDP Africa, and UNIDA.

From the United States, a long list of government officials headed by cabinet-level secretaries of Energy, Commerce, and Transportation, congressional leaders, and others from the Secretary of State's office relating to economic development, various energy-related CEO heads, etc. The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (TDA) and the Corporate Council on Africa hosted 13 African ministers of petroleum and national petroleum company executives on a Petroleum Industry Orientation Visit to the U.S. April 24-May 5, 1999.

Over 550 Houston companies currently do business with African nations, according to the Corporate Council on Africa. Business contacts were conducted on two levels, by paid advance registration at either the conference held April 24-29 at the Houstonian, or a one-day symposium for small- and medium-sized businesses hosted by Ambassador Cynthia Perry, Chairwoman of The Houston International Festival, for those interested in entering the African marketplace or expanding their current operations. The Corporate Council on Africa and The Greater Houston Partnership, in conjunction with The Houston International Festival, have designed a program that will bring high-level decision-makers from Africa and the United States to address concerns that particularly affect the small entrepreneur. The one-day program has been designed so that the attending companies receive the same benefits of the 1999 Summit as participating corporations. The TSU conference attendees will pay only $100; those major corporate participants all ready registered to attend the Houstonian conference site will gain highest-level consultations, to overcome any unknown diplomatic or governmental requirements to business trade. Attendees will coordinate through the Corporate Council on Africa, and the Greater Houston Partnership's Africa Forum Committee, 713-844-3600.

Kayler Williams traveled with other team members to the previous African National Summit held outside Washington, D.C. in 1997, and expects this one to leave a very positive result for Houston's Port Authority and Mickey Leeland Terminal of Bush Intercontinental Airport as the new millennium dawns. It is through the dedicated long-term work of individuals like her that events like the "Attracting Capital to Africa"-themed African National Summit, and the crowd-pleasing and educational cultural exchange of the Houston International Festival come to be, and help bring us all together.