Global Affairs: Africans Must Exercise Confidence

787 views Published on 5th April 2011

Edward Opka is the principal of The OKPA Company, LLC, and has been appraising and brokering commercial real estate and consulting on international trade for many years. In addition to his business experience, his community service includes, recipient of Samuel G. Winstead Award for raising more than $1 million for Park South YMCA in 1998. He is a member of Dallas County Appraisal Review Board, Vice Chair of one of Dallas’ oldest chambers of commerce. He attended several trade missions with Mayor Kirk of Dallas, now US Trade Representative in President Obama administration.

Edward Okpa is married and blessed with two children. His wife is an Electrical Engineer. She is the owner and president of a management consulting company based in Dallas. He serves on the Dallas Development Fund board. He studied Real Estate Management in Nigeria. He graduated from the Harvard University Graduate Real Estate Design School in 2006.

In a recent candid interview, with Tony Aduayi of Trendy Africa, Edward Okpa analyses the economic issues with Governance just as he metaphorically explains his intentions and probable solutions.

TA - How have you sustained your campaign financially?

E O – Sometimes it’s easier raising funds for other people than oneself. My Wife and I are basically underwriting the campaign. We solicit people and mail them requests to go online and make donations. Our budget keeps fluctuating but $250,000 is the sort of number we need to run the campaign. If we don’t have it, there are other means one can use to run the campaign. You know that political contributions differ from those of social input. People are generally skeptical about political donations.

TA – Professional Background

EO – Commercial real estate but I am not an agent; I don’t sell but I do consult, develop and engage in international trade.

TA – African Business Relationship in Dallas

EO – The U.S economy is largely driven by small business units and they are largely defined by the level of income they generate. If you look at the immigrant community that most of us belong to, our businesses will be classified as small businesses. We as Africans do not embark on the same business format as other immigrants such as the Hispanics, Asians or Arabs. We have a tendency of being scattered everywhere. As Mayor, I will instill a certain model in the African business community to achieve certain results that would be ultimately beneficial for the community. Our constantly mobile internal migration status makes it hard for an adequate census to capture African’s in one locality and also to generate a quantifiable presence. We are all over the Dallas metropolis. We are the only major immigrants that do not have a credit union or a community bank which makes it hard to participate in economic development. Africans need financial institutions that are sympathetic to their culture, ways of life and business model. As Mayor, I will focus on establishing a credit union for the African community. Imaging how much money African Immigrants send home through Western Union and other money transfer agencies and imaging the amount of commission that could be generated if this was done through their own financial institution. Such funds could be used to support the nonprofit organization. We as Africans do not have political assess. The first Nigerian settled in the USA about a century ago. Where are they today; where are we on the political scene? We are not on school boards, not on city councils, not on state legislatures or even congress. We parade the degrees but with our over 83 years of continuous presence in America, we are still like people who just showed up.  There are no specific references to business communities owned by Africans such as shopping centers or strip malls. America does not look at you for your degree; they look at you for your community presence. We are present but not quantifiable and that is the key. The American democracy is strong at the local level such as the city council. There are certain discussions we should be having in our community in order for our presence to be recognized and accorded the due respect. The way we do things has not attracted the attention that will give collateral value to our presence. In the American model, if you do not have a financial institution of your own, you are not playing in the economic scheme of things. For most small businesses, loans such as $5,000 or $10,000 are all we need but which bank will give you that these days? If we had an established credit un ion, the probability of getting such loans will be high. 

TA – Motivation to run for Mayor

EO – This is not the first time I ran for Mayor. I did in 2003 which was my eighth year of becoming a citizen and the reason I decided to contest was because I had resolved that on becoming a citizen of the U.S, I will not just vote for people but will be voted for. Historically, my father was a Chief in colonial Nigeria. I am from Enugu and my Father was the Chief of my town and he represented the entire division. He was a member of the Eastern Nigeria house of Chiefs until the war started. We have had a long history of community service. My older sister was also the First Lady of Gombe State in Nigeria where she also participated in several community service projects. I believe in public service and this has motivated me all these years. My father told me when I was coming to America that I should be part of the community. He said no amount of money sent back home would impress him but my achievement in the community would delight him. He passed on in 1994 but I am determined to continue the legacy.

TA – Integrating with communities around Dallas

EO – The campaign here is different. You do not drive around with loud speakers on your car. You run TV campaigns, newsprint and participate in debates. When people come out, they hear you and make their informed decisions. Elections here are run intellectually. At a recent debate, some people expressed that they never heard about me but noted that I would really make a good Mayor based on what they heard me say. I believe I know the issues and I have unique solutions to those issues.

The two times I ran, Dallas Morning News always said I was the smartest candidate. That to me is a big compliment. We have to get out there and exercise ourselves. My father once told me that a soldier is the one who has been to battle and dogged bullets. A lot of us tend to stay within our careers and comfort zones but have not really gone out to exercise ourselves in the greater community. In stepping forward for public office, one has to be vast in knowledge. You need to be able to articulate answers to questions from Doctors, Farmers, Engineers and other professions. I have been on Trade Missions, I have served on Boards and I even hosted the Governor of Texas Rick Perry twice in my Home last year. I am the first black to host the Governor at home in North Texas. I have a passion for public service and I believe Dallas deserves an opportunity to enhance a lot of things that already exist. It’s not about how many new things are coming in but how can we translate such add on as added value to our community. It can only take someone who thinks critically and unconventionally to recognize such. My Mum once said that; “Imagine someone in the bath with soap in the eyes is crying for someone else to bring water to wash off the soap.” Why don’t we take the same water and clean the face? We tend to look outside for new things to bring but what about those that still exist? Sometimes you don’t have to look too far for the resources we desperately need. And that’s what leadership is all about. What stones have we left unturned in order to unveil and reveal what is hidden?

TA – Relationships with past Mayors

EO – I have known every Mayor in the City of Dallas since 1995. The first African American Mayor Ron Kirk invited me on a mission to South Africa for twelve days. My relationships with others including Mayor Miller and Tom Leppert have been strictly professional. All the sitting members of council know me by name even though I never worked for the city.

TA – Plans to ensure revenue stream without hurting the masses

EO – Well, the National economy is currently in a structural shock and this transcends down to the states and the local level. Our budget has largely been based on the times when growth in America could be predicted. Remember that several years ago, 60% of the global wealth was kept in the U.S economy because it was safe, stable and all other factors that could attract investment. But now the Dollar is no longer the preferred currency. We built our economy on those monies coming into the system but now it does not come anymore at the previous rate and we are still budgeting on that premise. So what needs to happen is that there should be a re-think. If we run our household on a deficit, we will go bankrupt. The two major sources of revenue for any city are the property tax and the sales tax. Today, you drive around and observe empty shopping centers thereby indicating a reduction in sales tax. The property values have also reduced which also would affect the property tax. People have walked away from their properties because of the inability to cope with the payments. A structural adjustment needs to take place. We need to cut our coat according to our size. As a resource, money is finite. A dollar is a dollar; 1 million dollars is 1 million dollars. It is the attitude to that money that can deplete it or grow it. If we start to spend below our revenue while keeping an eye on our expenses and have a savings fund say about 5% of our revenue as a cushion for any short falls in the future, then we can manage. There will always be deficits but we do not want to have deficits that would crush the people. Some of the long term obligations that we’ve had say 10 to 15 years ago when the economy was predictable, dependable and reliable should all be revalued. For instance, if one had purchased a $300,000 home based on a steady income and all of a sudden the income source disappears based on economic factors, your lifestyle will suddenly change. You either refinance the property or take other actions. If it can be done at the individual level, nothing stops the city from doing same. Things are getting harder for the tax payer who pays this burden. We cannot rub Peter to pay Paul.

TA – Explain the tweet; “Dallas needs to stop being like a river with a Dam. We need sprinklers…”

EO – It’s a figurative expression. A river with a dam stops the flow of water unless the flow gates are open.  The other side of the dam is like a valley unless there is an overflow. But when there is a sprinkler system, the water spreads so the chances are that you are able to redistribute your resources well.  The sprinkler system is an approach to resource allocation with the ultimate goal for highest and best use. George Bush says; “no child left behind”. My thing is; “no neighborhood left behind.” This is a sprinkler system. Everybody has to contribute not necessarily on an equal basis but on an effective basis. So how do you reallocate your resources? It is done with the sense of participation and involvement. When you involve people in what you are doing everyone feel ownership; when you succeed everyone succeeds. When you fail it becomes an issue of collective correction and dialogue.

TA – Confidence driver running as an African

EO – My confidence was based on my interaction with my family. My father said Knowledge is about the confidence you have in what you know and the attitude you have to express it. I am not discouraged about my race in the race for Mayor; “bring it on” put it on the table and let’s go for it. I do not overlook the limitations but this race is like horses in a derby. The horses run in a pack and the winner breaks away.  The most expensively trained horses always shoot ahead and remain the focus then all of a sudden; one comes from behind and wins. That’s life. We should not be discouraged by who we are running against. What we should ponder about is our confidence to run. Tell yourself that you may not be better but you are good. The result would determine. I believe in the American people; they are open and fair. If they believe somebody is good for a position, they vote him in. People are generally tired of getting the same old thing on the basis of sentiments. Who would have thought six years ago that Obama would be president? I appreciate the founding fathers of this country. What if they had made eligibility of position to be based on wealth? We are equalized by one man one vote.

Courtesy: Trendy Africa Media USA. 


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