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14 April 2003

America to Help Business Travelers Go On-Line at African Airports

(OPIC helps bring hi-tech business centers to Nigeria) (680)
By Kelly Machinchick
Washington File Staff Writer


Washington -- Busy travelers in Nigeria will soon be able to tap out
messages, read their e-mail messages and access the indispensable
Internet while waiting for their flights at airports in Abuja, Lagos,
Kano and Port Harcourt, Nigeria, thanks to an innovative program
financed in part by a U.S. government agency.

The world continues to grow closer as technological advances increase,
but certain areas of the world have seen little benefit from this
phenomenon. Sub-Saharan Africa is one such region.

That is beginning to change, though, and the Overseas Private
Investment Corporation (OPIC) is providing investment assurance to
American businesses that are exploring new opportunities for growth
and investment in Africa with technology-based initiatives.

NIS Solutions, Inc. of Sterling, Virginia, will establish business
centers with high-speed data, telephony, and video connections at
airports, according to an April 4 OPIC press release. OPIC will
provide up to two million dollars in political risk insurance for NIS
Solutions.

OPIC and NIS Solutions hope that the airport business centers will
become important components in the quest to increase trade and
investment in Nigeria. The centers may also help increase the number
of business travelers who visit Nigeria.

Peter Watson, OPIC President and CEO, expressed his pleasure
concerning the project. "The opportunity to close the gap in Internet
connectivity between sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world is
an important developmental benefit of this project. OPIC is pleased
that U.S. technology, in the form of software solutions and products,
could serve as a vehicle to enable Nigeria to more rapidly join the
global marketplace. This project also serves as an example of the
dynamism of U.S. small businesses that we are eager to support."

Watson said that although sub-Saharan connectivity increased from 2000
to 2001, the increase failed to keep pace with that in other emerging
markets. Latin America, for example, experienced a 500 percent
increase. According to OPIC, only one in 250 sub-Saharan African
adults has Internet access, compared to approximately 80 percent of
North American adults.

NIS Solutions Chairman Robert E. Gray expressed some concerns about
investing in Nigeria, but he is optimistic that the project will be a
success. "This is our first investment in Nigeria, and while we
recognize the need for these services and the market potential, being
a small business means that significant losses in Nigeria could
negatively impact the entire company. OPIC's political risk insurance,
therefore, provides us with the confidence to go forward with this
investment, hire and train Nigerian technicians, and to carry out our
expansion plans."

The investment in Nigeria comes on the heels of a major U.S.
government program, the Digital Freedom Initiative, which focuses
initially on Senegal. This initiative is designed to "spur global
economic growth," said Secretary of Commerce Don Evans in a March 4
speech.

The initiative, he said, "builds an environment for technology-led
economic development. [It] gives small businesses and entrepreneurs
the tools they need to create wealth, access capital, and enter new
markets."

The Digital Freedom Initiative will benefit over 360,000 small
businesses and more than half a million Senegalese, said Evans. And,
he added, "Within five years, it will help create and sustain free
markets in up to 20 developing countries."

The U.S. Government drew on help from Hewlett-Packard and Cisco
Systems to make the initiative a reality.

OPIC was established as an agency of the U.S. Government in 1971 to
help U.S. businesses invest overseas, increase economic development in
new markets, and support U.S. foreign policy. In 32 years, OPIC's
political risk insurance and financing have helped American businesses
invest in over 150 emerging markets worldwide. OPIC has supported
$145,000 million worth of investments that have helped developing
countries generate over $11,000 million in host-government revenues
and create over 680,000 jobs. OPIC projects have also created over
254,000 American jobs.

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)