By Tony Ailemen | Thisday Newspaper
Paschal Okechukwu Mbawuike a Nigerian-American fondly known as Mr. Wonderful by friends, has for several years attained global heights while having a strong presence in his home country. He could rightly be described as a key stakeholder among Nigerians in the Diaspora and a Washington power broker. Mbawuike sits on the crest of a leading corporate entity, Cohen and Woods International, a Washington-based Africa focused consulting firm,
Cohen and Woods International was founded by Ambassador Herman J. Cohen, former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, under former President Bush One. Like many other Nigerians in the United States, he has also remained a very quiet rain maker.
Mbawuike, who is abreast with key government decision makers in Nigeria and the continent of Africa, has impacted strongly in the transformation process of the Nigerian economy through a partnership between corporate Nigeria and Cohen & Woods International. Cohen & Woods is a US based Africa focused consulting outfit founded by Ambassador Herman Cohen, a former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa under the Bush One Administration. Having first served as US Ambassador to two African countries, it is understandable why Ambassador Cohen founded a global outfit that is first and foremost focused on African affairs, businesses, the economy, politics and culture of the people.
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In his capacity as Vice President of Cohen & Woods, Mbawuike has traversed continents selling his ideas on how to add value to lives by seeking for new thresholds and methods of doing business. Last time, he was in Nigeria Mbawuike was involved in a lavish fund raising party for Jeremaiah Useni a former military governor of Plateau State and the minister of the Federal Capital Territory under maximum ruler Sani Abacha. Useni was making a second bid as governor of Plateau State. He lost but Mbawuike kept the friendship and extended his wide reach of contacts with politicians and the big wigs of corporate Nigeria inclusive of the current deputy governor of Imo State and Senate Chief Whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu among others.
With a boss like Cohen, Mbawuike has been around Africa as a deal maker for several years, as a Senior Vice President for Business Development and Strategy. “As you will recall,” Mbawuike observes, “Ambassador Cohen played a key role in the US- Africa relations for over five decades, serving as US Ambassador to Senegal, Uganda and Congo DRC.
Cohen, who also served as a junior officer in The Gambia and Zambia, is fluent in French and some Swahili. Under his watch as a former top US / Africa diplomat, he over saw to the peace process in Angola, between Jonas Savimbi and former Angolan President, José Eduardo dos Santos .
“He also over saw the peace process in Mozambique, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It was because of these efforts that he became a close friend of former Nigerian President, General Ibrahim Babangida.”
Mbawuike recalls visiting General Babangida and his late wife Maryam who he misses dearly, with Ambassador Cohen in 2004 at their Minna home, a visit which was brokered by the late General John Shagaya, former ECOMOG Commander in Liberia and former Nigerian Internal Affairs Minister, under General Babangida. The visit afforded them a rare opportunity to also meet with former Nasarawa State Governor, now Senator representing Nasarawa Central Senatorial District, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, at his Keffi guest house, two nights in a row.
Ambassador Cohen, also popularly known as “Hank” is regarded as the African Crown Prince, in Washington. He is a man who knows who to call and whose phone call from his office overlooking the Potomac River in Washington DC, will delay major decisions in most African capitals. A case in point, was about ten years ago, when Ambassador Cohen’s phone call, restored a US energy company, Hyperdynamics Corporation’s contract in Guinea Conakry, after it was kicked out of its exploration concession due to some under table dealings, involving a Chinese Company.
Ambassador Cohen is a founding member of the Corporate Council on Africa, a trade association that promotes trade between the United States and Africa. Membership includes USAID, ExxonMobil, Chevron Corporation, Caterpillar and Pfizer Corporation, the Aliko Dangote Group and Zenith Bank Plc, and the Ethiopian Airlines. Cohen an author of several books that have helped to shape global diplomatic practices including Intervening in Africa: Super power Peacemaking in a Troubled Continent, The Mind of the African Strongman, Conversation with Dictators, Statesmen and Father Figures, as well as United States policy Toward Africa, Eight Decades of Real Politick, amongst others, has also been rewarded with several international awards. They include the Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy and American Foreign Service Association.
Mbawuike, the Amaimo Ikeduru born Imo State indigene, had after his secondary education at the Amaimo High School, got engaged at the old National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) where he served as a Meter Reader. At that early age however, his aspiration was to play a bigger role in the power sector. This dream fired his zeal to advice energy companies in Africa.
In 1983, young Mbawuike moved to Boston at the prompting of an uncle, a long time US citizen who had this messianic willingness assisting many of his kinsmen keen on living the American Dream. While in Boston, Mbawuike was admitted to Chamberlain College and later Howard University Washington DC, where he read Political Science and Television Production.
It is appropriate therefore, if you refer Mbawuike as a key stakeholder among Nigerians in the Diaspora, and a Washington power broker, for that has been his forte for nearly three decades of working for Cohen & Woods, Mbawuike is seen as an active yet very shy and quiet, strategist known to many as a rain maker.in brokering deals and lobbying Washington, America’s seat of power, for the many African businessmen and politicians seeking for one form of partnership or the other as well as endorsements.
Although he was off the radar for some time due to health challenges, he is back with more reasonable actions and remains the most sought after Game Plan tactician in making deals. For many who may still be having difficulties in fathoming why people go the length and breadth of every circumstance to have access to this young Nigerian, the answer is not farfetched; his relevance in global deal making and his bloody, bold and resolute disposition of not taking ‘No’ for an answer.
He believes in business, you do not get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate for, as only the size matters. Apart from the strong connections he has cultivated over the years among influential persons, in and out of governments around the world, working with Cohen & Woods, Mbawuike has a nature that guards his valour to act in safety.
Mbawuike argues he is fully committed to the Nigerian project, for the records and is not a member of any political party in Nigeria, but has friends, admirers and mentors across the board. In his own words, “Nigeria is our only country and we must not allow it to fail.”
Mbawuike does not hide the accomplishments of his boss on the African continent and the networks he uses to reach Africa and its leaders. He adds: “Cohen’s commitment to Africa can be seen in his popular blog, CohenAfrica.com, his membership of the Council on Democracy and for several years a regular contributor to the Foreign Policy magazine, a frequent guest on CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, Voice of America, (English and French), the French Television and the National Public Radio in the United States as well as Arise Television and TVC Lagos.. He is also a major contributor to the Strait Talk Africa, a Voice of America program that is broadcast in Africa, from Washington DC.”
Adds Mbawuike: “As the CEO and President of Cohen & Woods International, which represents African governments and companies in Washington DC, Ambassador Cohen has also represented US, British, Australian and Canadian Companies in Africa. His emphasis, which is also the official recognition of the US government, is that electricity is the next powerful tool in the advancement of the continent’s economic success. As a result he created a partnership between Cohen & Woods International and Contour Global the biggest American British power company in Africa with Ambassador Cohen as Senior Adviser.”
Contour Global is involved in power generation in Togo, Senegal, Rwanda and Nigeria. In Nigeria, it is involved in Coca Cola bottling plant, in Lagos and Benin City, while also looking at opportunities across Africa.
Still on Nigeria, Mbawuike adds that Cohen believes
“appropriate pricing of gas would attract new investors to the Nigerian power sector; he also insists it is ridiculous for Nigerians to be importing diesel generators at high prices, when low cost gas could lower the price of electricity by a power of ten. Cohen & Woods has been a crusader of improved power distribution and generation with interest in helping American businesses to partner with Nigerian investors in the power sector with increased availability of gas. That is where politics and business go together which also explains why Mbawuike connects closely with the high and mighty in Abuja.
“Advocates for the interplay of the forces of demand and supply in determining the exchange rate rather than a peg or official exchange rate. Says Mbawuike quoting Cohen: “If currency is maintained at an artificial exchange rate, the result will always be negative for the common man. Artificial exchange rates always generate a black market. Money traders know how to benefit from a currency black market, but the ordinary citizen always suffers.”