Zimbabwe native Arikana Chihombori-Quao wears many labels beyond her always-stylish designer suits. She’s a physician, founder of medical clinics, and an entrepreneur who includes among her properties, the historic US-based Africa House, and South Africa’s Durban Manor Hotel.
But the one label she embraces with the most pride is that of Ambassador to the US on behalf of the African Union (AU).
“In this new position, my mandate is to promote the longstanding and historical, cultural and economic relations between Africa and the US,” she states. “More importantly, to mobilize the African diaspora, which we define as ‘people of African descent living outside of Africa’.”
It’s the perfect job for a woman whose passion and pride for Africa and the diaspora is deep-rooted.
“I have seen diasporans come to the Americas with absolutely nothing, but through hard work, they are now professionals in a position to look back and take Africa to the next level. They are highly adaptable and totally indestructible.”
She counts herself among them.
Like many first-generation immigrants, Chihombori-Quao traveled to America to pursue an education.
A graduate of Fisk University and Meharry Medical College, she holds a Bachelors degree in General Chemistry, a Master’s Degree in Organic Chemistry, and a Doctor of Medicine Degree.
“I intended to go back home after school,” she says. “But then I got married, had children, and my family back home dwindled. Suddenly I realized I’d spent more than half of my life in America. The reasons for going back home were no longer there.”
After completing her medical residency in 1992, Chihombori-Quao settled in Murfreesboro, Tennessee – located in the southern region of the US – to open a medical practice. Soon after, she, along with her husband, Ghanaian physician, Saban Nii Quao, opened a chain of family medical clinics in the state.
Her entrepreneurial DNA led her to purchase the historic Durban Manor Hotel – once a whites-only all-male hotel and club – now a place for cultural heritage tourism and intellectual engagement. In a greater ironic twist, she purchased a 15,000-square-foot plantation, sprawled across 30 acres of land on the hills of Gallatin, Tennessee, christening it Africa House.
“We encourage Africans to look at it as a place where they can not only hold lavish events but have something they can call ‘their home’.”
Alongside her career and business investments are her humanitarian efforts to promote women’s rights around the globe, and improve healthcare systems in Africa.
During her tenure as Chair of the African Union-African Diaspora Health Initiative (AU-ADHI), she led a delegation of medical professionals made up of other diasporans and ‘Friends of Africa’ living in Tennessee. They used their own money and resources to travel back to Africa on missions in Malawi, Equatorial Guinea, and elsewhere, to improve healthcare in the most deserved regions. The delegation donated supplies and trained healthcare workers in the various district and regional hospitals.
Still committed to engaging and promoting the efforts of the diaspora, Chihombori-Quao now does so through her new official role as the AU’s permanent ambassador.
“It begins with reaching out to the diaspora,” she explains. “It takes a village to raise a child. There are many who say ‘Africa doesn’t matter’. We need to come together as one to raise the physical boundaries in Africa. But to do that, we need first to decolonize the black mind. We need to take time to sincerely inventory who we are and how we were colonized; otherwise the battle is going to be lost.”
Article first published in Forbes Africa