From Morrisania to Africa, via “Kuwait”

Photo by Sarah Pizon Daniel "Kuwait" Adjei (left) and Greg M. Akologo

For West African residents in the South Bronx, Kuwait is not just a Middle Eastern country. “Kuwait” is a Ghanaian immigrant whose Morrisania-based business has become the conduit back to their nations of origin.

Kuwait Shipping & Packaging , which specializes in transporting items to West African countries, has made it possible for immigrants to ship raw construction materials along with American consumer goods back to their homelands. As the owner of one of the oldest companies in the area that ships goods to West Africa, “Kuwait” has made a name for himself.

“I’m a popular guy. Everyone knows me around here. If you ask a bus driver to take you to ‘Kuwait,’ he’ll bring you to my shop,” he said.

Kuwait, whose real name is Daniel Adjei, used to be a welder in Ghana. After he returned home following an unsuccessful attempt at finding work in the Middle East in the early 1980s, his friends nicknamed him “Kuwait.”

Adjei moved to the United States twenty-eight years ago and received citizenship under President Ronald Reagan’s amnesty program for undocumented immigrants, then began working for his uncle’s company in the South Bronx, which bought damaged cars at auctions and shipped them to West Africa via a third-party shipping company.

“I realized we could start organizing our own business and shipping the cars ourselves,” he said. Over the years, Adjei has seen his customer base expand because he offered personal business shipping experience, he said. “People know me and feel I’m putting my heart in it.”

“I do business with respect and dignity,” he said. “That’s a guarantee.”

Now, Kuwait ships not only cars but also a wide variety of goods such as marble, metals, refrigerators and toilet paper to West Africa.

West African culture has powerful ties to family. While a majority of African men have moved to America looking for better income, they still seek to build their dream house – a symbol of success – back home, explained Adjei.

“People might live like crap here, but back home, they’re building mansions. With Africa’s cheap labor, it’s easy,” he said.

Other local members of the Ghanaian diaspora echo this sentiment.  “This country has a lot to offer,” said Marc Anthony, owner of an adjacent auto repair shop. “With a positive mindset and hard working, you can get where you have to,” he said.

Over the last 20 years, Adjei’s growing shipping business reflects the remarkable growth of the South Bronx’ West African population, especially among Ghanaians and Nigerians. According to the 2007 Census Bureau American Survey, the Bronx’s sub-Saharan African population has ballooned from 12,063 in 1990 to 36,361 in 2000, to 54,932 in 2007.

Yet, as the population of West African immigrants increased, Adjei saw his profits fall as Nigerians started to open their own shipping companies. The 2008 financial crisis didn’t help either. While Adjei used to ship four 40-foot containers per week, he now only ships one or two.

Adjei still manages to make ends meet and tries to do some good, too. He hired Greg M. Akologo, a deaf man from Ghana who struggled to secure paperwork and a job. He regularly donates money to African humanitarian organizations and ships abandoned goods he finds on the streets– like bikes, computers and mattresses– to Ghana, because he knows that they will be well received.

Although Daniel “Kuwait” Adjei may be thousands of miles away, he hasn’t “forgotten the problems of my country,” he said. “If I can still make a difference, then God is going to bless me.”

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