BY EMMANUEL NNADOZIE
US President Barack Obama played host to some 50 African heads of state and government from August 4 to August 6 at a historic US-Africa Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. The theme of the summit was “Investing in the Next Generation.”
It was the first of its kind between a sitting US President and African leaders. According to the White House, the meeting, built on the President’s trip to Africa in the summer of 2013 and aimed at strengthening ties between the US and one of the world’s most dynamic and fastest-growing regions. That the summit was a testament to the growing relevance of Africa in global geopolitics is not in doubt. It is the “youngest and fastest-growing continent, with young people that are full of dreams and ambition,” President Obama said in an address to delegates. And as the continent’s influence continues to grow, the US intends to make Africa “a good partner, an equal partner, and a partner for the long term,” he added.
Africa offers immense opportunities in terms of abundant natural resources, new technologies, investments, access to potential markets, and new types of consumers. Little wonder why countries such as China, India, Malaysia, Turkey, and Brazil have been increasing their presence and investments in the continent. Although the US has been relatively slower to react to these dynamics, hosting the summit is a sign that it can no longer stay on the sidelines.
To emphasise this point, President Obama announced a series of steps the US is now taking to boost ties with Africa. First, he called on the US Congress to renew and enhance the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which makes it easier for African countries to export products to the US.
He also promised continued partnership with Africa to build the necessary infrastructure for a flourishing economy. In this regard, the Power Africa Initiative, first made public last year to bring electricity to 20 million African homes and businesses, would be doubled to reach 60 million beneficiaries at a cost of $26 billion, he said. Similarly, American corporate giants, including Coca-Cola, Blackstone, GE and the hotel group Marriot, made commitments worth billions of dollars to expand their businesses in Africa.
Africa’s own priorities
But commendable as these measures may appear, they represent in the main what the US wants to do for Africa and not what Africa expects from America. The following suggestions emanating from a spectrum of African political and business leaders, academics, activists, and youths, represent the continent’s key demands from the Americans. After all, as an Africa proverb says, he who wears the shoe knows where it hurts most.
The African expectations could be broken down into six proposals that would enable the US partner the continent to achieve a robust economic growth and development presumably well in advance of 2063. The hope is that in 50 years’ time, Africa would have become a politically united continent enjoying inclusive growth and sustainable development, good governance, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law, a peaceful and secure Africa whose development is people-driven. The African Union has appropriately termed this “Agenda 2063”.
In light of this, Africa’s most urgent demand would be for US assistance in tackling insecurity and violence. Peace and security, the prerequisite for any sustainable and inclusive economic growth and development, is still a challenge for many African countries. Armed conflicts, maritime piracy, terrorism, transnational criminal networks, territorial disputes, cattle rustling, and organized crime are among the security challenges still facing many African countries.
Trans-border terrorism has recently appeared as a serious threat on the continent wellbeing. With US intelligence and military assistance, African countries like Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, and Libya will be better placed to defeat terrorist acts unleashed by Islamic groups such as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine, al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram.
Another area of possible collaboration is in strengthening democracy, human rights, and good governance. Though African countries have made some progress in terms of political and economic governance and human rights, challenges still remain. US-Africa partnership here would help in dispersing power from strong executives and empowering the ordinary folk. The US may also have to consider bolstering the African Governance Architecture (AGA), set up by African governments to develop appropriate responses and enhanced capacity to continental governance challenges.
Strengthening institutional capacity
Thirdly, the US can intervene to strengthen weak institutional capacity, which poses a major obstacle to long term economic growth and consequently sustainable economic development in Africa. For instance, the NEPAD Capacity Development Initiative, whose aim is to build the capacities of continental institutions in conjunction with the African Capacity Building Foundation, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and the African Development Bank could leverage on America’s financial and technical support to enable it to focus on institutions of all types and at all levels that enhance the capacities of African countries to implement sound macroeconomic and social sector policies.
The ACBF, UNECA, and the AfDB could serve as the main institutions driving such a partnership at the continental level. Africa could equally use US assistance in the area of human capital development, which is an engine of economic growth and sustained economic development and transformation. Today, Africa’s urgent priority is to reduce poverty through strong and sustained economic development that benefits the poor and advances social services. Achieving human capital development is both critical and urgent for Africa’s development agenda and the ACBF which is already making positive contributions in this area could be further assisted by the US to do more.
Trade expansion and the broadening of Africa’s exports base offer huge economic growth potentials to African countries and their foreign partners. However, the majority of the countries have not fully benefited from trade with the US. This is mainly because the US trades more with mineral-rich countries like Angola, Nigeria, and South Africa. Also, African exports are less diversified and highly dependent on raw materials and simple processed products.
To address this challenge, the AfDB helped to establish the Africa Trade Fund (AfTra) to provide financing facilities and advance trade and trade-related activities in Africa. AfTra was set up in response to Africa’s need for greater integration into regional and global trading systems. The US-African partnership should aim to expand trade by investing in manufacturing, services, tourism, textile, and agriculture. Not only will this broaden the export base of African beneficiaries, it will equally help grow their industrial sector and create jobs for the army of unemployed. The review and extension of AGOA by the US Congress will doubtless bring great benefits to Africa.
Facilitating regional integration
It was heartening to hear President Obama during the summit indicate US desire to assist in this area. “I want Africans buying more American products. I want Americans buying more African products,” he told his guests. Clearly, there is potential for export expansion among African countries which can further grow regional export performance, with the US as a potential market. But US-Africa partnership should also aim at improving trade facilitation and capacity development, and the promotion of regional integration.
Finally, US investment inflows into Africa remain limited compared to China and the European Union. America needs to make strategic investments in infrastructure which is critical for a real and sustainable economic development of the continent. Besides, American partnership could assist in lowering the cost of doing business in Africa which is still relatively high compared with other regions.
The involvement of the US in driving the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa – the continental strategy for modernizing infrastructure at regional and continental levels – would greatly help to transform Africa’s poor infrastructure. PIDA’s focus is on transport, energy, trans-boundary water, and Information Communication Technology infrastructure which are necessary if the continent is to be successfully integrated.
In conclusion, the slowdown in the global economy, including in the US, raises some implications for how the US should see Africa. One spinoff of the trend could be an Africa-US cooperation that is beneficial to both the world in general and the US in particular in the medium to long term. Africa believes the US should see its economic development as an important tool in its quest to reignite its own economic growth and create jobs.
African countries, therefore, believe that Africa and the US should see Africa as part of the solution to the global economic crisis and invest in the continent for mutual benefit. The world needs a new driver of consumer demand, a new market and a new dynamo. This driver can be Africa.
(Prof Nnadozie is the Executive Secretary of the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) in Harare, Zimbabwe)