Dear President Obama: Africa is calling

Darius Mans, president of Africare.

Last June, President Barack Obama released his U.S. strategy toward sub-Saharan Africa, describing Africa as a “region of growing opportunity and promise, for Africa, for America.” Africare applauds the president’s focus on Africa, and we welcome his decision to further the proud tradition of America’s commitment to Africa.

The president has already begun building on the successful African legacies of his predecessors: President Bill Clinton’s African Growth and Opportunity Act and President George W. Bush’s substantial increase in aid to Africa and his push, through the establishment of the Millennium Challenge Corp., to make country ownership, results, transparency and accountability the core principles of America’s foreign assistance to Africa. Under President Obama, these initiatives now are cornerstones of U.S. foreign assistance and enjoy broad bipartisan support. We hope to see AGOA expanded and made permanent early in the president’s second term.

President Obama also can help turn the corner on the private sector’s perception of Africa as an unattractive place in which to invest and operate. Over the past 10 years alone, we have seen a marked decline in conflicts, sustained economic development and significant gains in human development. Africa is more peaceful, prosperous, healthy and well-educated than at the turn of the millennium. Last year, more than 15 sub-Saharan countries held successful democratic elections, and three countries managed smooth democratic transitions following the deaths of their sitting presidents. Important progress has been made in a number of African countries to improve their investment climates. Successful implementation of U.S.-supported programs like the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, the Open Government Partnership and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative should help establish an even more robust environment for trade and investment.

A rising Africa is attracting substantial investment from China, Brazil, India, Turkey and a growing list of other countries that look at Africa and see opportunity. Too often, U.S. companies look at Africa and see only risk, ignoring the high risk-adjusted returns to be made from investing in Africa. Many of Africa’s needs – infrastructure, transportation, energy, financial services, consumer goods and more – are demands American companies can meet, and Africans want greater U.S. engagement.

A return visit to Africa by President Obama early in his second term could help pave the way. Hopefully he will be joined by leaders of U.S. companies that are already seriously investing in Africa as well as small and medium-size enterprises looking to do more in Africa; for example, U.S. businesspeople from the African diaspora. Such a trip could help create a new image of Africa among U.S. companies.

The State Department’s recent push to promote private sector investment in Africa and the Department of Commerce’s new “Doing Business in Africa” campaign are important steps that should be built upon. In addition, the Trade and Development Agency, Overseas Private Investment Corp. and Export-Import Bank of the United States could expand provisions of financing and technical support to those who want to invest in Africa. Someone very senior within the administration should be designated to lead an Africa initiative that would take a coordinated, cost-effective, whole-of-government approach.

We hope President Obama will make Africa a top priority in his second term, just as President Clinton and President Bush did in their second terms. A focus on Africa is needed to support Africa’s development in its own right, and it would promote the security and economic interests of the United States.

This is part of a series of guest opinions by NGO leaders on ways to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective.

About the author

  • Darius Mans

    Darius Mans is president of Africare. He joined the organization in 2010, bringing with him more than 30 years of development experience.  Prior to joining Africare, he served as acting CEO, vice president of implementation, and managing director for Africa at the Millennium Challenge Corp.  He has also held various positions at the World Bank, including director of the World Bank Institute.