U.S.-Africa relations: Beyond the summit
Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) shakes the hand of President H.E. Goodluck Jonathan, Federal Republic of Nigeria, at the dinner in his honor, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, on Aug. 6, 2014 in NW DC. (Photo (c) Roy Lewis)
By George E. Curry NNPA Editor-in-Chief
First of Two Parts
WASHINGTON, D.C. (NNPA) – The recent conference of African leaders convened by President Obama in the nation’s capital demonstrated that the U.S. is finally recognizing what China, the European Union, India and the rest of the world have known and acknowledged for years: The future of humanity is increasingly African.
A report issued earlier this month by the United Nations, titled, “Generation 2030: Africa,” made that unmistakably clear.
“Africa’s population will double in just 35 years to 2.4 billion in 2050, and is projected to eventually hit 4.2 billion by 2100. About half a billion will be added already by 2030. More than half of the 2.2 billion projected rise in the world’s population between 2015 and 2050 will take place on this continent alone. As a result of changing global population dynamics, and with Asia’s population growth set to slow markedly, Africa will increase its share of the world population to almost 25 percent by mid-century and 39 percent by the end of the century, up from just 9 percent in 1950 and 16 per-cent in 2015.”
And as capitalists, U.S. business leaders see dollar signs.
“I think they should have called it the US-Africa Business Summit, that’s what they should have called it,” said Bill Fletcher, Jr., former president of TransAfrica, the nation’s oldest African American policy organization dedicated to a fair U.S. policy for Africa and the Diaspora. “If they had called it that, they would have been honest.”
At the summit, held Aug. 4-6, President Obama announced that the federal government and U.S. companies are in-vesting $33 billion in Africa – $12 billion in new commitments – as part of an overall plan to “take our trade with Africa to the next level.”
There are enormous needs on the continent. According to a research brief by the African Development Bank:
• 40 percent of the population lacks access to safe water;
• 60 percent of the population lacks basic sanitation;
• Only 30 percent of the rural population in Sub-Saharan Africa has access to all-season roads;
• Transport costs in Africa are among the highest in the world;
• Only 30 percent of African population has access to electricity;
• Africa has the lowest telephone penetration – 14 percent (the world average is 52 percent).
• Africa has the lowest Internet penetration – 3 percent (the world average is 14 percent).
Coupled with those enormous needs is the realization that Africa has six of the top 10 fastest-growing economies in the world: Angola, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Chad, Mozambique, and Rwanda. Moreover, from 2011-2015, Africa is expected to hold seven of the top 10 spots: Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria.
With China investing more than twice as much annually in Africa as the United States – $200 billion versus $85 billion – the U.S. has some major catching up to do.
“Africa cut a deal around infrastructure – we need rail-roads, we need highways, we need ports, we need airports and the Chinese have no problem delivering this stuff,” said Mel Foote, president of Constituency for Africa, an Africa support group founded in 1990. “They delivered billions of dollars in development dollars that we were reluctant to do. They built the African Union headquarters, which is the most spectacular building on the continent. We’re sitting back twiddling our thumbs while China is looking out for China’s interests.”
Fletcher said there is another aspect of the relationship between China and Africa that needs to be understood.
“While there is a different Chinese foreign policy than existed under Mao [Zedong] versus today, one of the things that helps explain some of the relationships between China and Africa is China knows what it means to be raped,” he said. “Many of the African countries understand that. China experienced the brutality of the West. The United States is not standing on moral high grounds when it waves it’s finger at China.
“Don’t get me wrong, I am not excusing a whole series of things that the Chinese are doing there. But the bottom line is the U.S. does not stand in a position where it can preach to anybody. I don’t think President Obama gets that.”
Both Fletcher and Foote agree that President Obama should not have excluded tyrannical leaders from the summit on Africa while inviting other dictators.
“I thought he made a mistake by not inviting [Zimbabwe’s Robert] Mugabe,” Foote said. “I haven’t heard of him massacring his own people. I haven’t heard of him enriching himself. He just stayed too long and didn’t do what we wanted him to do.”
Fletcher stated, “I’m no fan of Robert Mugabe – I lost faith in him a long time ago. Yet my attitude is that he is a leader on the continent and if Mbasago of Equatorial Guinea was represented, Zimbabwe should have been there.”
In addition to not inviting Mugabe, President Obama also refused to invite Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan; Catherine Samba-Panza, interim president Central African Republic and Isaias Afewerki, president of Eritrea.
Fletcher said, “I felt like the African nations – the entire AU – basically should have said, ‘Either all of us are going to be there or none of us are going.’”
Mel Foote, president of the Constituency for Africa, said the summit will forever alter how America views Africa. Even more important, he said, was U.S. support for emerging leaders of African countries.
“This generation that’s coming up clearly wants to see good governance, clearly wants to see market-based economics, clearly wants to see science and technology deployed,” said Foote. “In the long term, it’s going to be these young people coming up – folks 20 to 40 – who will not put up with the foolishness that we’ve seen since these countries emerged from independence.
“Other presidents had the opportunity to call such a summit but they didn’t,” Foote said. “He [Obama] will be seen as the guy who transformed relationships with Africa. That will be his legacy.”
Bill Fletcher, who said the gathering should have been called the US-Africa Business Summit, sees it differently.
“There should have been broader objectives,” he said. “There remains significant issues of conflict and resolution in the Great Lakes region of the continent, like the eastern DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]. There remains a conflict in South Sudan and in Dafour. There’s the continued Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. These are all things around which there really could have been some interesting discussions and possibly some off-the-record negotiations.
“If the U.S. really wanted to be the honest broker, it could have helped begin some type of mediation exchanges. But that’s not really what happened.”
[NEXT: Issues in Africa beyond trade]