By Sadiq A. Abdirahman (Political analyst)
As part of President Obama’s comprehensive strategy for engagement in Africa, the first United States and Africa Summit was convened in Washington, DC. All but three of Africa’s heads of states were present. According to the Obama administration, the summit is intended to foster strong economic ties between the United States and African countries. It will show and explain the investment opportunities Africa holds for U.S businesses. The summit has generated a lot of excitements and some criticism from the general public including the African Diaspora who resides in the United States and is attached to their homeland.
Supporters of President Obama’s initiatives point to Africa’s economic potential and the need to exploit investment from the United States. They feel that Africa needs investment and expertise from the United States, in order to develop their own economies, create jobs and reduce the continent’s massive unemployment problems. Those who oppose the summit cannot imagine that the United States had invited autocratic leaders who some of them are branded as human rights violators. They are uncomfortable about how the summit can be construed as supporting these dictators, when in fact it is not. They place much of the responsibility for Africa’s leadership crisis that translated into an economic crisis and bankruptcy on the shoulders of these men. The United States and Africa need each other to cooperate in multiple fronts, but first the United States has to know that Africa is a continent and not a country, therefore, it should be selective and use criteria to separate countries within Africa who have met good governance and those who have not. As of now there are sixteen countries that would meet this criteria and not fifty countries that were invited to this summit.
Africa Needs A Real Partnership
The African people have the same hopes and aspirations of the people in the United States. They want freedom, peace and prosperity for their countries. For more than a century, Africa’s fate was more often not decided by people beyond its shores. It has experienced the inhumaneness of European colonization, the impact of the Cold War between East and West, and the racist Apartheid system. As a result of these vivid experiences, Africans are hesitant to get in the middle of two big powers they know are fighting over to grab their natural resources. Although massive unemployment issues exist in Africa, yet, according to U.S. Commerce Secretary, Penny Pritzker states that Africa is home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world and GDP growth is expected to be above 6% per year for the next 10 years. Real incomes have risen at least 30% over the past 10 years. By 2040, the workforce in Africa will be larger than that in either India or China. Secretary, Pritzker is right, Africa has a real potential that is attracting foreign investment, but what benefit would it have, if Africans themselves cannot benefit from this growth opportunity at home. Since Africa does not have good leaders, who will be negotiating with these foreign corporations and would make sure that benefits generated are used appropriately to support the people’s needs. African people are not apposed to foreign investment from the United Stated and would in fact benefit from it, if it were managed well. The problem is that the African leaders are corrupt and will put their personal interest above their countries needs.
China’s involvement in Africa is worsening the situation. China has secured access to African markets and raw materials with little concern about improving governance and human rights. According to Kitisson (2007), there are over 700 Chinese companies operating in Africa. Sudan, Angola, and Nigeria are China’s leading oil suppliers, surpassing even Saudi Arabia. China uses its strong position at the UN and its respect for sovereignty non-interference in African leadership to woo these corrupt leaders. China does not care about the democratization aspiration of the African people. The United State is not like China; it values transparency, accountability and respect for human rights. Therefore, if the United States wants real partners who they can do business with, it has to first pressure the African leaders to change their habits or face the consequences. Moreover, the United States should always be on the site of the African people. At every opportunity it gets it should try to empower them to be the catalyst of change they are seeking and the future they want for see in their continent.
The Burdens of Leadership
The majorities of African leaders who were invited to the summit are undemocratic and were not elected into office. These leaders came by force and only want to enrich themselves through the expenses of their people. They have not shown any regards on how their actions will impact the development of their country. These tyrants have shamefully looted public funds collected from the people as a form of taxes and have stashed them in their Swiss bank accounts. The use and abuse of power and national wealth has caused division amongst their people. This results in the need for these tyrants to maintain their grip on power by force. They practice retribution of public money to their supporters. Therefore, the point of reference for these corrupt leaders is not about making their countries conducive for investment, but it is all about how to retain power at all cost. In other words, power is racked as the central guiding force for these regimes and not the developmental needs of their people. For the past fifty years, since colonialism has left the continent, it has become the norm to see one big man replacing another by force. The remedy to fix these leadership challenges is to find exemplary leaders who can lead Africa to live up to its full expectations and potential.
The United States should understand that the main reason why Africa is in this deplorable condition is lack of exemplary leadership and good governance that should come before their investment needs. Exemplary leadership is part and parcel of what makes it possible for development to take place. For most part, this has been lost in the Africa’s leadership circles. Before Africa can commit to foreign needs, it needs to show that they can work for their own interest. The African people need to see leaders who understand how the world economy and diplomacy operates; leaders who care about their legacy beyond lust for power; leaders who respect the consent of their people and would leave power alone when their term is over. Leaders who would manage resource to educate their people by establishing good education system and adequate health care for all. The real priority of Africa today is about good leadership that can inspire its people and without it, nothing else is possible.
Sadiq A. Abdirahman is an independent political analyst specializing in the Horn of Africa and 2014-2015, Hubert Humphrey Public Policy Fellow. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org