The dichotomy between the “global north” and the “global south” continues to persist around the world, especially in the case of Africa. That is why it is essential for citizens of the most powerful country on earth to realize that Africa matters to the U.S.
While many Americans might envision a far-away land home to exotic animals and people plagued by famine, crime or sickness, the continent’s reality is much brighter.
Enrollment rates in secondary education increased by 48 percent from 2000 to 2008, life expectancy has increased roughly 10 percent and real income per person has increased by over 30 percent across the continent, according to the Economist.
The IMF also predicts that three of this year’s 10 fastest growing economies will be the Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Senegal.
The future of Africa could be brighter still with continued U.S. involvement. Not only can U.S. aid efforts help diminish poverty, they can simultaneously promote U.S. interests abroad. Through encouraging peace and security, expanding Africa’s energy sector, competing with China and opening up new markets for U.S. businesses, both the U.S. and Africa can flourish.
It is for these reasons that Africa matters to the U.S. and the U.S. matters to Africa.
Peace and Security are Global Needs
The United Nations cites “violence and fragility” as the biggest barriers to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the first aim of which is to cut the number of people living in extreme poverty in half. African countries face numerous security risks including transnational crime syndicates, corrupt governments and terrorist groups. These obstacles perpetuate the cycle of poverty and must be properly addressed if U.S. companies hope to find success in Africa.
According to Lesley Anne Warner, a top research fellow at the National Defense University, the U.S. can help mitigate these challenges by better resourcing agencies like the State Department and USAID instead of solely relying on the Department of Defense. This would make our country’s engagement with African countries more “proactive” instead of “reactive,” and help deescalate and prevent conflicts.
Congress took notice of why Africa matters to the U.S. in February when it passed the Electrify Africa Act to increase African energy access. However, more work can be done to lift people out of poverty while simultaneously advancing U.S. national security interests.
“Energy poverty undermines economic development, fueling political instability and the creation of failed states that can harbor our enemies and threaten our allies,” John P. Banks, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes in his paper, “Key Sub-Sarahan Energy Trends and their Importance for the U.S.”
A U.S. policy that supports further energy access initiatives in Africa would not only improve the living conditions of thousands, but also weaken the global threat of terrorism.
China Cannot Ethically Deliver Aid
With a record lacking transparency, democratic values and concern for the environment, the U.S. must be wary of China’s increased involvement in Africa.
Just last year, China offered the continent $60 billion in development assistance. Moreover, the Center for Global Development reports that there were almost 2,000 Chinese development projects in the region from the years 2000 to 2011 totaling up to $75 billion.
It is imperative that the U.S. partner with China to effectively and morally deliver aid, explains Yun Sun, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. In addition, she suggests the U.S. work with African countries to explain the damaging impact the unilateral Chinese approach would have on their future success.
U.S. Markets Need Diversification
The U.S. would also benefit from expanding its markets and increasing foreign direct investment (FDI) in African countries. As previously stated, three of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies are located in Africa, and if U.S. companies fail to tap into these growing economies, they will lose out on major business opportunities.
Last year, Congress passed a measure lengthening the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) into the fiscal year of 2025 as a sign of hope for the future of U.S.-African business relations. Yet only one percent of U.S. FDI is spent in Africa, and the total number of U.S. exports to sub-Saharan Africa in 2013 decreased by 20 percent compared to 2012, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
There is no doubt that the U.S. has a multifaceted role to play throughout the world. Africa matters to the U.S. because its development can reduce poverty, create a safer, more secure world, fill Chinese foreign assistance voids and diversify U.S. businesses.