Monday, August 11,
There have been few more powerful symbols of the changing African narrative
than last week’s staging of the first U.S.-Africa
Leaders Summit in Washington. The White House sees this event as a
chance to strengthen ties with a dynamic part of the world that is an
increasing contributor to global prosperity. With seven of the
world’s fastest-growing economies on the continent , and a rapidly
rising middle-class , the emphasis of U.S. relations with Africa has
shifted decisively to investment opportunities and partnership.
The United States, of course, enjoys a special place in the imaginations of
Africans — something that was reinforced by the election of President Obama.
Young people continue, as I did when I came to study here many years ago, to
look to the United States for inspiration, viewing this country as a place of economic
opportunity built on a platform of democracy, human rights and religious
America’s achievements resonate across all of Africa, where people also
seek ways to improve life for their families. They aspire to choose — and
reject — their leaders at the ballot box, to create courts that deliver
impartial justice, to speak their minds without fear and to enjoy a free press
that helps hold governments to account. But for many of them, these goals
remain out of reach.
Beyond the continent, a peaceful and economically strong Africa can be a
major part of the solution to many of the world’s great challenges. It can help
drive global growth, reduce poverty and inequality, improve health and counter
the threats of terrorism and climate change.
So what can the United States do to help Africa to achieve this potential?
First, it is important that the cultivation of stronger links with African
countries not become a reason to downplay democracy and human rights. The
United States must, of course, work with today’s African leaders, but ignoring
political reality is not in the interests of Africa or America. After two
decades of democratic progress, there are worrying signs of backsliding from
leaders reluctant to step down or genuinely test their popularity at the polls.
In the long run, Africans will remember who supported their democratic
aspirations. The United States should throw its weight behind the continent’s
own efforts to improve standards, such as through theAfrican
Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
Second, U.S. security assistance must be focused on those who respect
democratic norms. The wars on terror and drugs should not be conflated nor used
as a justification for providing military assistance to regimes that abuse or
neglect their people. Such aid can backfire, as we have seen in Mali.
Third, the summit offers the perfect opportunity for the United States to
show leadership on the critical issue of transparency of payments to
governments by the oil, gas and mining industries. The Dodd-Frank Act included
a landmark requirement that publicly traded U.S. companies disclose all such
payments, but the Securities
and Exchange Commission has not begun enforcing the
provision, which is crucial to reducing corruption in Africa. The United States
must also continue to promote the global standards needed to prevent tax
evasion on the continent. Africa loses
twice as much in illicit financial outflows as it receives in international aid. Public disclosure of company
ownership is essential to combating this problem.
Fourth, Africa needs wider investment, as well as more trade and greater
access to markets, to help expand prosperity. Agriculture, which still
employs two-thirds of Africa’s workforce and makes up a third of its gross
domestic product, must be a priority. Africa remains the only
continent that cannot feed
itself — a deeply worrying fact given that its population isprojected to
double by 2050 and that climate change is forecast to hit
Africa hard. U.S. investment and technical know-how to support sustainable
farming techniques is vital. A green revolution has the potential to enable
Africa not just to feed its own people but also to export food to the rest of
Fifth, U.S. aid to Africa should not be diminished. While investment and
trade may be the most important drivers of growth, development assistance still
has a significant role to play, even if that role must evolve. The impact of
U.S. assistance to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa shows what can
be achieved. The recently launched Power Africa initiative, sponsored by USAID, can show
how public-private partnerships can make a difference in providing energy. We
need a similarly imaginative effort to improve the continent’s poor
Finally, through its membership in international bodies such as the United
Nations and the World Bank, the United States must encourage practices that put
people at the center of economic policy-making. This includes the steps needed
to meet the U.N.’s 2015 Millennium Development Goals. Many of these goals remain
out of reach for a number of African countries. As the international community
considers the post-2015 agenda, the United States can help ensure that the new
goals reflect the complexity and diversity of the development challenges on the
continent and commit sufficient resources to help meet the targets.
Africa will only become a stable and vibrant partner for the United States,
and the world, if it provides opportunities for all its people. This requires
peaceful, stable and democratic government.
My experience has taught me that there can be no long-term development
without security and no long-term security without development. Nor will any
society remain prosperous for long without the rule of law and respect for
human rights. That is the enduring lesson of the American experience that
Africa should aim to emulate and that the United States should seek to
Kofi Annan, was U.N. secretary general from 1997
to 2006. He is currently chairman of the Kofi Annan Foundation and the Africa