US PRESIDENT Barack Obama played host to some 50 African heads of state and government last august at a historic US-Africa Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. The theme of the summit was â€œInvesting in the Next Generation.â€ It was the first of its kind between a sitting US President and African leaders.
According to the White House, the meeting, built on the Presidentâ€™s trip to Africa in the summer of 2013 and aimed at strengthening ties between the US and one of the worldâ€™s most dynamic and fastest-growing regions.
That the summit was a testament to the growing relevance of Africa in global geopolitics is not in doubt. It is the â€œyoungest and fastest-growing continent, with young people that are full of dreams and ambition,â€ President Obama said in an address to delegates. And as the continentâ€™s influence continues to grow, the US intends to make Africa â€œa good partner, an equal partner, and a partner for the long term,â€ he added.
Africa offers immense opportunities in terms of abundant natural resources, new technologies, investments, access to potential markets, and new types of consumers. Little wonder why countries such as China, India, Malaysia, Turkey, and Brazil have been increasing their presence and investments in the continent.
Although the U.S has been relatively slower to react to these dynamics, hosting the summit is a sign that it can no longer stay on the sidelines.
To emphasise this point, President Obama announced a series of steps the U.S. is now taking to boost ties with Africa. First, he called on the US Congress to renew and enhance the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA),Â which makes it easier for African countries to export products to the US.
He also promised continued partnership with Africa to build the necessary infrastructure for a flourishing economy.Â In this regard, the Power Africa Initiative, first made public last year to bring electricity to 20 million African homes and businesses, would be doubled to reach 60 million beneficiaries at a cost of US$26 billion, he said.
Similarly, American corporate giants, including Coca-Cola, Blackstone, GE and the hotel group Marriot, made commitments worth billions of dollars to expand their businesses in Africa.
Africaâ€™s own priorities
But commendable as these measures may appear, they represent in the main what the US wants to do for Africa and not what Africa expects from America.
The following suggestions emanating from a spectrum of African political and business leaders, academics, activists, and youths, represent the continentâ€™s key demands from the Americans. After all, as an Africa proverb says, he who wears the shoe knows where it hurts most.
The African expectations could be broken down into six proposals that would enable the US partner the continent to achieve a robust economic growth and development presumably well in advance of 2063.
The hope is that in 50 yearsâ€™ time, Africa would have become a politically united continent enjoying inclusive growth and sustainable development, good governance, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law, a peaceful and secure Africa whose development is people-driven. The African Union has appropriately termed this â€œAgenda 2063â€.
In light of this, Africaâ€™s most urgent demand would be for US assistance in tackling insecurity and violence. Peace and security, the prerequisite for any sustainable and inclusive economic growth and development, is still a challenge for many African countries.
Armed conflicts, maritime piracy, terrorism, transnational criminal networks, territorial disputes, cattle rustling, and organised crime are among the security challenges still facing many African countries.
Trans-border terrorism has recently appeared as a serious threat on the continent wellbeing. With US intelligence and military assistance, African countries like Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, and Libya will be better placed to defeat terrorist acts unleashed by Islamic groups such as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine, al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram.
Another area of possible collaboration is in strengthening democracy, human rights, and good governance. Though African countries have made some progress in terms of political and economic governance and human rights, challenges still remain.
US-Africa partnership here would help in dispersing power from strong executives and empowering the ordinary folk.
The US may also have to consider bolstering the African Governance Architecture (AGA), set up by African governments to develop appropriate responses and enhanced capacity to continental governance challenges.
(To be continued)
The author is the executive secretary of the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) in Harare, Zimbabwe