Analysis: RAY WASHBURNE
WHEN we look ahead to the challenges and the opportunities the world will face in the coming years, it is clear that Africa has a key role to play in building a more connected, prosperous future for all of us.Around Africa today, innovative ideas are being applied to long-standing challenges like insufficient energy and sanitation, while modern infrastructure and technology is being built to serve the growing urban populations. By embracing solutions like off-grid energy, mobile banking, and efficient irrigation, Africa has led the way in adopting technologies of the future that offer the potential to improve the way we all live and work.
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is a US government agency that invests in development around the world. More than a quarter of our US$23 billion portfolio is in Africa. In Zambia, we’ve supported multiple projects, including a solar power plant, schools, investment in local farms and financial services for small businesses.
This month, when I travel to Zambia as part of my first official tour of Africa, I will unveil a new OPIC initiative that seeks to tap into that potential and envisions a more prosperous continent that is more closely connected to the rest of the world. OPIC’s new ‘Connect Africa’ initiative aims to further integrate sub-Saharan Africa into the global trade market by focusing investment on transportation infrastructure like roads, ports, and airports; information and communications technology; and value chains to help ensure more locally produced products can reach global markets.
As the US government’s development finance institution, OPIC works to mobilise private investment in emerging markets. We know that investment is as important as aid in creating jobs and promoting sustainable economic growth. Sub-Saharan Africa has been a priority region for OPIC for almost 50 years.
Our investments in Africa have helped build power plants, hospitals, and water treatment facilities, while expanding access to the internet. We’ve also seen how investment can forge stronger connections around the continent and the world, from Tanzania, where OPIC supported a small logistics business that has made cargo transport more reliable; to Rwanda, where we helped a small business invest in the coffee sector so that small rural farmers could reach global markets.
American businesses are eager to invest in Africa, and OPIC is eager to support them. We’re encouraged by the growing number of reforms that are making it easier to do business in several African countries, including Zambia. The World Bank’s latest Doing Business report lists Zambia as one of the countries showing the strongest improvements in the business environment. By making it easier for businesses to access permits, enforce contracts, and trade across borders, Zambia will attract more investment.
OPIC’s ‘Connect Africa’ initiative builds on a number of successful US government initiatives to mobilise private investment to address long-standing challenges like poverty, while also preparing communities to meet the challenges of the future.
Through our support of the five-year-old US ‘Power Africa’ Initiative, OPIC has committed more than US$2.4 billion to 20 projects that will expand access to electricity, including the financing of Zambia’s first commercial scale solar generation project in Lusaka. More recently, OPIC launched the ‘2X Women’s Initiative’ to mobilise US$1 billion to projects to support the world’s women entrepreneurs who are such a vital source of stability and economic growth in their communities.
And with ‘Connect Africa’, we’re looking forward to a future in which all of Africa is contributing its goods and services to the rest of the world, enjoying productivity increases and seeing the rewards. We are all more connected than ever before and our future mutual success depends upon increased engagement between Africa and the United States.
The author is president and chief executive officer of Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
Analysis: RAY WASHBURNE