Don’t Give Up On Africa
By Julius E. Coles
Julius E. Coles is president of Africare. This editorial was published on Feb. 19, 2008, in honor of Black History Month 2008.
The news Americans hear about Africa these days is mostly bad – the outbreak of violence in Kenya following presidential elections, the worsening of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, runaway inflation in Zimbabwe, and major electrical power disruptions in South Africa. In addition to the crises of the moment, Africans face structural challenges unlike those faced by any other continent in the world everyday -- chronic food insecurity, unsafe and inadequate water, preventable childhood diseases, infant and maternal mortality, an alarming increase in the number of orphans and vulnerable children, inadequate schools, cycles of drought and flooding, civil war, the devastation of HIV/AIDs, lack of basic infrastructure and social services, and grinding poverty. It is no wonder that some people ask, “Is there any hope for Africa?”
Yes, there is reason for hope. There is another Africa, an emerging Africa, that belies the dire news of the day. The trends are truly encouraging. According to the United Nations Economic Report on Africa, Africa overall has enjoyed sustained economic growth over the recent past. In 2006 Africa’s economies grew by more than 5% – their greatest expansion in eight years – and are projected to grow by 7% this year, with Ethiopia, Mozambique and Tanzania among the fastest-growing countries in the world. Across a broader comparison, Africa’s economic growth has surpassed the average economic growth of Latin America (4.3%).
Africa’s oil has emerged and remains the most viable alternative to the Middle East. The US alone derives 15% of its oils imports from Africa; China buys 28% of its oil from African countries, in particular Angola, Nigeria and Sudan. Over the past few years, Africa has benefited from a significant oil boom resulting both from large increases in oil prices and the substantial influx of investments in petroleum exploration and production.
The Bush Administration has understood the importance of supporting a prosperous and stable African continent. Under his leadership, American development assistance to Africa has more than doubled – part of the largest expansion of development assistance since the Marshall Plan. Plans are underway to again double these assistance levels over the next five years to fulfill the United States’ G8 commitments. Having created the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), the Bush administration has seen to it that more than 2/3rds of MCAs $5.5 billion is being invested in Africa. In short, America has become an investor, not just a donor. Private capital flows in general to sub-Saharan Africa now exceed development assistance.
In addition, investments in Africa have been made by the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which expects to mobilize a total of $1.6 billion in new capital. The Bush administration has suggested numerous other initiatives such as the Africa Education Initiative to distribute textbooks, train teachers, provide scholarships; and $15 billion PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Reduction, the largest international health initiative in history to fight a single disease – and they are getting results. As the President said before leaving for his recent trip to Africa, “Africa is increasingly vital to our strategic interests….Nations that replace disease and despair with healing and hope will help Africa do more than just survive – they will help Africa succeed.”
There’s an African proverb that says “No matter how long the night, the day is sure to come.” I have lived and worked in Africa for over 46 years and have never felt more hopeful about its future. I believe a new day is dawning across the continent. Democracy in Africa is growing, with more than 50 democratic elections between 2001 and 2005. The impact of HIV/AIDs and other infectious diseases is being lessened. The social and economic indicators listed above tell a promising story of energetic, resourceful, and forward-thinking nations.America is inextricably linked to this critical continent – through individual histories, though our deep and enduring commitment to justice and human needs, and through our practical approach to business and security. We cannot afford to let the dark forces of radical Islam win over young hearts and minds for lack of a better future. We can’t afford to let non-democratic nations such as China, through its less than well-conceived foreign policy towards Africa, destroy the burgeoning values of freedom, equality and independence. Our friends in Africa are working hard for change. Now is the time for our most steadfast support.
Copyright Julius E. Coles, February 2008. All rights reserved.