Thursday, 27 August 2009
American Citizens Stand Behind U.S. Outreach to Africa
By Jack Rosen
Hillary Clinton’s first visit to Africa as U.S. Secretary of State has opened possibilities and promise for a comprehensive American approach to the continent. This includes governmental and multilateral efforts; philanthropic and business partnerships; and 360-degree involvement on everything from economic development and public health to peacekeeping and – at long last – recognizing Africa as a continent of equals rather than one filled with supplicants and victims.
African leaders deserve our support in stabilizing their own backyard and in effecting the change they know is needed on the ground. Since the end of Apartheid, South Africa has begun to harness its economic and professional muscle for the greater good of the entire continent, but regional crises and global power politics have at times gotten in the way. It now has potential and the capacity to focus on raising its neighbors up to their full potential in every dimension: Zimbabwe, the African Union, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the Non-Aligned Movement.
South Africa is not alone in the transition to a new leader. A new generation is facing the future in Gabon. Kenya’s coalition government is partly accommodating a shift in popular support. In Zimbabwe, age and politics have finally forced President Mugabe to cede some powers to Prime Minister Tsvangirai. These examples cover the sliding scale of representative democracy, and many Americans understand that “American values” can be promoted without preaching. The needs and opportunities are too massive to stand on ceremony or doctrine.
Civil wars, mass killings, disease and starvation have reinforced Africa’s image as a disaster zone, even though many of the conflicts are legacies of European intervention. Violence in countries like Somalia and Sudan nourished the development of Al-Qaeda and – in Somalia – pirate gangs that menace international shipping.
The West should engage and support Africa on its own terms, not as an obligation stemming from centuries of colonization and slavery. While taking account of past injustices, we should also find ways to advance our common interests like women’s rights, public health, and stable societies.
Ironically, vast mineral riches have crowded out the benefits of wealth and globalization for hundreds of millions of Africans. Economic and human development still lags every other region of the world. U.S. efforts to address these challenges have continued for decades and even increased in some areas during the past few years. Damage control alone will not eliminate or control the causes of misery and tragedy, nor will it move Africa to a better circumstance. We need to reorient and repackage the relationship from what Africa needs to what Africa offers.
The United States needs African markets now more than ever, and building up Africa’s middle class and civil society will multiply those opportunities. Even as the economic crisis compels greater energy efficiency and conservation, Americans will still crave oil for the foreseeable future. Africa’s fossil fuel supplies, particularly in Angola and Nigeria where Secretary Clinton just visited, allow us to diversify our sources beyond Venezuela and the Middle East. They also compel us to invest some of the revenues at either end into helping these one-product nations develop more integrated economies and more secure populations. Africa can also help us engage other regions through its comprehensive partnerships with the Middle East and China.
Hillary Clinton began her Presidential campaign with a “listening tour”, and I am confident she did a good deal of listening on her latest visit to Africa. Americans and other Westerners (and mostly, Northerners) need to listen to Africans about what they need and want, and what they offer us culturally, scientifically, economically, and strategically. We cannot be in the business of imposing “solutions” and assistance.
In the United States, governmental and non-governmental initiatives must increasingly emphasize partnership over paternalism, as Secretary Clinton emphasized during her trip. We need to understand what works, and where, and how to balance altruism with business incentives and investment. Reforestation and eco-tourism, micro-finance, high-tech and green technology, roads and infrastructure, democracy and human rights, safety nets for women and children-at-risk, outsourced call centers and manufacturing – Americans are ready to participate, but they need to understand that building Africa and Africans is not a monopoly under the World Bank and U.S. Agency for Economic Development (USAID).
Volunteer efforts, including the Peace Corps, have brought political and human dividends for both sides of the equation. People-to-people exchanges work best when designed and promoted as peer-to-peer opportunities. This should be a model for projects going forward. The U.S. foreign assistance establishment is in the process of being redesigned and possibly elevated in stature. As part of this conversation, many Americans will be pushing for more effort to include and connect private, independent initiatives.
Secretary Clinton and her colleagues face the dual task of reaching out to Africans and selling this outreach back home among Americans. Many of us in the business and philanthropic sector are prepared to help her at both ends.
Jack Rosen is Chairman of the American Council for World Jewry.