Top Five Reasons Why Africa Should Be a Priority for the United States


John P. Banks
George Ingram
Mwangi Kimenyi
Steven rocker
Witney Schneidman
Yun Sun
Lesley anne Warner

March 2013

Introduction: Why Africa Matters to the United States

Mwangi Kimenyi, Senior Fellow and Director, Africa Growth Initiative, Brookings Institution

For over a decade now, the continent of Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, has undergone a major transformation. In 2000, The Economist referred to Africa as the “Hopeless Continent.” This nickname was based on an evaluation of the many disadvantages that characterized the continent: poverty and disease, cycles of conflict, military and dictatorial one-party states, etc. Despite large endowments of natural resources, the continent’s economic performance was dismal as a result of poor macroeconomic management and a hostile environment for doing business.

In 2011, The Economist referred to Africa as the “Rising Continent” and a March 2013 issue of the magazine contained a special report referring to Africa as the “Hopeful Continent.” These days, Africa is variously referred to in positive terms such as emerging, rising and hopeful. This positive view of Africa is justified—sub-Saharan Africa is the host of some of the fastest growing economies in the world.

This growth is not just due to rising commodity prices but is also driven by a more vibrant private sector supported by an improved business climate. There have also been dramatic improvements in governance and economic management. The region has seen major improvements in various sectors of the economy, especially in services. The information technology revolution has become an important aspect of the new Africa, particularly in terms of mobile technologies. As a result of these developments, Africa’s middle class is now growing rapidly, and the continent has become a major market for consumer goods. While sub-Saharan Africa still faces many development challenges, it is a far cry from the one described by The Economist in 2000. Africa is indeed on the path to claiming the 21st century.

With the dramatic changes that have taken place over the last decade, sub-Saharan Africa has become increasingly important to the rest of the world. In the past, relationships for many African countries were dominated by the former colonial powers. Today, new players have begun to engage Africa in a big way. Notably, China and India are investing in the continent, and increasingly Russia, Brazil, Turkey, Iran and many others have increased their engagement with Africa both diplomatically and commercially. The increased interest in Africa by these new actors has been due to the realization that Africa has much to offer.

In many respects, the United States has been slow to seize the opportunities availed by the new Africa. While the American private sector has begun to take advantage of some of these opportunities, the scope of engagement by American businesses is still small in scale. Likewise, the U.S. government’s engagement has not changed much. But Africa matters to the United States, a reality that will only grow more important as the continent’s economies and governance structures continue to transform. While it is indeed true that Africa benefits from American engagement, it is also true that the U.S. benefits from African engagement.

The following briefing papers in this collection are meant to touch on only some of the reasons why Africa matters for United States as well as strategic opportunities for U.S. engagement in the region. These briefs focus on five key issues: national security, China, energy, trade and investment, and U.S. development assistance.

In preparing these papers, the Africa Growth Initiative hopes to contribute to a better understanding of Africa for U.S. government policymakers. An appreciation of the fact that engaging with Africa benefits both the United States and Africa should be the foundation for U.S. foreign policy toward Africa. We believe that a better understanding of the many reasons why Africa matters to the U.S. should help American policymakers take a more positive view of the region in their foreign policy decision-making.

Lesley Anne Warner highlights why Africa matters for U.S. national security. Warner asserts that the security of African countries is interlinked to broader global security. Therefore, proactive engagement with Africa in securing peace and security is vital for the mutual benefit of both Africa and the United States.

Yun Sun examines the increasing role of China in Africa and the need for the United States to be more engaged in the region vis-à-vis China. She argues that the U.S. must take this opportunity to engage more substantively with African countries in order to mitigate some of the environmental and human rights consequences of China’s “no strings attached” approach to Africa. Sun also highlights opportunities for joint U.S.-China collaboration in order to advance common goals in the region.

John Banks discusses the importance of Africa’s energy needs for U.S. foreign policy. Specifically, Banks explores why helping African countries expand their access to energy and manage their new oil and natural gas resources is critically important for U.S. national security and economic interests.

Witney Schneidman discusses the importance of Africa for U.S. trade and investment. He emphasizes the need to extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act beyond its 2015 expiration date and proposes some new initiatives that could help American firms invest in and do more business across the African continent.

U.S. development assistance forms a major part of U.S.-Africa relations. George Ingram and Steven Rocker stress that U.S. development assistance to Africa serves a number of key U.S. humanitarian, national security and economic goals, and recommend several strategies for the U.S. government to better utilize and direct its foreign assistance to the region.

Advancing Peace and Security in Africa

Lesley Anne Warner, Research Fellow, Center for Complex Operations, National Defense University

The Priority
In a complex and globalized security environment, having strong and capable partners on the African continent to tackle transnational challenges advances U.S. national security interests. In this regard, the growing capabilities of African countries to respond to regional security challenges are an asset to the United States. Globally, African nations account for 10 out of the top 20 contributors to United Nations peacekeeping missions. Furthermore, African countries and the regional organizations to which they belong are starting to play a larger role in leading peacekeeping operations on the continent through the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the AU-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and the possible African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA).

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Top Five Reasons Why Africa Should Be a Priority for the United States