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Op-Ed

President Barack Obama and Africa’s Uncompleted Journey, Part II

Richard Joseph

Trade and Investments

In view of the extensive work being conducted on this topic, I will focus on a few dimensions. There is a plethora of American agencies responsible for the nation’s international economic engagement. The creation of a more coherent investment-promotion structure is vital. This is a central plank in legislation sponsored by Senators Dick Durbin and John Boozman to promote American jobs through African exports. After fifteen years of sustained economic growth in Africa, attention must also shift to the quality of this growth, the productive capacity of economies, the diversification of export products, the capturing of low-wage industrial employment shed by China, and, most crucially, the generating of more and better jobs. As relations with contemporary Mexico demonstrate, American companies can contribute to such advances in a win-win manner. In view of its domestic travails, the case for enhanced U.S. economic engagement must include the expansion of markets for goods and services at home as well as abroad.

Doing business in Africa outside the extractive sector is still a forbidding prospect for many American companies. Moreover, African countries cannot rely on the prolonged commodities boom to sustain their earnings. Oil exports to the U.S. in 2012 declined significantly as American domestic production mounted. In confronting the new challenges and opportunities, members of the African diaspora have a significant role to play. They can help build efficient and transparent trade and investment regimes in their home nations as well as in other African countries. Africa’s continental and regional organizations must also accelerate the construction of cross-border arenas for the free movement of capital and labor. Resurgent nations in the continent, as they diversify production and exports, will compete with Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Vietnam and other rising nations. They cannot do so without the requisite skills and institutional capacities.

Strengthening Democracy

Most African countries today conduct elections. Some commentators continue to equate the holding of elections with being democratic. Voting exercises can be intrinsic, however, to systems meant to forestall democratization, that is, making governments accountable to, and replaceable by, a country’s citizens. One of the most important, but under-recognized, achievements of the first Obama Administration has been the support it has given to advancing African democracy. The U.S. Africa Strategy document of June 2012 promises to hold the bar high regarding the fairness of electoral procedures. Where security considerations have not blunted this commitment, for example in Ivory Coast, Niger, Nigeria, Malawi, Senegal, and Zimbabwe, the U.S. has provided sustained support for democracy and insisted on respect for term limits and other constitutional provisions. Where security concerns have been paramount, however, as in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.S. has often spoken one way and acted another. The gap between rhetoric and practice can and must be narrowed.

There is no reason why African democracy, as part of the international liberal order discussed in Part I of this essay, should not be a continuing policy priority of the United States. The United States enjoys many capacities, in association with myriad domestic and international organizations, to further the empowerment of Africa’s people through democratic institutions and procedures. There is now a variety of instruments to assess the representative quality of African governments. Governments whose authority is legitimately acquired and maintained are the best long-term guarantors of peace and security.

Read the full piece in AfricaPlus »

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