US must change its ways on Africa


The United States-Africa Summit held in Washington from August 4 to 6 was part of a scheme by the US to reposition itself as a partner in doing business with Africa.

Washington was forced into action because it had been lagging behind emerging global economic powerhouses such as China, Japan, India, Russia and others from Asia in doing business with Africa.

China and the other emerging economies have adopted the approach of doing business with Africa under the “principle of reciprocity”. 

Under the principle, Beijing and the other emerging economies help build airports, hydro-electric dams, waterways, roads, railway lines, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure in African countries using both grants and loans.

 In return, the emerging economic giants have access to the abundant natural resources found in different parts of the continent which they need to drive their economies back home.

Such kind of co-operation benefits both parties and the US noticed it had been beaten to the race for African resources by the budding economic giants. 

Washington is understandably worried over this state of affairs but as some analysts say it needs a massive re-education in its dealings with Africa.

The Africa of today is different from the Africa of the past where some leaders were not concerned about the benefits their countries derived from their natural resources.

They were only concerned with the Western multinational companies creating some jobs for their citizens while the conglomerates took their super-profits back to their mother countries. The massive degradation left after mining or whatever operations was the baby of the African government and its people and not a bother for the multinational firm or its mother government.

But that has since changed because Africa is now demanding tangible benefits for the exploitation of its natural resources because most of them are not infinite and will be exhausted at some point. 

Africa wants those exploiting its resources to also invest in the provision for infrastructure in the areas they will be operating so that future generations will understand that fine the resource was exhausted but the country was left with something the communities can benefit from.

Another lesson for the United States is that Africa as a continent is growing economically and politically and will no longer rely on donor aid funding alone. 

The days of dangling donor aid are numbered because Africa has realised it can leverage its resources to develop the continent. Some African countries are demanding value addition before their minerals and other natural resources are exported to outside markets so that they earn more revenue from their resources.

Countries now prefer investors to construct platinum and diamond refineries to add value to their minerals.

The United States must also realise that African countries no longer want a relationship of being lectured on how to conduct their political affairs.

But has Washington learnt from its past mistakes in the aftermath of the US-Africa summit? Maybe not because there were no bilateral meetings between the African leaders and President Barack Obama. 

The summit was modelled as another talk shop or lecture series. African leaders did not give presentations as is done at the United Nations but sat through lecturers.

Unlike the US, the Chinese president holds one on one meetings with his African counterparts during the China-Africa summits.

August 2014
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