Why the U.S. Needs Africa
Africa and the United States may be on the verge of a new partnership, not one of dependency and aid but one of shared ideas, vision and investments that increase our mutual prosperities. To begin this improved relationship, both must accept urgent and substantial changes in the nature of our bond.
Africa needs to acknowledge a key tenet of President Obama's July address to Ghana's parliament: that a vibrant private sector is critical for capable, reliable and transparent societies. Without a dynamic private sector, no society can prosper. The African continent has been slow to foster conditions that build active private enterprise.
Africa must adopt policies that strengthen governance and promote economic growth to create conditions for a strong and innovative private sector. These are the most durable strategies for advancing socioeconomic transformation.
Like all nations, my country is not perfect, but Rwanda continues to build strong foundations for stability and improve standards of living for all of our people. This has led to greater social integration and gender equity. Rwanda has leveraged the contribution of women for its productivity and prosperity; ours is the only country in the world with women as a majority in parliament.
Rwanda has moved from instability to reconciliation and sustainable development largely through our Vision 2020 strategy. The primary principles of this strategy include macroeconomic stability; wealth creation to reduce dependence; and a shift from an agriculture-based economy toward a knowledge-based economy, with a vibrant service sector. We have enacted and consistently enforce a rule of law that counters corruption and supports our ambitious reform agenda. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledged our progress, and the importance of "policies based on evidence and measurable results," during an Aug. 5 speech in Kenya. Rwanda's ranking as the top global reformer in the World Bank Doing Business 2010 report illustrates what can be achieved with vision and engagement.
The recommendations in President Obama's July 11 address are as pertinent for the United States as they were for Africa. Africa's prosperity, he said, "can expand America's prosperity. [Its] health and security can contribute to the world's." The link between the U.S. economy and African markets is critical, especially given global economic conditions and the potential Africa represents as a profitable new market.
It is no longer enough for the United States to work for Africa based on pity; the United States must work with Africa to build both our economies and improve the lives of all of our people. The United States has long supported assistance to Africa. The United States must recognize that Africa is now in a position to be of assistance to the United States. It is time to acknowledge our mutual reliance with clear actions. Yes -- Africa must improve its governance institutions and embrace private-sector development. We appreciate the African Growth Opportunity Act and acknowledge that Africa has not fulfilled its potential; African countries should take responsibility for shortfalls in their efforts and take greater advantage of opportunities under this act.
Meanwhile, the United States should increase financing to U.S. companies wishing to do business in Africa through key financial institutions such as Export-Import Bank of the United States and the Overseas Private Investment Corp. The United States has committed less to African markets than the emerging economies of Asia have; China guarantees nearly 30 times more in loans for investment in Africa than the United States does. Africa's needs are so great that there is ample room for both U.S. and Chinese investment. Increased U.S. investment in Africa would translate into more opportunities for U.S. companies, with high potential for profit flowing back to the U.S. economy.
The United States should also support regional initiatives in Africa. Africa's economic development does not stop at national boundaries. Our markets need to be connected by better roads, by canals and ports, and through new technologies. Yet few U.S. companies are competing for large-scale and regional projects.
The development of regional trading pacts similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement is among Africa's highest priorities. Regional development would better allow U.S. products and companies to reach beyond individual countries to greater markets without the burden of tariffs and legislative burdens.
As I meet with President Obama and other world leaders this month at the U.N. General Assembly in New York and the Corporate Council on Africa's U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Washington, I will remind them that development assistance to Africa is important but that the best type of aid leads to investment in national infrastructure and private-sector reinforcement. Without a vibrant private sector, there can be no economic growth or development. If the U.S. private sector played a greater role in Africa, mutual development would follow. To achieve this, the Obama administration must facilitate U.S. investment in Africa, and African leaders must attract greater U.S. investment by consolidating our institutions for effective governance.
The writer is president of the Republic of Rwanda.