Stephen Hayes is president and CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa.
The next president of the United States, whether Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, will likely be faced with a financial challenge unlike any faced by his predecessors, including Franklin D. Roosevelt. He will stand at the precipice of the fiscal cliff and perhaps shudder as he looks at the abyss below, darkened in its depths. Soon thereafter the American people as well as those around the globe will begin to know what he really plans economically to help fill this particular pit of the economic Inferno.
In so doing, it will be easy for the president to overlook Africa as an important part of the economic recovery and that would be a tragic mistake, not so much for Africa as much as for the United States. Africa, as a whole of 54 nations, is growing far more self-confident in its future at time when the global power centers of Europe, North America, and East Asia—especially Japan—are far less confident of the future. Many of the nations of Africa should be more confident. Their economies are growing faster than anywhere else in the world, and investors around the world are showing keen interest in most nations in Africa as investment destinations. The continent is one of the two last economic frontiers. (Central Asia is the other, but who wants to invest in the 'stans' amongst the war lords, irrationality, hatred, and prejudice of 14th century attitudes?)
As most who have traveled to any part of Africa have seen, the opportunities for business are almost limitless, perhaps not dissimilar to how America must have seemed in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The difference is that investors in an earlier America were not faced with the bureaucracies and traditions the permeate many countries in Africa, and must be dealt with. Nevertheless, notwithstanding these obstacles, opportunities are everywhere for investors and entrepreneurs and in many nations in Africa, the glacier-like bureaucracies are rapidly melting in the heat of economic competition and development.
If America is to begin a deep recovery, as it must for its own sake as well as the sake of global stability, it must sell to new markets, and create new opportunities and jobs for America and in the new markets. The more jobs that are developed in emerging economies, the more these economies are able to buy foreign goods. Investment in new economies are essential for the American and global recovery. China knows this, as do the companies of South Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, and in Brazil. The only one lagging seems to be the United States. Unfortunately, African nations will naturally gravitate towards those countries who are investing most strongly in their economies and providing jobs and greater trading opportunities.
The next president of the United States must develop a policy for Africa that understands that Africa is important to our own recovery, and that the development of Africa is in the interest of the United States as much as it is in Africa's interest. However, that policy also needs to recognize that economic growth, and not tired traditional development programs, is the key to the development of nations in Africa, as well as to the strengthening of our own economy.