Why Africa Is Essential to America's Future

The opportunities for investment, trade and economic development are almost limitless on the continent of 54 different nations.

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Diamonds are polished at the Krochmal and Cohen diamond factory in Johannesburg, in this Oct. 17, 2005 file photo. Diamond miner De Beers SA said Friday, Feb. 9, 2007 that full-year earnings rose 32 percent after the company boosted sales.

Stephen Hayes is president and CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa.

Where those who travel in the circles that Corporate Council on Africa members travel, we constantly witness and hear about the business opportunities in Africa, but we seldom read anything about them in the media, unless it is an inspiring story of a local farmer who makes some money. There are very few reports beyond limited circles about what is really happening in Africa. Still, nearly every story we read focuses on the worst of Africa.

Yes, the continent, essentially the size of the land mass of the entire Western Hemisphere, remains one of high risks. There are wars and rumors of wars every day. Sudan and South Sudan not only have difficulty accepting one another, they both have internal schisms to bridge. Somalia is still a divided and dangerous land. The Eastern Congo is plagued by marauding and competing armies and bands that call themselves armies, though they are little more than semi-organized thugs, robbers, rapists, and murderers, often sponsored by governments, local or national. Madagascar continues to be run by a coup-inspired government that has allowed its country to be open to international pilferage leading to the obliteration of their green environment and unique wildlife.

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The Central African Republic is on the edge of a civil war, and the Sahel, particularly in northern Mali, has become the latest training center for terror and destruction in the name of religious fanaticism.  West Africa has become the latest battleground of the international drug cartels and the most populous nation in Africa seems to constantly teeter on the verge of irreversible divisions of the primarily Islamic north and the non-Islamic south, though there are significant numbers of all religions throughout the country.

On top of these ongoing struggles, there is a layer of corruption in many countries that will likely take generations to reduce. Corruption remains in many areas endemic at nearly every level of society, though it is easy and accurate to say that corruption is not unique to Africa. Certainly, corruption is not something absent from the halls of the U.S. Congress. As long as there is a sense of a limited pie, and those who want a larger piece of the pie, there shall be corruption. However, in parts of Africa corruption is a particularly tough stain to remove from public consciousness. Perception is an important part of reality.

So, yes, let us acknowledge these problems in Africa, and let us not be romantic about the opportunities that exist in Africa. Instead, let us be realistic about the opportunities, and the reality is that the opportunities for investment, trade, and economic development are almost limitless on the continent of 54 different nations. There are challenges in some places but extraordinary opportunity in other places.

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Many parts of Africa are booming and they present the greatest growth opportunities in the world at this time. Accra is a boom town, emerging into a global city. Ghana itself is growing almost as fast. In the Sahel, next to a Mali is a Burkina Faso, which is becoming a regional hub of development and a trading center between Europe and Africa.

Southern Africa is full of promise and has a far more receptive business climate than in many parts of the world, and the work of the East Africa Community is beginning to open the nations of East Africa as important business destinations for the world.

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The promise of Africa is recognized internationally by many nations. While we talk much about the Chinese in Africa, so too are the Indians, Malaysians, Japanese, the Arab nations, Turkey, Israel, the Russians, the South Koreans, the Brazilians, and of course the Europeans. Let us also not forget that when energy investment is taken out of the equation, South Africa is a larger investor in the rest of Africa than is the United States.

The question that we all hear is, "Where are the Americans?" It is a most valid question. The fact is that U.S. investment remains among the highest of all countries, but that investment is in a limited number of countries and in a limited number of sectors. The challenge is how do we broaden and deepen U.S. investment in Africa, for if we don't we will surely be left behind, for countries will necessarily navigate towards those other countries who are investing in their economies and peoples.

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With that challenge comes a different type of challenge around how do we work more closely with our own government to make possible and to increase significantly U.S. private sector investment in Africa. For U.S. companies to feel more comfortable investing in Africa, they not only need more accurate information on the opportunities and challenges of Africa, but also more engagement and support from the U.S. public sector that can assist in removing real domestic obstacles to investing in Africa. These obstacles include far greater access to financing than is now available in the United States, a more active commercial engagement through our embassies and the U.S. Department of Commerce, and certainly a more aggressive education program across America on how to do business in Africa.

All of these challenges in Africa and the United States are those we need to address as a nation if we truly believe Africa is important to our future. The reality is that these challenges are not just about increasing U.S. business in Africa and trade with the countries and regions of the continent. How we address these challenges will be setting the course of our future political and economic relationships with Africa. If it is true that Africa is essential to the future of the world, then shouldn't we be doing our best to insure that America is part of that future as well?

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