As I sat in a London hotel room earlier this week watching the British Prime Minister David Cameron's speech, a masterful presentation by all accounts if one is to believe the British press, I was struck not so much by its main theme that the United Kingdom might actually leave the European Union, but by his references and awareness that the world is rapidly changing, and the Old Order, which I took to mean Europe and America, was falling behind. Cameron said quite plainly that the new markets and new economy was to the east and to the south. He meant not only China to the East, but to India, Southeast Asia and the Gulf States, and to the south he could only mean Africa. What was especially noteworthy in the days that followed was that no one, from taxi drivers to TV commentators seemed to disagree. Indeed, I don't see how they could disagree.
Had our president said that the Old Order was disappearing there would have been an uproar in some sections claiming that our leader was suggesting that the United States was no longer the major power. I recall when Obama told the American people that our infrastructure, our trains, ports and transportation was no longer necessarily the best in the world, an outcry came from the conservative media that it wasn't so. Unfortunately it is so. We are simply victims of our own press clippings and rhetoric. The world is changing around us and we are reacting far too slowly.
Europe no longer looks to the United States as its paradigm. Europe recognizes for many reasons that there are major changes in the world today and that may have to fend for themselves more and depend on others less. Immigration from Asia and Africa is changing the face of Europe, and it is changing its awareness of the world. The marketplaces are more and more stocked with foodstuffs from Africa and Asia. As economies implode new markets are needed to swell those same economies again. We cannot simply sell among ourselves and expect to remain competitive. Cameron simply was stating the obvious that the future rests in Africa and Asia, and not within Europe or to the west.
In several ways I had heard the same thing in Berlin where I was speaking before an agribusiness conference convened by AGCO, one of the world's largest agriculture equipment manufacturers. I had heard the former president of Germany Horst Kohler speak of the importance of Africa just before I said many of the same things in my speech. I listened to a company representative from Cargill tell me that even though Africa represented less than 2 percent of their current market, they no longer had a choice of ignoring Africa. The market had become too important to the future of the world's largest privately held grain company. I heard the same message from companies large and small. The future was in Africa, no matter the difficulties of entering and staying in a very challenging market. There was an underlying fear that if they did not get in now, it might very well be too late later, as countries from all over the world were turning to Africa.
As I said in my speech, whether we like to admit it or not, the race for Africa is on again, as it was a 130 ago when the infamous Berlin conference that divided Africa among the colonial powers. The difference is now Africa with its 54 nations has a voice, and we need to learn to listen very quickly. Cameron is right. The future is to the east and south, and we need to be an integral part of that our future. Our own economy and lives depend on it.
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