Mr. President, since taking office you have already confronted a series of demanding domestic and international policy challenges. In a piece I published in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas the month after your election, I outlined five foreign policy areas on which I hope Democrats and Republicans in Congress will be able to work constructively with your Administration.
In this memorandum, I wish to call your attention to a region of the world that rarely receives sufficient focus from Presidents of either party: sub-Saharan Africa. When past Presidents have focused U.S. efforts on building partnerships with the African continent, they have often found that members of Congress of both parties are eager to engage and to support new initiatives.
The next four years of our engagement with sub-Saharan Africa will be critical for African stability and prosperity, U.S. leadership in the region, and the strength of our business opportunities across the continent. If we take decisive action on the continent, this can be an African century—with direct, tangible benefits for our own economic growth and national security.
But if we fail to act, not only do we forego significant opportunities for business and humanitarian partnerships, but entire regions of Africa could also descend into violence and conflict, threatening global stability and providing a fertile environment for extremism to take root and grow. I urge you and your Administration to build on years of bipartisan collaboration with a part of the world that is increasingly vital to American security and prosperity.
Make no mistake: When it comes to economic and strategic influence in the fastest-growing part of the world, we are in direct competition with China. But Beijing plays by a different set of rules. In its engagement with sub-Saharan Africa, China, rather than prioritizing democratic norms or good governance, takes a mercantilist approach, involving itself in African affairs with no strings attached. Human rights, press freedom, and the value of legitimate, democratic governance are of little to no concern to Chinese policymakers. Instead, China mobilizes its vast state financial resources to invest broadly in infrastructure projects across Africa in exchange for the ability to extract natural resources.
In 2009, China eclipsed the United States as the continent’s largest trading partner. At $222 billion in 2014, Africa’s trade with China is now three times greater than the continent’s trade with the United States. While 2008 was the only year in the past decade where Chinese foreign direct investment flows to Africa exceeded those of the United States, the current trajectory indicates that Chinese investment will surpass that of the United States in the coming years as China continues to increase its financing commitments on the continent.
If the United States wants to remain competitive with countries like China—and do so in a way that promotes democracy, accountability, and the rule of law—we need to act promptly and decisively to reassert our role in Africa. That means placing a greater priority on conditional U.S. investment and more effective U.S. foreign assistance. In this memorandum, I explain why Africa matters to the United States and offer a number of ideas for increasing our focus on this important but often overlooked part of the world.
Why Does Africa Matter to the United States?
Because it has so much potential, even if most Americans are unaware of it. U.S. media coverage of Africa is misleading. To the extent that Africa is covered at all, stories tend to focus on sensational topics like the Ebola virus, conflict within and among nations, corruption in government and business, and famine and other sources of human tragedy.
Furthermore, most Americans—including many policymakers of both parties—wrongly think our partnership with Africa centers on U.S. aid to the continent, and that the 54 African nations make up a monolithic entity. While certain trends that span the entire continent are worth noting, the specific challenges and opportunities within each country and region often differ based on language, culture, history, or geography. It would be a mistake, for example, for someone to assume that a policy solution in Senegal would work the same way in Mozambique.
The Africa I’ve seen—as a student in the 1980s at the University of Nairobi, at the South African Council of Churches during apartheid, and in 24 countries I’ve visited on bipartisan trips as a U.S. Senator—differs from the headlines. Africa represents tremendous opportunities for American businesses. African economies are growing, thanks to a young workforce, tremendous natural resources, and creative entrepreneurs and technological innovators. Governance in certain countries is improving, and access to health and education is expanding. More and more, U.S. partnerships with Africa focus on trade and investment that benefit both sides of the Atlantic. Large firms in the United States and Africa, often spurred by members of the African diaspora, are creating jobs and improving livelihoods.
Because Africa’s population is growing. Africa’s population is projected to double to two billion by 2050. The continent is young, with a rapidly growing labor force that the World Economic Forum considers “a highly valuable asset in an aging world.” According to the United Nations, in 2015, 226 million people aged 15–24 lived in Africa, accounting for 19 percent of the global youth population. Around the world, the countries with the ten youngest populations are all in Africa. In 2034, Africa is expected to have the world’s largest working-age population of 1.1 billion.
These youth expect access to education and jobs, as well as transparent and effective governance. It is in the interests of African governments to provide these opportunities—as demonstrated by recent events in the Middle East, when governments fail to meet the expectations of their citizens, the people can rise up against their leaders and governments can fall. With U.S. support, African policymakers could expand efforts to establish policies that will ensure the continent’s youth enjoy the benefits of good governance and broad-based economic growth. A strong, stable, and prosperous Africa strengthens our national security and represents an enormous marketplace for U.S. goods and services.
The African population also holds a remarkably high opinion of the United States. The Pew Research Center has consistently found America’s image as being positive in sub-Saharan Africa since it began polling in 2002. In the nine African nations Pew surveyed, more than 70 percent have a favorable opinion of the United States. We should not take this favorability for granted but rather work to maintain it through continued engagement and responsible investment.
Because the African people are playing a greater role in the global economy. American policymakers would be wise to coordinate with U.S. and African businesses as we seek to encourage inclusive and sustainable growth.
Over the next decade, the UN projects that an additional 187 million Africans will live in cities. This urban expansion is contributing to rapid growth in consumption by households and businesses. Household consumption reached $1.3 trillion in 2015, growing at a 4.2 percent compound annual rate between 2010 and 2015—faster than the continent’s GDP growth rate. Analysts predict Africa’s consumers will spend $2 trillion per year by 2025. Our policy will determine the extent to which that $2 trillion is spent on American-made goods and services—or whether our competitors benefit.
As I wrote in a report back in 2013 as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa, “Engagement with Africa is critical to America’s economic interests in the years ahead. Meeting Africa’s growing demand with American goods and services will strengthen our economy, help U.S. businesses grow, and create jobs here at home.” Nearly four years later, those words resonate even more strongly, as countries up and down the continent of Africa continue to shape the global economy—and their people demonstrate resilience and ingenuity in the face of a host of diverse governance and natural resource challenges.
Because Africa enjoys bipartisan support. At a time when many Americans are right to raise concerns about the dysfunction of our legislative branch, U.S. policy towards Africa has long enjoyed significant bipartisan attention and support in Congress and from administrations of both parties.
Take the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has helped saved millions of lives, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an innovative aid agency designed to eliminate extreme poverty through economic growth. MCC projects, which tend to be more transparent, effective, and accountable than other forms of aid, are not exclusive to Africa, but they have benefited the continent perhaps more than any other region of the world. Both PEPFAR and the MCC were created under a Republican President, expanded by a Democrat, and supported by members of Congress of both parties.
Initiatives like Power Africa have also demonstrated real American leadership and delivered significant results for the people of Africa by facilitating private sector transactions that could generate more than 4,600 megawatts of electricity—enough to create four million new electric connections. Access to electricity grows businesses, allows children to study at night, and promotes gender equality by employing women in the energy sector and reducing time spent on household chores.
American-led initiatives like Power Africa aren’t just good for humanitarian reasons. Investments in these programs can pay for themselves many times over. An initial $7 billion American commitment to Power Africa, for example, has already leveraged more than $20 billion in outside investment from the private sector and international community. American investments through programs like Power Africa will generate outsized returns for years to come, contributing to positive relations with the continent, economic growth, and improved security across Africa.
U.S.-Africa Policy Moving Forward
With the support of your Administration, I am confident the United States will remain a constructive partner for African states in a way that creates business opportunities for American and African companies, enhances global stability, and reduces economic dependency. Here are a few ways we can achieve each of these goals.
Counter terrorism and the jihadist threat in Africa. Extremist groups like Boko Haram and Al Shabaab pose distinct challenges to regions across the continent, creating instability that directly impacts our national security. Boko Haram, for example, does not have the capability or intention of attacking the United States homeland directly, but a young Nigerian influenced by al-Qaeda attempted to blow up a commercial flight to Detroit in December 2009. It is also worth remembering that, before al-Qaeda attacked the United States, it bombed U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Those strikes left more than 200 dead, 51 of whom, both Africans and Americans, were working on behalf of the U.S. government.
Successfully and sustainably countering terrorism in Africa will require unique partnerships and a recognition that a large U.S. troop presence would likely prove counterproductive in a continent deeply sensitive to the presence of any outside power. That’s why our focus should be helping African nations build transparent, accountable, and self-sustaining security institutions.
Increased transparency will reduce the corruption that exacerbates inequality and creates barriers between African governments and their citizens. Greater accountability will limit human rights abuses that often foster resentment and drive young men into the arms of terrorist recruiters. These initiatives complement and reinforce our efforts to stimulate economic development and decrease poverty, which further undermine one of the root causes of terrorism.
Take Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and its second largest economy. By 2020, Nigeria will have a middle class of fifty million people, and by 2050, it’s expected to pass Indonesia, Brazil, and Bangladesh to take its place among the top five most populous countries in the world. This growth presents a tremendous opportunity to expand our commercial, strategic, and cultural links with Nigeria. Yet the foundation of Nigeria’s prospects for success is limited by the jihadist insurgency of Boko Haram, which continues to rage in the country’s northeast, threatening to engulf the entire region and leave a humanitarian emergency in its wake. It’s a critical task to empower capable and strong partners not only to reclaim territory from terrorists but also to hold that terrain by offering some semblance of rule of law and economic opportunity.
The United States has pursued a “light footprint” approach to certain African security challenges by supporting local partners, deploying small numbers of Special Operations Forces, working with European allies like France and the United Kingdom, and launching limited drone and air strikes when necessary. The United States should continue to pursue this strategy to weaken violent extremist organizations and remove their leaders from the battlefield.
The United States should also promote African-led and internationally sustained “peacemaking” efforts. The threat of violence in Africa is not limited to terrorism. In too many places, such as eastern Congo and South Sudan, armed groups fight over control of resources or ethnic disputes. We rely on the UN and its imperfect peacekeeping mechanism to keep these conflicts from destabilizing entire regions.
The United States should also work to strengthen UN peacekeeping by enacting reforms that hold accountable countries that contribute troops. I’m confident we can do so without undermining the many important missions protecting civilians around the world today. In September 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that Beijing will contribute 8,000 troops to UN peacekeeping. China also pledged $100 million to the African Union standby force. In your broader discussions with Chinese leaders, you should encourage President Xi to follow through on these commitments. As I have described, we are competing with China for influence in Africa. But if we can find responsible ways to partner with global competitors to promote African-led peace and stability and achieve results that advance U.S. interests, we should do so.
Expand U.S. business opportunities by promoting African economic development and economic self-sufficiency. Stimulating development and fostering self-sufficiency starts by increasing trade and deploying U.S. private sector capital. Intraregional trade allows markets to grow to a scale where they become more attractive to investors.
Currently, extractive economies dominate U.S.-African trade. Your administration could encourage more African governments to diversify, take advantage of the benefits the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act provides, and work towards more reciprocal trade relationships with the United States.
In order to compete with other world powers investing in Africa, the United States needs to play a stronger, more streamlined role in development finance. As I wrote late last year, I recommend Congress pursue “a full-service, self-sustaining U.S. Development Finance Corporation to mobilize additional private capital to emerging economies to deliver development results and advance U.S. interests and values.” Through this agency, the government can reform development assistance by building long-term, sustainable partnerships with the private sector while actually competing with our geopolitical rivals in places like Latin America, Africa, and South Asia.
At both the state and national level, U.S. policymakers have sought to provide new forums for nurturing U.S.-Africa business ties. In Delaware, I’ve hosted five annual “Opportunity: Africa” conferences to connect local businesses with African executives and the growing African diaspora. The 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit and the 2016 U.S.-Africa Business Forum also made real progress in promoting ties between U.S. and African businesses. I encourage you to hold the next U.S.-Africa Business Forum in Africa before the end of 2018 to display our continued commitment to connecting U.S. private sector firms with the continent’s most promising markets.
Make foreign assistance more effective and more efficient. The way the United States delivers assistance to populations in need is out-of-date and inefficient. As you correctly observed in your September 2016 letter to Vote to End Hunger and Circle of Protection, the money the United States spends on foreign assistance “must do more to help impoverished nations become capable of taking care of themselves in the future.”
The good news is twofold. First, we know how to reach more people, more quickly, and at a lower cost to American taxpayers. Second, there’s already bipartisan support in Congress for making key changes to the delivery of foreign assistance. The challenge is finding the political will to implement these reforms.
In the 114th Congress, Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee and I introduced the Food for Peace Reform Act. This bill would save as much as $440 million in taxpayer dollars every year by repealing restrictions, including U.S. commodity and cargo preferences, that make emergency food aid too slow, too expensive, or locally inappropriate. Not only would the Food for Peace Reform Act save nearly half a billion dollars annually, but it would also allow us to reach approximately eight to twelve million more people, in less time, every year.
We look forward to working with your Administration to take on the challenge of reforming how the United States delivers food aid around the world. To that end, we stand ready to work with your Administration to implement the Foreign Assistance Transparency and Accountability Act, a bipartisan bill signed into law in 2016, which requires U.S. agencies to closely monitor and evaluate all foreign aid programs based on their outcomes and to improve transparency by publicly sharing information about what is working and what is not.
Prevent pandemics. If the Ebola epidemic that arose in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia in the autumn of 2014 became a full-blown global epidemic, the cost—in public and private dollars, in human lives, and in governmental instability—would have been enormous. When I traveled to Liberia in December 2014, I saw firsthand how important American leadership was in preventing this disastrous outcome.
if the lessons of Ebola teach us anything, it is that we have a largely failed multilateral structure for responding to pandemics. Right now, the only genuine solution is massive American intervention and unprecedented engagement by organizations and international bodies with no history of involvement in similar situations. That type of ad-hoc response will not always be feasible or effective. The United States should lead global efforts to create an international strategy for pandemic response.
By leading a global effort to strengthen pandemic response, we are not just exhibiting leadership on the world stage; we are making financial, humanitarian, and diplomatic investments that will pay dividends time and time again in the future.
Strengthen health systems. Building a more resilient health infrastructure in African countries has benefits beyond preventing pandemics and strengthening countries’ ability to respond to them. Strengthening health systems and creating healthier communities across the continent play a key role in reducing dependence on foreign assistance and creating a more stable continent.
As I described earlier, American investments in PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight HIV and AIDS have saved lives and money. While these programs enjoy broad bipartisan support, we should look for avenues to make these investments more sustainable over the long-term, in part because they can crowd out other necessary U.S. investments in Africa. As a business-minded leader, I am confident you share my belief that we must do what we can to encourage private sector investment both at home and abroad. That goal goes hand-in-hand with another shared aim: further transitioning these health programs to the African countries that host them. The sooner African governments can build their own health systems, the sooner they can meet their own needs.
Incentivize democracy and good governance. While we work to promote development on the continent, we should also encourage African governments to embrace vibrant civil societies and strengthen their systems of governance. Despite significant improvements over the last decade, two-thirds of Africans live in countries where safety, the rule of law, and freedom of expression have deteriorated. We should support governments that have made significant improvements in these areas, such as Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Botswana, with resources for democracy, human rights, and governance programs.
But U.S. funding for these programs in Africa has decreased since 2010. Your Administration should work with Congress to ensure that we strategically fund these programs to strengthen rule of law and reward African governments that value human rights, freedom of assembly and expression, and democratic institutions. Important elections are on the horizon this year in Kenya, Liberia, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We should promote free, fair, and peaceful elections throughout the continent. Results in democracy and good governance are hard to measure, but only through increasing the legitimacy of governing institutions will Africa be able to truly harness its potential.
Embrace Africa’s next generation. To sustain the policies outlined in this article, the United States needs to continue to invest in Africa’s youth. Two-thirds of Africans are under the age of 35, and these young people will shape the future of the continent.
One way to harness the potential of this youth bulge is to invest in technology training that can provide jobs for Africa’s youth and accelerate technological change on the continent. African economies are well positioned to benefit from these advances, which can unlock growth and leapfrog the limitations and costs of physical infrastructure in important areas of economic life. For example, East Africa is already a global leader in mobile payments, and penetration of smart phones is expected to reach 50 percent in 2020, up from only 2 percent in 2010. Every step forward in economic self-sufficiency marks a chance to reduce foreign assistance and create new opportunities for U.S. businesses.
One of the most effective ways to embrace Africa’s next generation is through the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). Through its highly competitive Mandela Washington Fellowship, YALI empowers hundreds of young, ambitious African professionals each year by bringing them to the United States for leadership training and work experience with some of the top businesses, organizations, and government agencies in the country.
I’ve seen firsthand some of the benefits YALI provides. For each of the past three summers, I was privileged to have a Mandela Washington Fellow serve as a temporary member of my staff. The University of Delaware and other schools throughout the country host fellows who utilize their YALI experiences to launch initiatives to de-radicalize and rehabilitate former child soldiers impacted by terrorist groups in Somalia, and to tackle youth unemployment and an information technology skills shortages in South Africa by training youth to code, to name just two examples. This exchange allows Africans and Delawareans to learn from each other’s experiences in business, government and civil society, by building a network of individuals committed to growth, peace, and change. An investment in YALI is an investment in a stronger U.S.-Africa relationship, now and in the future.
Mr. President, from Europe to Asia to the Middle East, some of the most prominent geostrategic regions of the world will demand a great deal of your Administration’s time and focus. I urge you not to forget about Africa.
Investments we make today in tackling challenges facing the continent and unlocking its potential not only benefit the African people; they also create new opportunities for U.S. businesses and strengthen our national security. In addition, Africa policy serves as an opportunity for your Administration and Congress to learn how to cooperate and come together on issues such as strengthening the rule of law, promoting democracy, fighting corruption, and creating new economic opportunities for American businesses. These are important goals shared by Americans of both parties that we must pursue as part of our foreign policy.
Many times during your campaign for the presidency you mentioned that you would build an administration of qualified, experienced professionals. When it comes to developing and implementing U.S. policy towards Africa, I urge you to draw on the decades of expertise from individuals of both parties, including members of the African diaspora community and private sector leaders whose knowledge and experience transcends party affiliation. Mr. President, I know I speak for both Republican and Democratic colleagues in Congress when I say that we look forward to working with you to shape our policy towards Africa.