Amid dreadful headlines about Boko Haram, al Shabab and Ebola, the same issues that have always afflicted the continent, a positive atmosphere is emerging within Africa. The core of the August 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit focused on trade and investment, and culminated in $7 billion dollars of new exports.
In the first panel of ASP’s timely conversation, “Extending America’s National Security through Private Sector Investments,” Nelson Cunningham, ASP’s recently elected president opened the discussion by asking how America can promote Africa’s development and security while simultaneously advancing U.S. national security.
Leocadia Zak, the Director of USAID’s U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), emphasized the need to build partnerships and focus on trade, not aid. “Economic growth is important to security,” she said, “and it is important to bring people together – that’s exactly what USTDA does.” Over one year USTDA’s Africa portfolio has doubled, reflecting the immense opportunity for investment. “For every dollar [USTDA] programs, [the U.S.] gets seven dollars in export benefit.”
To foster partnership, USTDA aims to listen to what both businesses communities want. It brings “big delegations” of both large and small businesses to Washington DC, Houston, and Chicago, “to liaise with businesses.” In doing so, African business delegations have the opportunity to meet and develop partnerships with U.S. businessmen. As the U.S. increases its interest and investment in Africa’s economic growth, countries in Africa are increasingly turning to the United States for help with security issues. This was highlighted by USTDA’s recent investment in the construction of Ghana’s airport. Ghana approached USTDA and asked whether it could “fund a study for [airport] security” due to the probability of transiting terrorists through the region.
Ambassador Robert Jackson, the current Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs, linked trade and investment to American security. According to Jackson, “promoting both security and economic growth in Africa is in the U.S.’s national security interests.” Fast-growing economies, improved democratic processes, stability, and strengthened global interconnectedness are all results of U.S. investment in Africa.
Jackson also underscored the importance of “investing in the next generation.” Economic growth will prevent conflict, further stability, and enable the next generation to continue to tackle key local and regional issues. In sum, “sustainable growth will prevent insecurity and future challenges.” It will enable African countries to take on climate change, extremism, trafficking, and more.
Scott Eisner, the Vice President of African Affairs and International Operations at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, continuously emphasized the importance of leveling the playing field. Eisner echoed Zak’s comments on human capital and stressed the “need to build skills” in order to address “the dearth of skills and education amongst countries businesses wanted to invest in.”
Highlighting the Chamber of Commerce’s focus on skill development, Eisner stated that the U.S. needs to simultaneously drive American policy forward while driving towards skill development and job creation in both Africa and the U.S. In other words, the U.S. goal is to “build skills factories of Africa to build the factories of Africa.”
In response to a question regarding China’s role in Africa, Zak stated that USTDA “views them as both competitors and complementary partners.” At the end of the day, the United States must be able to show African countries that even through China is cheaper, U.S. investment is more valuable overtime. Building off of Zak’s response, Eisner commented that “the U.S. has a small window in which to influence African companies or get into investments” because someday soon, “China will engineer an equally good product as the U.S. – and they will do it cheaper.” However, Jackson noted that the kinds of projects the U.S. is competing for “are not the same” as those of the Chinese. Even though Chinese investors’ favorable terms attract African businesses, the U.S. needs to encourage China “to join international communities,” and “play by the rules.”
The panelists concluded the discussion by addressing the next-step forward after the U.S.-Africa Summit: collaborating to make peace and security a goal. Enhancing doing business in Africa and promoting security and governance are the vital steps towards achieving this objective.