Even as the Ebola virus serves as a reminder of Africa’s manifold challenges, a much brighter future for the continent was on display in Washington this week, where more than 40 African heads of state are attending a summit meeting led by President Barack Obama. Done right, with sufficient follow-through, the event should strengthen American ties to a continent that is expected to outpace China and India in population by 2040 and is widely viewed as the world’s last major economic frontier.
The event is a determined, and splashy, initiative by Obama to push back against other countries doing business there, especially China, which is investing heavily in infrastructure projects and using Africa as a source of vital oil and metals. It is also an opportunity to counter critics who say he has devoted insufficient attention to the continent.
Administration officials have been eager to persuade Africa that America’s democratic capitalistic system can offer advantages that China’s authoritarian system cannot. As Susan Rice, the national security adviser, said last week, “We don’t see Africa as a pipeline to extract vital resources, nor as a funnel for charity.” She described a broader vision in which the United States is committed to being a partner to create jobs, resolve conflicts and develop the human capital needed to build a better future.
To that end, the summit meeting was preceded by a gathering of 500 participants in Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. Other events included forums on women, health, trade, food security and civil society. Still others brought together American corporate executives with African leaders. The summit schedule will end with meetings with Mr. Obama on Wednesday.
The world has largely associated Africa with desperate struggles against war, poverty, famine and dictatorial leaders. But there are positive trends, too. Africa is home to six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world, an emerging middle class and markets that are increasingly open to foreign investment. In short, there is money to be made there.
There is also a growing threat from militants in some countries. And, as human rights groups point out, the summit meeting’s focus on trade, investment and counterterrorism cannot be allowed to dilute the Obama administration’s willingness to press for good and honest governance, fair elections and human rights, all essential for long-term stability and growth.
— New York Times