When it does come up, the candidates focus almost exclusively on countering terrorism in North Africa, ignoring the vast territory of sub-Saharan Africa. This is a mistake: The United States has a significant interest in making sure Africa — all of Africa — develops in a democratic, stable manner with the resources it needs. And it’s not just about charity. Africa is home to eight of the world’s fastest-growing economies, and at the moment China is winning the race for investment and influence in Africa. U.S. presidential candidates ignore the continent at their own risk.
Any African who follows world events knows that 2016 is an election year in the United States. But how many Americans are aware that 2016 is also a presidential election year across Africa, from Zambia, Uganda and Ghana to my own country, the Democratic Republic of Congo? And how many Americans know that Nigeria made history in 2015 with its first peaceful transfer of power between civilian politicians, while Burkina Faso now has its first democratically elected leader in almost 30 years?
Africans don’t expect Americans to closely follow the politics of each African nation. But we do expect U.S. presidential candidates to understand the economic and geopolitical importance of the continent — and voters should expect the same.
While the United States strives to contain terrorism in the Middle East, violent extremism is on the march in Africa, not only in Libya, where ISIL is growing, but also in Kenya, Nigeria and Mali, where Al Shabaab, Boko Haram and Al Qaeda have wreaked havoc.
In order to combat these terrorists, the United States needs to work with national governments and their security forces to protect their people and to reform their economic and political systems. Every segment of the population, particularly the growing youth population, should have a stake in society so that they don’t need to resort to violence.
Economic growth won’t just weaken terrorism. It will also build businesses, generate jobs, lift living standards and — most important for American companies — create consumer markets.
The world’s last great emerging market, Africa expanded by 3.9 percent in 2014 after several years of 5 percent growth. African economies have generated a 30 percent increase in real income per person from 2003 through 2013. By 2020, the McKinsey Global Institute predicts that consumer spending in sub-Saharan Africa will increase to an anticipated $1.4 trillion, from $600 billion in 2010.
With Americans anxious about their economic future, the United States must not sit on the sidelines while its leading rival reaps the returns of African growth. Trade between China and Africa grew to $210 billion in 2013, compared with only $85 billion in U.S.-Africa trade.
The Obama administration has stimulated positive developments in Africa, from promoting democracy — including the respect for term limits — to expanding U.S. market access to sub-Saharan Africa through the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and lighting the continent through the Power Africa initiative.
Over its initial 15 years, AGOA’s free-trade promotion has created 350,000 direct jobs and 1 million indirect jobs in 40 African countries, and 250,000 American jobs and $50.2 billion in U.S. exports. President Barack Obama signed a 10-year extension of the law this past summer. The Power Africa Initiative, an Obama administration program for Africa, has committed $43 billion in public and private funds toward the goal of generating 30,000 megawatts of new, clean power and connecting 60 million more households to electricity.
As these U.S. government priorities progress, they will promote the rule of law and a business climate friendly to international investment that will result in a larger and more vibrant middle class in Africa — a great market opportunity for U.S. companies.
But the U.S. can do still more. In order to raise America’s economic profile on the continent, the next president should continue the bipartisan efforts led by Obama and President George W. Bush to encourage U.S. companies to invest in Africa, as well as Obama’s efforts to promote electrification and the education of women. The United States should also provide governmental and public-sector assistance to African countries to develop their infrastructure. The potential benefits include sales in countries such as the DRC, where only 30 million of our 80 million people currently have access to mobile phones.
Encouraging economic growth and discouraging violent extremism will be difficult without democracy and the rule of law. For all the free elections that are being held and peaceful transitions of power that are being conducted, too many African presidents are still bending or breaking their countries’ constitutions to hold onto power indefinitely.
I’ve observed U.S.-African relations from both sides of the Atlantic. I studied at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Louisiana State University and worked as an engineer for Consolidated Aluminum Corp. in Lake Charles, Louisiana, before becoming an economist and CEO for Citibank in the DRC. I came to see the United States as many Africans do — a diverse, dynamic and democratic society.
Serving as governor of the DRC’s Central Bank, and through relationships with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, I learned that America’s active participation is indispensable for addressing international problems, such as extreme poverty and epidemics like Ebola. But by the same token, Africa is pivotal for the future of the United States.
As Obama prepares for the free selection of his successor, the candidates to replace him should speak up for the principles and practices that promote political stability, economic prosperity and international security.
Take it from this Congolese banker who learned to love America while studying in U.S. colleges and working at U.S. companies: Democracy works. The rule of law works. Free enterprise and smart public and private investments work.
When we put these winning ideas to work in Africa, America will win, too.
*Source Politico.Jean-Claude Masangu Mulongo served as governor of the Central Bank of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as president of the G24 of the International Monetary Fund, deputy governor for the DRC at the World Bank and president of the African Central Banks Association.