United States (US) President Barack Obama announced that private companies are providing $12 billion to his Power Africa program, while US firms will invest more than $14 billion towards banking, construction and information technology on the continent.
The US-Africa Summit held in Washington in August focused on sustainable development, trade, collaboration, investment, and America’s commitment to Africa’s security, its democratic development, and its people.
Obama assured Africa’s head of states, gathered in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, that the US wanted to help Africa grow; nothing else. With his charming voice, he dismissed the notion that the US wanted something in return. Those who are not gullible know the US doesn’t do anything for free.
The African Union has 54 member countries. If the US really cares, it should help Africa in its entirety. It came as no surprise that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe didn’t get an invite. Other black sheep were Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Catherine Samba-Panza of the Central African Republic.
Some African nations declined to join the global superpower. Sierra Leone and Liberia focused on domestic issues rather than sucking up to the US, while Ebola kept West African countries busy.
Africa is not a charity case and progress can be made on our own terms. Foreign partnerships are vital, but the US is not the only option. China is currently forging trade agreements with several African countries.
Now more than ever, Africa needs education to exploit its resources. Academics Nkem Khumbah and Melvin Foote see this as a more viable option than pumping aid into the hands of corrupt officials.
“There’s a way to make a lasting and low cost investment in Africa’s next generation: Obama must bring education – science and technology in particular – to the forefront of the debate about African development,” wrote Khumbah and Foote in The New York Times.
Africa is experiencing an economic upswing, but its growth is predominantly based on extracting natural resources rather than increasing industrial productivity. Most African nations are far away from making any significant international breakthrough.
This is not rocket science. Power-obsessed African leaders need to understand and implement measures to help their countries grow.
Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian-born economist and author of Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working And How There Is a Better Way for Africa, says donations to Africa provide many points to debate – millions march for it, governments are judged by it and celebrities promote the need for it. Calls for more aid to Africa are growing louder, with advocates pushing for the roughly $50 billion of international assistance that goes to Africa each year to be doubled.
Some, however, argue that aid has made the continent poorer and economic growth slower. The aid culture has left countries more debt-laden and vulnerable to the vagaries of currency markets. This leads to Africa being an unattractive destination for investment.
According to Moyo, despite the aggressive debt-relief campaigns in the 1990s, African countries still pay nearly $20 billion in debt per annum, a stark reminder that aid is not free. In order to keep systems going, debt is repaid at the expense of education and health care. Calls to write off the debt are hollow when it is met with a fresh infusion of aid. We are trapped in a vicious cycle.
“In 2005, just weeks ahead the G8 conference that had Africa at the top of its agenda, the International Monetary Fund published a report entitled ‘Aid Will Not Lift Growth in Africa’. The report cautioned that governments, donors and campaigners should be more modest in their claims that increased aid will solve Africa’s problems. Despite such comments, no serious efforts have been made to wean Africa off this debilitating drug,” Moyo points out.
Obama might have good intentions but Africa, the sleeping giant of the world, needs to wake up and guard its assets: both human and natural resources. It needs to protect itself from the toxicity of foreign aid.