columnBy Amini Kajunju
Given the United States' pivotal role in geo-politics, the world was closely watching the returns from the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 6 almost as intently as most Americans. And when one of the presidential candidates is a "son of Africa"--President Barack Obama's father was from Kenya-- interest from the African continent immensely peaks.
After a hard-fought campaign, the re-election of President Barack Obama could present a real opportunity for the United States to increase its economic engagement with Africa, potentially translating into spurring economic productivity and creating jobs in both Africa and the U.S.
The U.S. economy is gradually showing promising signs of economic recovery. The deepening of U.S.-Africa economic ties and bilateral co-operation could create a mutual partnership that yields significant economic growth and prosperity.
Africa is a continent on the move with much to offer the United States. Africa boosts one of the world's fastest growing economic regions and has increasingly become an attractive hub for foreign investment.
The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is just one concrete example of the strengthening of mutually beneficial economic ties between African countries and the United States. AGOA provides tangible incentives for 40 African countries to open their economies and build free markets. Under AGOA, African producers have significantly increased exports to the United States. AGOA also helps to create stronger commercial partners in Africa for U.S. companies. In the first half of 2012, U.S. total trade -- exports and imports -- with sub-Saharan Africa reached $48 billion. However, this is just the beginning, trade between Africa and the US could reach in the trillions of dollar with the right mix of policies and initiatives.
The 112th U.S. Congress has introduced a bill, Increasing American Jobs Through Greater Exports to Africa Act of 2012 (HR 4221 and S. 2215), to provide more balance in U.S.-Africa commercial relations by bolstering U.S. exports to and investment in Africa. The proposed bill pays special attention to ensuring that African markets are not endangered.
AGOA is clearly making an impact, but must be strengthened - and renewed in 2015. Yet with 60 percent of African youth unemployed, more investments are needed to expand local capacity and strengthen the foundation for African development to ensure that young people can compete effectively in the global marketplace and take advantage of the benefits of AGOA.
Education is an important pathway forward for Africa. Out of every 100 adults in Africa only five are enrolled in higher education programs, compared to 10 out every 100 adults in parts of Asia, and 69 out of every 100 adults in North America and Europe, respectively.
This is where AAI steps in. Since the founding of AAI nearly 60 years ago, our mission has been to strengthen human capacity in Africa. Our razor-sharp focus has always been on education: education for Africans, and about Africa.
We have offered non-degree professional training and advanced degree scholarship programs to women and men from across the African continent who exhibit talent and leadership in key fields - ranging from business and entrepreneurship, to agriculture and natural resource conservation to health - and who display a deep commitment to advancing to Africa's development.
With 23,000 AAI alumni and partners in Africa and the United States, we proudly count prominent alumni such as Wangari Maathai, the late Kenyan environmental and women's rights activist and Nobel Laureate; Prime Minister H.E. Nahas Angula of Namibia; and President Joyce Banda of Malawi; among other African leaders.
Strengthening education on all levels in Africa is one of the key building blocks for socio-economic development and prosperity. African participation in higher education is critical for African professionals to gain the necessary skills for today's global economy and to meet local and global market demands for highly skilled workers.
Additionally, vocational and technical skills are paramount in order for Africans to take full advantage of all of the infrastructure projects being implemented throughout the continent.
Through AAI's educational programs and training, we are working to narrow the "higher education gap" by equipping Africans with the tools to provide real solutions to reducing poverty and unemployment, and expanding freedom in Africa.
President Obama's second term gives both Africans and Americans an opportunity to craft a mutually beneficial U.S.-Africa policy to reach strategic goals that are in the interest of both the U.S. and African continent. Expanding trade opportunities as well as international educational exchanges and cooperation between the United States and African countries can help foster greater economic growth and prosperity.
The Africa-America Institute recently hosted in late-September its annual gala and business investor conference under the theme, "Jobs for Africa". The business investor conference with African heads of state, senior African and U.S. government officials, corporate CEOs and other business leaders, and representatives of the UN and multilateral organizations provided high-power networking and dialogue to lay the groundwork for action on the continent's need to create jobs to spur economic growth. Real solutions to some of Africa's economic woes came out of the conference.
The re-election of President Obama gives us reason to redouble our efforts to strengthen the U.S- Africa partnership by creatively putting forth innovative solutions and opportunities to build a new generation of African leaders and to achieve robust economic development and create jobs that benefits all of us.
To access AAI's Priority Areas for the Obama Administration, please click here.