21 November 2012

Africa: Dear President Obama

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Dear President Obama,

When you were first elected President of the United States in 2008, your election generated great excitement - and hope -throughout Africa.

But some say you are yet to deliver on your promises. However, your new US Africa strategy is encouraging and Hillary Clinton's  tour of the continent was a breakthrough. We are convinced that your administration intends to engage more and engage better with Africa.

The US has already shown strong leadership when hosted the G8 summit, which launched the new alliance for food security and nutrition to raise 50 million people out of poverty in a decade. Some 239 million people go hungry in Africa, but, blessed with large amounts of agricultural land, Africa has the potential to feed not just itself but also the world.

Africa wants stronger US leadership on climate change, though - an issue you mentioned in your victory speech. After all, climate change will hit Africa harder than any other continent and the US is a top polluter.

But closer ties between Africa and the US should not just be about aid. The US and Africa have many mutual investment opportunities. Africa will be home to seven of the world's ten fastest-growing economies  between 2010 and 2015. And already 22 out of 48 sub-Saharan countries are recognised as middle-income, according to World Bank definitions, and not all of them energy exporters.

With the world's fastest growing population, Africa's workforce will one day compete with China's in terms of skills and wages. The continent will certainly become the world's largest consumer market, bigger than India or China. And companies from Brazil, Turkey, and China are already seeing how investments in Africa  can generate growth and jobs back home.

Africa has its challenges, Mr President: maternal and child mortality remain too high; conflict and corruption still stalk the continent. But this is not a plea to save Africa, as some have done. Africa is changing and the US should adapt its policies too. Your country and Africa will both gain from a better, deeper engagement.

Caroline Kende-Robb is the Executive Director of the Africa Progress Panel, a group of distinguished individuals, chaired by Kofi Annan, dedicated to encouraging progress in Africa.

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