It's obviously very difficult to see that so many people, particularly women, still face these kinds of challenges. Unfortunately, my country of birth, Ethiopia, is one of the worst places to be born a girl. You don't have to go far from the capital of Addis Ababa to witness the hardships faced by women. A visit to the fistula clinic where child brides get treated for obstetric fistula will do it. The positive trend is that women are fighting back; there is change taking place, but not fast enough.
In OPIC's 2012 Annual Report, the letter from OPIC President, Elizabeth Littlefield mentioned that the OPIC had "redoubled efforts in Africa, in support of Obama Administration priorities. Today, projects in Africa account for nearly a quarter of OPIC's global portfolio, up from six percent a decade ago". What are some of those projects in Africa? What are some of the changes you have seen in doing business in Africa now, versus a decade ago? What are the areas for improvement that need to be addressed to make Africa a destination of choice for investment and for doing business?
OPIC has supported many exciting projects in Africa in the past few years. They include financing for a major geothermal power plant in Kenya, which added 52 megawatts to the grid, insurance for rehabilitation of thirty-eight municipal water systems in Ghana, and financing to develop a plant cultivation and agricultural production facility in Rwanda. OPIC is also one of the largest investors in Private Equity in emerging markets, particularly in Africa.
There have been major changes to the business climate in Africa over the past 10 years. It's becoming a better destination for the private sector every day, but there is definitely room for improvement. It's easy to tell which countries are doing better on the enabling environment front because that is where the investments are headed!
Many commentators have been critical of the level of attention devoted by the Obama Administration to Africa, what are your thoughts on this? Do you think your organization / Obama Administration is doing "enough" or do you think more can be done in Africa? And what would be the prescription for the Obama Administration to Africa, given that this is President Obama's last term in office?
The President just returned from a successful three county visit to Africa and increasing US-Africa trade and investment was a major theme of his trip. The President made a point to meet with both American and African business leaders at a roundtable which he personally moderated. The President has also announced that he will be hosting a head of state summit for African leaders in Washington, DC in 2014.
At OPIC, I am very proud of our record; our investment in Africa has gone up by 300 percent the last four years compared to the four prior years.
I look forward to continuing those trends and our work in Africa in the second term of this Presidency.
By 2050, Africa is expected to represent 15 percent of the world population, compared with 10.8 percent in 1980 and its share of the world's youth (between the ages of 15 and 24) is projected to grow to 31.3 percent (currently this share is 17.5 percent). As part of OPIC's commitment to the President's policy, last year on November 11 - 12, you traveled to Dakar, Senegal, to attend the Mo Ibrahim Youth Forum - an event focused on African youth. What were your findings there and your key take-aways? What excited you the most about Africa's youth and why?
The Ibrahim Forum was a great event and I applaud him for his leadership and work in this realm. What excites me most is the great potential, enthusiasm, and optimism I see in Africa's youth. This is a sentiment shared across the US government, as we see in President Barack Obama's Young African Leaders Initiative and support for leadership development across the globe.