West Africa: Four Presidents Ask Business to Back Democracy with Investment - and Make Money

Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou.
26 August 2011

Four heads of state from French-speaking West Africa appeared before the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) membership last month to appeal for American support for the democracies, including increased investment and trade.

Presidents Boni Yayi of Benin, Alpha Condé of Guinea, Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger and Alassane Ouattara of Côte d'Ivoire came to Washington, DC, for a meeting with President Barack Obama on July 29. Obama called them "effective models" for Africa's democratic progress. "All these leaders were elected through free and fair elections," Obama said. "They've shown extraordinary persistence in wanting to promote democracy in their countries despite significant risks to their own personal safety and despite enormous challenges," the American leader added. Excerpts from their remarks at the CCA breakfast:

Thomas Boni Yayi - Benin

Our continent is truly open. It's the continent of the future – it's a virgin continent. We are ready to welcome you. You have been slow in coming. As you know, countries such as China have already taken the frontrunner spots in Africa. However, it's not too late. There are still possibilities in Africa.

We are a region that's very functional [with] a market of over 300 million people. On the political level, Benin is recognized for its security and stability. For the last five years, the democratic culture has flourished. In my last year in office, I have committed myself to accomplish great reforms for the people of Benin. We have started to create better governance in our country - to assure security so that we can undertake great reforms.

The state cannot do everything. We have in place partnerships that guarantee the interest of all – a win-win situation. We need more investment [and] better infrastructure. With the American MCC [Millennium Challenge Corporation] we are undertaking great reforms to have a [better] harbor. We are looking for roads and for railroads as well. If you come to visit you'll understand the importance and the opportunities. The continent is ready to welcome you.

Alpha Conde - Guinea

We have many mineral resources, but our country was asleep for 50 years. We've known very poor governance, we've known military regimes and this is the first time we're having democratic elections.

Coming out of a military regime is quite difficult. We're still a very fragile country. We have huge potential, but everything is yet to be done. We have the highest agricultural and mining potential, but we lack electricity. We could have very large dams. We have the ability to have three deep harbor ports. We have railroad projects to transport iron, bauxite, and other minerals. In Guinea, everything is yet to be done. We need the support of the American government and all our friends because the situation is extremely fragile.

We're looking to create an open, competitive market. We're concerned with the security sector, with good governance, and putting aside the private interests that prior to this were only serving themselves. We are counting on you to help us clear our huge debt. We're also asking the IMF to help, so that Guinea can once again start its movement toward the future. Everybody speaks of bauxite and iron, but Guinea has so many other resources. Very soon we are going to start a geophysical study of our mineral assets. We're going to be exploring for petroleum.

I would like to emphasize the promotion of interregional projects, to develop markets around us. We're interested in sharing projects with neighboring countries so that each country can benefit from its assets. Rather than each country reinventing the wheel, we can have more efficient sharing of assets and organization.

We're very open to investment, we're very open to American business. Come and invest in Guinea. The investment potentials are enormous. We would like to see the U.S. take a more important role in Africa, such as China has. But it's never too late. The important thing is to get started.

Mahamadou Issoufou - Niger

African countries in the future will have the best performing countries in the world. Unfortunately, until now Africa has been somewhat marginalized in globalization. It participates very little in international exchanges – about two percent. And I believe that Africa is the region of the world that receives the least FDI [foreign direct investment]. This must change. We hope that American business people take a closer look at Africa. All of the analyses prove that African countries will have the highest growth rates in the world.

Niger is among the countries the IMF projects to have the highest performing economies in the future. As you know, Niger has lived through a political crisis. And then we organized elections, and these elections have been recognized by all as being transparent and credible elections. During the elections, I presented a program to the Nigerien people – a program that I invite American business to participate in. It's an ambitious program.

Our goal is to develop agriculture. The success of agriculture allows the financing of other industries. We've decided to make agriculture a priority because we are a country that is subjected to climatic difficulties where there are recurring droughts. And it is for this reason that we'll like to develop our own agriculture so that we can feed our own people. We've also decided to invest in infrastructure –roads and railroads – because Niger is a landlocked country. We're also investing in the energy sector. We're currently constructing a hydroelectric dam, which will provide less expensive energy than the energy we use today that comes from biofuels. Not only will the dam project produce electricity, it will also allow for irrigation of many of our lands for agriculture.

We are also investing in education - it's the base of a country - to boost productivity and competition for our economy. We'll also invest in health. Another problem is access to fresh water for all our people. So these are the programs we hope to roll out over the next five years. It'll cost us 12 billion dollars. We have to find these resources from within the country and also seek them from outside Niger.

I hope that American investors will come to Niger. Niger is an open country. For 2011, we're estimating for Niger to grow by 5 percent. We hope that after 2012, it'll grow by 7 percent. We're hoping that you'll invest in Niger. We currently have low levels of outside investment at this time." I believe the development of Africa can sustain the development of economies in the Northern hemisphere. The markets in Africa can wake up the economies of the north - thanks to our growing markets. You should come and invest in our countries and in so doing you're actually helping to invest in your economies. And this is the kind of partnership I believe that we need to establish, a win-win partnership between American and African business entities. Of course, for this to be possible we need to offer you more security, more judicial security and for this reason we plan to establish very strong rule of law institutions to protect you.

Alassane Ouattara - Cote d'Ivoire

Unfortunately, for the past five years, Cote d'Ivoire – which was known as the 'economic miracle'– left the map of Africa. The economy has grown only two percent per year for the past five years, after many years of solid growth in the previous decade, numbers will be worse this year.

Our objective is to establish stability and rebuild our economy, and this will require an investment of about U.S.$20-25b by 2015, with a minimum contribution of 25 percent from the private sector. We are determined to recreate a positive environment for business.

We want to promote investment in sectors like infrastructure, petroleum, and cocoa processing. We plan to have an ambitious investment program.

We have the economic potential and the people to do it.  Cote d'Ivoire, up to 2000, had investments that were 16-18 percent of GDP.

That has now fallen to 10%. We want to attract private investment again. I'd like to assure you that problems you have encountered in the past are being addressed. We are open to investment again.

This is important not only for Cote d'Ivoire but for the region. Cote d'Ivoire was an engine for growth before, and it can become a growth engine for the sub-region again.

This invitation from President Obama is quite significant. By inviting four democratically elected African presidents, he is getting the message that what matters now for the United States is democracy. And that it is with democracy that you can get prosperity.

And that creates an expectation in our populations that we are going to get strong support, not only from the administration but from the private sector to come and invest in our countries.

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