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12 Aug, 2014

South African Editor: Africa doesn’t need U.S. as benefactor

By Ellis Mnyandur

(China Daily), 2014-08-12 —  By all accounts, the United States – which generally prides itself on being a trendsetter – is essentially a “Johnny Come Lately” to the “Africa Rising” story. As if to make amends, US President Barack Obama held the largest ever gathering of African heads of state and business leaders in Washington DC from Aug 4 to 6. The effort goes to show the seriousness with which his administration sees the need for a “reset” in US-Africa relations.

The “reset” is long over due. Obama knows full well that it should have been among his first-term priorities, especially in view of the expectations that were created by his historic election victory in 2008. Back then most Africans thought he would put their continent first. That did not happen. Most Africans now think Obama’s engagement with Africa has not lived up to what they thought would be possible under a US president born of a Kenyan father and an American mother.

This recent meeting in Washington DC, in many ways, presented Obama with the opportunity to redeem himself, mainly by showing concrete ways of how the US plans to engage with Africa.

Mind you, this is not the “old Africa game”. Our continent does not need the US as a benefactor. We want a relationship with the US that is based on mutual interest. Simply put, the Africa of yesterday is not the Africa of today.

The shadow of an Africa riddled with famine, war and thuggish dictators is fast dissipating. There is a sustained push underway by Africans to build a prosperous continent. The Africa of this generation needs true allies – not prospectors.

Today’s Africa represents an immense opportunity for the US to play a key role in its development. This is especially relevant in the critical areas of technology, education, infrastructure, energy, healthcare, environment, entrepreneurship and governance.

Although the US has seen its economic fortunes badly bruised by the global financial crisis of 2008-09, it still commands serious clout as the world’s most advanced economy. But it should not rest on its past laurels. After all, China is readying itself with great determination to become the world’s largest economy in a few years. That it has taken this long for the US to get its act on Africa together suggests that it has not been quite certain about how to go about doing that.

In recent years, the US has put far too much emphasis on the security dimension, as compared to commerce and economic opportunity. While the former is important, the best long-term strategy against political and military insecurity is, of course, strengthening economic growth.

The challenge for Obama, though, is that the reality of any new commitment will depend on the number of tangible outcomes from the meeting in Washington DC. Africa is no longer a continent where warm and mellifluous words suffice.

To be convincing, the US-Africa meeting has to show the world real plans, deals, investments and partnerships that address the interests of both the US and Africa.

Convening a meeting even of this scale is always the easy part. The hardest part is to answer participants who say: show us the money. In that regard, China has already blazed a trail.

China has put Africa left, right and center of its investment and development strategy.

I recall a conversation I had recently with a senior Chinese government official. He shared one Chinese saying with me: “Seek truth from facts.” Not everything is golden when it comes to Chinese activities in Africa. But the truth is that China has positioned itself as a partner of Africa. In fact, most Africans would be hard pressed to see China as anything other than a committed ally.

The cold fact facing the US right now is that by and large it needs Africa more than Africa needs it. Despite his latest effort, Obama will be hard pressed to become the gamechanger for the US-Africa partnership. Even if he pulls off a stunner, let’s be realistic: The success of his latest initiative will be determined by the US administrations that follow his.

The author is the editor of Business Report, South Africa’s largest financial newspaper.

The Globalist.