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India, China and African Economic Development

What Should Be the U.S. Role in African Economic Development?

It's been referred to as Dark Africa and The Lost Continent. These are descriptors used to capsulize the world's standoffish viewpoint of African economic development for all too many years. In the 1990s we heard of “Africa fatigue” in response to incidents of rebellion and reported atrocities during wartime. So, what has changed? Why the new-found interest in Africa by China and India? Is it simply to exploit Africa's vast natural resources at a time of great economic development in China and India, two countries  with a seemingly unquenchable thirst for oil and mineral resources? Are China and India truly interested in facilitating economic advancement in African nations or is that just the rationalization given for the rapid joint venture and other business arrangements being developed by the Chinese and Indians businesses with African partners?

I have previously blogged about the emerging economic development in Africa and China's role in securing needed resources of the African continent for its own economic expansion. China has long targeted Africa under its "Going Out" strategy launched in 1998. My concerns about China's true motive for its extensive involvement with African countries emanates from the question whether China truly has, as part of its economic outreach in Africa, the desire to  help develop the infrastructure essential to accommodate economic advances and enlarge Africa's role as a contributing member of the the global society.

Now, along comes India. Image1 It's late to the party but is making up for it with enthusiastic proposals that mirror those of the Chinese. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ended a six-day Africa trip last week and participated in a summit in Tanzania designed to underscore India's  growing stature on the global stage. Of course, India's motivation is not purely an altruistic one. It is part of a broader effort to lobby for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and signal to China that the South Asian giant is also a player on the resource-rich continent. New Delhi said it would extend a $5-billion line of credit, fund 22,000 scholarships, set up a "virtual university" and support infrastructure and training

Where is the U.S. presence in the economic development of Africa? We've ignored the continent for far too along and, as I have previously blogged, we have a moral imperative in Africa to do what we can to invest in Africa's economic future. This is an opportunity to right past wrongs and the systematic neglect of the interests of the African people. Let's not forget that an estimated 12 million Africans arrived in the Americas from the 16th to the 19th centuries, about 645,000 of whom landed in the U.S. 

Establishment attitudes toward Africa have evolved quickly since 2000, when George W. Bush announced in his first presidential campaign that the continent didn't “fit into the national strategic interests” of the United States. However, things changed after the 9-11 attacks with the establishment of a unified Africa Command (AFRICOM) that became fully operational in October 2008, and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, stationed at the U.S. military base in Djibouti since 2002. Both efforts point to a major shift  in America’s recognition of Africa’s growing geopolitical significance.

Still, I am concerned that the renewed emphasis on U.S. military and security interest in Africa doesn't address the scale of commercial opportunities or the need for active competition between the U.S., China and India. If the U.S. is to play a role in the continent’s burgeoning growth, there is a need for U.S. policymakers to deepen economic engagement with the region through investments in commercial agriculture, infrastructure, and technology development alongside established strategic alliances.

 Blog by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, June 3, 2011