Africa's Seat at the Table

Battling global warming, the economic crisis, food and energy shortages, and AIDS and malaria requires co-partners, not post-colonial relationships.
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At the UN General Assembly in New York in late September, PresidentBarack Obama invited sub-Saharan leaders to a private lunch andinformal chat at the Waldorf-Astoria. Following on his Accra speechthis summer, the president asked African heads of state to shareresponsibility on global issues. I am just beginning to get to knowthe President, but his approach impressed me as indisputably sincere.

Africa's concerns today are interconnected with those of the West -- andsolutions must come from all continents and sectors. Battling globalwarming, the economic crisis, food and energy shortages, and AIDS andmalaria requires co-partners, not post-colonial relationships. TheU.S. and Europe have no monopoly on brainpower, and African leadersmust wake up to a new reality: We are finally being listened to by theindustrial world. In a separate conversation on the same day thatAfrican heads of state met with President Obama, World Bank presidentRobert Zoellick informed me that the bank has "borrowed" a number ofAfrica's sharpest minds for missions around the world. Africanexpertise and global expertise are beginning to merge.

When international debate on stimulating a global but sustainablerecovery shifted to the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh after the UNGeneral Assembly, the focus again was on boosting Africanparticipation. At every international conference where the governanceof the planet is concerned, I continue to press five reformrecommendations:

Insist that rich countries respect existing commitments to reinforcethe message of shared responsibility and accountability.

In the 2005 Gleneagles G-8 summit, dubbed the "100% debt reliefsummit," the G-8 committed to double aid to Africa and forgive thedebt, both neither commitment has been realized. Oxfam calculatesthat these pledges alone could save some three million lives inAfrica. In the 2009 G-8 meeting in Italy, another $20 billion waspledged for African agricultural development, but these funds too arefor the most part undelivered. Even funds promised to the World Bankat the Rome meeting have been held up, hindering vital programs.

The Obama Administration now promises to lead by example and make goodon its $3.2 billion pledge to the fund. But the remainder ofinternational commitments should voluntarily and promptly be entrustedto the World Bank. G-20 leaders should recommend the immediatecreation of a "payment follow-up committee" for unkept promises if themessage of shared responsibility and accountability is to be takenseriously around the world.

Continue investing massively in infrastructure as a strategy fordevelopment, security, and boosting self-sufficiency in Africa, whilemoving away from unrestricted cash aid.

I've been preaching infrastructure investment for decades. TheAmericans, the Europeans, and the Chinese now all agree. There will beno end to poverty and the Millennium Development Goals will bemeaningless if nations do not reinforce their ability to efficientlymove people and products to market. Senegal's recent MillenniumChallenge Corporation (MCC) compact for $540 million for buildingroads and an irrigation network is a tremendous step in the rightdirection, but the African continent needs a lot more: atranscontinental rail network, intra-national highways, bridges,improved modern ports ... Think of what the US would have become hadthe private sector not invested in the railroads, waterways, andinterstate highway system. If we increase mobility commerce willfollow. Without commerce, economic growth and poverty relief cannot beexpected. But Africa is not just looking for the West to throw moneyat its problems.

Think agriculture to stimulate employment and economic growth in thedeveloping world.

Africa doesn't suffer from unemployment like the US or Europe; we areburdened by millions of "insufficiently-occupied people". Western jobsmay need to be saved or recovered; African employment has to beinvented. In Senegal, 70 percent of our population relies onagriculture to survive. Our home-grown GOANA initiative, a globaloffensive for promoting food self-sufficiency and security, hasalready created thousands of new jobs for people who have never workedbefore.

Our youth do not seek to become become "peasants", but they take totheir new identity as modern farmers. Young adults with a fertilepiece of land to cultivate, are much less tempted by the risk ofillegal immigration. In our southern region of Casamance,newly-empowered women will be stimulating the local economy bytransforming fruit production into juice and dried fruit factories.Agriculture, reinforced with equipment and infrastructure, paves theway for economic growth. I never stop repeating: Don't send Africamoney -- give us seeds and tractors.

Reinforce existing international structures for development.

World Bank president Zoellick, whose commitment to Africa has beenexemplary, deserves greater support and creative input from Africanleaders. Like most international institutions, the World Bank isimperfect. But it's the best mechanism Africa has to work with today,and African leaders can help improve it by intensifying efforts to getthe bank's interest-free loan program, the International DevelopmentAssociation (IDA), back on its feet.

Invite the private sector to play a much greater role in the Africaneconomic renaissance.

Africa is open for business. Opportunity abounds in almost all sectorsof the economy. Senegal invites both small and large companies, aswell as its resident diaspora, to come develop our infrastructure. Wecannot create trans-national infrastructure without direct foreigninvestment. The revised Africa Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA)paves the way, and we invite Americans to come create joint ventureswith us in order to export African goods to the US market. Americanlegislators can utilize these opportunities, as trade advocate RosaWhitaker has suggested, with tax incentives for revenues generated inAfrica.

Those are just five ideas. More will follow now in this "new era ofengagement based on mutual interest" -- to borrow President Obama'swords. But already, the days of "throw Africa a crumb" are over.

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