Opinion: Barack Obama writes, ‘We have a moral obligation to support Africa’s progress’

08/05/2014 3:00 AM

08/06/2014 9:13 AM

– Here’s a quick quiz. Which statement describes Africa today?

•  Home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, it boasts a growing middle class that is expected to expand to more than a billion consumers in the coming decades.
•  With the continent a growing destination for foreign investment, more governments across the region are embracing reforms and competing to attract trade and investment.
•  With one of the world’s fastest-growing telecommunications markets – and hundreds of millions of people with mobile phones – technology is transforming how farmers plant, students learn and entrepreneurs do business.
•  As the continent with the youngest and fastest-growing population, it’s on track to have a larger workforce than China.

Which one is Africa? As you probably guessed, all of the above.

Make no mistake, millions of Africans still endure the daily misery of grinding poverty, violent conflicts and the injustice of hunger and disease. For decades, Democrats and Republicans, including President George W. Bush, who stepped up our global efforts against HIV/AIDS, have recognized that, as Americans, we have a self-interest and moral obligation to help support Africa’s progress.

Over the past five years, we’ve deepened our partnerships with African nations as they’ve worked to pull people out of poverty, improve living standards and save lives from disease. Today, we’re working urgently with nations in West Africa and global health organizations to help treat those infected with Ebola and to contain the outbreak. Here at home, we’re taking the necessary precautions to protect Americans.

Even as we meet these challenges, however, we can’t lose sight of the extraordinary promise of Africa. And just as Africa is changing, we need to change the way we think about the continent, put aside old stereotypes and respond to Africans’ desire for a partnership of equals where Africans take the lead in their own development.

That’s why I’m hosting a summit this week with leaders from almost every African country. We’re going to focus on three areas where progress in Africa can benefit us all.

First, we'll work to expand the trade that creates jobs. In recent years, our exports to Africa have grown, supporting some 250,000 American jobs. Still, our trade with the entire continent is only about the same as our trade with Brazil. Meanwhile, other nations, including China, are moving aggressively into Africa. I want the United States competing in these fast-growing markets, too.

I want a growing Africa buying more goods stamped “Made in America.” A new model of partnership can benefit all sides – like our Power Africa initiative, which aims to bring electricity to millions of African homes and businesses while also creating new opportunities for American companies and workers.

Second, we'll work together to strengthen the democratic institutions that are the foundation of free societies and economic progress. Over the past two decades more African countries have embraced democracy, and today a new generation of Africans is demanding political reforms and greater freedoms. This week’s summit will be an opportunity to affirm the importance of upholding the rule of law, protecting universal human rights and combating the corruption that stifles economic development and undermines democratic progress.

Finally, we'll work to deepen our security partnerships to meet common threats, including terrorist groups like Boko Haram, which still holds more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls hostage. Across the continent, African security forces and peacekeepers are risking their lives – and often giving their lives – to defend their countries. The United States cannot fight these battles for them. But this week’s summit is a chance to step up our training and support of African forces and peacekeepers so they grow stronger.

In all our work, we’re investing in the next generation of Africans who will shape the region’s future. I recently hosted hundreds of young Africans who were here in the United States studying at our universities and interning at our businesses. “Here, I have met Africa,” one young man from Senegal said, speaking of his fellow Africans, “the (Africa) I have always believed in. She is beautiful, young, full of talent, motivation and ambition.”

A new Africa is emerging. Africans like that young man from Senegal are looking for partners to join with them in realizing the progress they seek. This week I’m making it clear that they will find no better friend than the United States, because Africa’s success will mean greater security and prosperity for all our nations for decades to come.

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