Are you following Obama’s visit to Africa? Well, specifically Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania? Some argue it’s a total waste of taxpayers money, while others think that it is long overdue. In the end, I say that it makes economic and political sense. His visit to the continent of Africa may come with a hefty price tag but here is why Obama’s visit to Africa is worth every penny, Africa ranks second—behind emerging Asia—as the fastest growing region of the world. Africa today is a $2 trillion economy. Despite the global slowdown, Africa recorded an average growth rate of 5 percent in 2012. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), today six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa. Therefore, it is no surprise that the President is visiting Tanzania just under three months behind the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip down there. China, Brazil, India, and even the United States need Africa to get ahead in this newly globalized world. The new Africa is shedding it’s yesteryears of hopelessness while embracing technology, manufacturing, and trade. In so many ways, the President’s visit to Africa is a show of partnership and solidarity in the case of South Africa, especially as China, India, Russia, Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and traditional powers are rethinking their strategies to deepen their cooperation with Africa.
On the other hand, some are very skeptical. Looking back at the history of Africa, there is pretty much nothing to write home about the corny ways the Europeans took advantage of the entire continent in the early 90s. Not much of that has been forgotten and so many Africans believe that Americans, Chinese, Europeans, etc.., are not truly concerned about the plight of the African people. They feel strongly that this trip is a calculated and glorified tour that will not accomplish much for the continent. Their main concern is the lack of concrete plans with lengths and lengths of speeches that will not deepen engagement with the Americas. Obama is not visiting countries in the spotlight right now such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mali. His criticsfeel very strongly that he is avoiding these regions because he is not up to the task.
From my perspective, Africans and Africans in the diaspora are growing in leaps and bounds. The vast amount of natural resources, education, large consumer index (150 million Nigerians alone in the continent) is a huge economic fountain that is drawing the attention of the world. What political leaders from emerging and developed economies need to focus on is a deep understanding of the African people, a strong partnership and engagement NOT a dependency model or an aid vs. trade mentality.
Finally, the Africa of today should be seen as an opportunity for innovation, growth and development for companies here in the United States and across the world. There is so much potential, so much market share. However, it must be done with the best of intentions and Africa must be allowed to define it’s own future.
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