Yet poverty, weak institutions, and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders.” And perhaps with the exception of the Greater Middle East nowhere is this analys truer than Africa, where poverty and state weakness are par for the course. Consequently, the National Security Strategy acknowledged: "In Africa, promise and opportunity sit side by side with disease, war, and desperate poverty. This threatens both a core value of the United States—preserving human dignity—and our strategic priority—combating terror. American interests and American principles, therefore, lead in the same direction: we will work with others for an African continent that lives in liberty, peace, and growing prosperity."

Unfortunately, habits die hard and other challenges have taken precedence, leaving little attention to be paid to African affairs. As far as the war on terrorism is concerned, resources have been dedicated almost exclusively to the Middle Eastern theatre when they have not been devoted to homeland security. While understandable, this lack of attention to Africa is, in the long term, not just shortsighted, but will, unless remedied in the coming years, ultimately prove perilous to U.S. national interests due to a number of factors, both natural and more




















geopolitical. Currently sub-Saharan Africa supplies the U.S. with 16 percent of its petroleum needs. According to a report prepared for the National Intelligence Council, within a decade, the West African subregion will play an increasingly important role in global energy markets, alone providing more than one-quarter of North American oil imports by 2015, thus surpassing the total volume of oil imports from the Middle East. The continent also boasts the world’s fastest rate of population growth: by 2020, today’s 900 million Africans will number more than 1.2 billion—more than the combined populations of Europe and North America. Nor do these absolute numbers tell the whole story: by then, the median age of Europeans will be 45, while nearly half of the African population will be under the age of 15.

Despite the dynamic potential implicit in the natural and human resource figures just cited, Africa also suffers from many woes. Sub-Saharan Africa remains world’s economic basket case, with a per capita GDP of barely $575, according to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators 2003 report. The United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report 2004 determined that of the thirty-six countries found to have “lowdevelopment,” thirty-two were in Africa. While sub-Saharan Africa is home to only 10 percent of the world’s overall population, more than two-thirds of the people living with HIV are sub-Saharan Africans. In 2003 alone, an stimated three million Africans became newly infected and 2.2 million died of AIDS, the latter figure representing 75 percent of AIDS deaths globally that year. Poverty and disease are not the only challenges facing the continent and the world, although they certainly complicate the search for solutions to a wide array of difficulties.

The grandiose promises of the G8 summit at Gleneagles notwithstanding, none of these problems, however, can be resolved by simply throwing money at Africa.

In fact, for far too long U.S. economic policy toward sub-Saharan Africa has consisted solely of transfers of ineffectual aid: increasingly, economic integration and trade play as significant, if not more important, role. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000, offers tangible incentives for African countries to continue their efforts to open their economies and build free markets by giving them the most liberal access to the American market available to any country or region with which the United States does not have a free trade agreement. These provisions were strengthened by the AGOA Acceleration Act signed by President George W. Bush in 2004. Presently thirty-seven (out of a possible total of forty-eight) sub-Saharan countries qualify for the trade benefits offered by AGOA. Trade with these countries in 2003 was valued at over $17 billion, a figure that will undoubtedly be surpassed when the 2004 figures are available. The volume of trade ought to be expanded, increasing access of American firms (including those based in Virginia) to Africa’s vast natural resources as well as potential markets for technology exports, while also facilitating Africa’s integration into the global economy.All of these challenges require the attention of both the academia and, ultimately, an egovernmental and business sectors in the United States. However, these sectors will also need the support of ducated public. In addition to its regular educational and research programming, the Nelson Institute is currently developing democracy and civil society training programs to empower Africans to take charge of their own destiny and build stable, democratic states—which, in the end, is not only ethically right, but also in America’s best interests.

Read more articles by Dr. J. Peter Pham

Back to Top