While the rest of the world is now awake to Africa’s economic prowess, the United States has largely been absent from the continent. Today, China is the leading trade partner for many African countries. Its annual $200 billion bilateral trade with Africa far surpasses that of the U.S. Simply, the U.S. is losing Africa to China.
Catching up with China underpins much of our current Africa policies. However, as we continue to engage with Africa more actively, we must also ensure that our investments are more than symbolic.
For example, the U.S. has created a $7 billion Power Africa Initiative to invest in the electricity and energy infrastructures in six African countries. While a promising start, in a continent where two-thirds of the population lacks access to electricity, this pales in comparison to the need. At least $300 billion is needed to ensure universal power access across Africa. This initiative’s success will require more resources and partnerships with African private and public sector actors.
America’s Africa policy must target young people — 65 percent of Africa’s billion people are younger than 35. In 2010, the U.S launched the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). YALI brings young African leaders to the U.S. for training opportunities. While it’s a good start to bolstering relations with Africa, building next generation leaders requires sustained investments in education, employment, and entrepreneurship opportunities in their home countries.
Security in African countries remains a central concern to the U.S. While helping to restore peace and democracy in South Sudan and Central African Republic, the U.S. has also continued to tackle the spread of terrorism-related violence throughout Africa. The Africa Command (Africom), which provides tactical and strategic support to African armies and governments, was in part setup to respond to this threat. However, Washington’s increasingly militarized engagement in Africa requires greater scrutiny from public and civil society actors.