|Africa's Valuable Assets - A Reader in Natural Resource Management (WRI, 1998, 464 pages)|
|1. Africa's Wealth, Woes, Worth|
The lens through which Americans have come to see Africa needs to change. Charity and Cold War politics should give way to investment in the future of Africans and Americans alike. Timely assistance to the continent both offsets spiraling disaster-relief costs and helps the rural masses better secure their livelihoods. It also boosts U.S. trade and investment, creating more jobs and greater profits for Americans.
The most effective focus for foreign assistance is now clear. Since Africa's rural majority (and many national economies) depends overwhelmingly on the natural resource base, assistance should strengthen communities, citizens and civil society, in general, as well as promote sound resource management and sustainable production processes. While continuing to support and work with democratizing central governments, U.S. investment must also find ways to reach farmers directly through local governments, NGOs, the private sector, and community grassroots groups.
When faced with corrupt and irresponsible governments, the United States should use all methods possible, including foreign assistance, to empower local groups trying to influence and improve government institutions, policy, legislation, and actions. Consortiums of non-governmental and grassroots organizations, trade unions, and manufacturers' associations need support. Consider here the decisive difference that support to opposition parties and other independent groups made in the U.S. policy of "constructive engagement" in South Africa during the apartheid years. This lesson should not be lost in developing U.S. policy toward countries such as Kenya, Burundi, Cameroon, Nigeria, Togo, Sierra Leone, and The Gambia, which also have governments that restrict political rights and civil liberties.
Such U.S. assistance and investment in Africa sends two important messages. For leaders struggling to make changes and work with citizens to improve their lives, the message is one of hope, support, and affirmation of shared goals and values. For the few remaining corrupt rulers whose governments are denied direct American engagement, it signals that the United States will no longer tolerate and support poor governance and, indeed, will work with local and international organizations to challenge dictators.
As the debate about aid and investment in Africa and its links to U.S. national interests gathers momentum, Americans must understand the long-term essential importance of Africa, a beleaguered continent, yes, but one blessed with enormous latent wealth that its resilient, diverse peoples will one day share with those who help them develop it.