Continuing economic growth and stronger institutions are creating opportunities for Sub-Saharan Africa’s development, a panel of regional experts said during an event at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International and Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., on April 16, 2012.
The group spoke about Africa’s development and security as part of the school’s annual David H. Miller Memorial Foundation lecture titled Prospect for Progress: Development, Security, and Governance in Sub-Saharan Africa. Panelists included Ambassador (ret.) William M. Bellamy, director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), Mimi Alemayehou, executive vice president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), and Tebelelo Seretse, Botswana’s ambassador to the United States.
Bellamy said Africa has been experiencing fewer conflicts in recent years while institutions have been strengthening—two factors that improve the chances for business and development to take root. Alemayehou, the leader of the U.S. agency supporting private-sector investment in emerging markets, provided data to back Bellamy’s assertion.
“Thirty-four percent of OPIC’s investment has been in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2011,” said Alemayehou. “There is growing demand for investment in countries like Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa.”
Estimates indicate that seven of the world’s 10 fastest growing countries will be in Africa over the next few decades, Alemayehou said. The African Diaspora, meanwhile, is increasingly investing on the continent, and Africans who studied abroad are going back to their native countries to create businesses, even with lingering security issues still plaguing their homeland.
Bellamy said those security problems constitute the largest challenge for Africa. The threats can be categorized into two groups: those that are transnational and those that are structural. The former are a major concern to the United States; the latter threaten African citizens’ daily life.
“When a government doesn’t have total control of the country because of corruption or the inefficiency of its security forces, it creates a power vacuum and brings in non-state armed groups that in turn generate more insecurity for citizens,” Bellamy said.
The security trend has been positive since the 1990s, even with significant backslides such as those seen recently in Mali and Nigeria, Bellamy said. Democracies have also been growing stronger thanks to multinational organizations like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union, which have strongly condemned the recent coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau.
Ambassador Seretse said a responsible government cannot operate outside of democratic rules. The rule of law, freedom of speech, and government accountability are integral to managing a healthy democracy, she said, but there is no one-size-fits-all model for Africa.
”Africa has 54 absolutely different countries,” she said. “What happens in country A would not happen in B the same way.”
The panelists agreed that security and democracy are making strides in Africa. They recommended that, rather than implementing a single U.S. foreign policy for all of Africa, the U.S. government should manage its relations on the continent with each individual country and in regional clusters.
The Africa Center is the pre-eminent Department of Defense institution for strategic security studies, research, and outreach in Africa. ACSS offers a range of academic symposiums, workshops, and programs throughout Africa, the United States, and Europe. Since 1999, more than 12,000 African and international leaders and security stakeholders have participated in ACSS programs.