President Obama’s African Leadership Summit convened in early-August, connecting African leaders to their U.S. counterparts in an effort to spur cross-continental partnerships. David Stevens, President of Fireside Research and a project leader at the World Policy Institute, describes the significance of the Summit and the importance of mutually-beneficial, innovative idea-sharing between Africa and the West.
While there have been meaningful changes in discourse surrounding how best to work with Africa, the current emphasis on Africa’s potential as a consumer market does not, in and of itself, change the view of Africa as a region. Rather, it replicates a view that holds Africa as a place from which profit is to be taken. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The prospects for returns can certainly motivate the influx of foreign capital and technical know-how that the continent requires to turn it’s present potential into self-sustaining systems that can meaningfully elevate standards of living.
But if the current interest in Africa does not further greater integration of economies and an honest two-way street approach to growth, then conditions of exploitation are certain to reemerge. If Western interest in Africa’s long-term success is defined solely on it’s ability to produce and consume goods, then we will all be worse off. If however, Africa is fully embraced as a key contributor to the world of ideas-if the innovation, and the creativity of African scholars, business leaders, artisans, artists, and thought-leaders is taken seriously, we will all be better positioned to prosper in the coming century.
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