Tough Talk on Africa is a Two-Way Street

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has offered up some tough talk on her seven-nation, 11 day trip to Africa. While it's caused some discomfort among African statesman, it's precisely what citizens throughout the continent, particularly young Africans, have been demanding from their leaders.

Building on President Obama's recent speech in Ghana, Secretary Clinton has made it clear that America has no tolerance for the corruption and impunity that has sadly plagued the independence generation in many African states. "Leaders have to lead. They have to demonstrate to their people that democracy does deliver," Clinton stated in Kenya on the first leg of her tour. It's a message that puts wind in the sails of a rising generation of Africans who are unwilling to accept the status quo. They're demanding jobs, accountability and tangible results from their leaders. They're similarly frustrated with donors that reward bad behavior with unaccountable and ineffective aid.

As President Obama said in Egypt and Ghana, democratic and economic development go hand-in-hand. Good governance, transparent leadership and control of corruption are critical components for a prosperous nation; it is equally true that democracy is difficult when a country can't develop because it's stuck in extreme poverty, when citizens aren't empowered through education, and when families, communities and businesses are torn apart by deaths from preventable diseases like malaria and AIDS.

Poor countries that are committed to stable, accountable governance are typically committed to improving the lives of their citizens. Take Ghana for example, a country I recently visited. Ghana has seen five consecutive, peaceful transitions of power, the latest decided by fewer than 40,000 votes. As Ghana's commitment to transparent governance and rule of law has deepened, development and growth have taken hold. Ghana has posted close to 5% annual growth for the last two decades, increased primary school enrollment rates for boys and girls over 20% from 2004 to 2008 and has nearly halved its poverty rate since 1992.

But tough talk goes both ways--and many African leaders are similarly tired of business as usual. As the leaders of Senegal, Liberia, Rwanda and Botswana recently articulated in a Forbes op-ed, "Africa seeks not patrons but collaborators who will work 'with' rather than 'for' the continent." They want equal partnership, not North-South patronage. What does that mean? It means we must improve our development assistance so that it's transparent and accountable to the Africans it's designed to serve. Equally important, it means complementing this aid with our full array of non-aid tools--strengthening trade through the removal of barriers, working with Africa to increase trade capacity and to encourage trade between African countries, providing loan guarantees to attract more foreign direct investment and financing for low-cost energy infrastructure, and taking meaningful action to hunt down Africa's looted assets. The Millennium Challenge Corporation, started during the Bush Administration, and the Obama Administration's new long-term agriculture initiative unveiled at the G8 in July, are strong examples of a comprehensive approach that puts developing countries in the driver's seat.

When equal partnership works, we've seen what it can do. Smart development investments and strong African leadership have led to remarkable breakthroughs in the fight against extreme poverty and infectious disease: 34 million additional African children have now seen the inside of a classroom, malaria rates have been halved in Rwanda and Ethiopia, and approximately 3.2 million Africans now have access to life-saving AIDS medicine, up from only 50,000 in 2002. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the U.S.'s duty-free trade program with Africa, has also created 200,000 jobs and increased imports from sub-Saharan Africa to the U.S. more than three-fold from 2001 to 2007.

Africa's been hit hard by the global economic crisis, rising food prices and climate change. So to make sure the continent's progress isn't completely overturned, it's time for Africa and the U.S. to step up. It's time for African leaders to listen to their citizens' calls for more jobs, greater transparency and better standards of living. It's also time for the U.S. to treat Africa like a true partner, focusing on better trade, effective aid and a stronger emphasis on investments. In order for this relationship to work, it must be a two-way street.