THE BLOG

The Future President

11/24/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last month, former President Bill Clinton arrived in Rwanda, the latest in a slew of political figures to visit the country. Several weeks ago, Cindy McCain, Tom Daschle, Bill Frist and others toured the country as part of the ONE Vote '08 mission to draw bipartisan attention to poverty issues. These visits, unlikely even a decade ago, are clear evidence of how much more invested the United States has become in Africa's future. There is a growing recognition in government that Africa's fight against crippling poverty and disease is a battle that can be won with America's involvement.

Many would agree that President Bush has done more for Africa than any President before him, and in the process, has turned many Africans into Republicans. Since 2003, his programs -- such as PEPFAR (the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) -- have dedicated nearly $19 billion to African aid, addressing health care, economic development and prosperity building; nearly half of the $10 billion in Global AIDS spending this year will come from the United States. Bush's dedication has drawn increased attention to Africa and concerted action, but will this momentum continue with the next President?

While I am hopeful that the candidates will seriously address the future of America's involvement in Africa, most of their foreign policy discussions have thus far focused on Iraq and Iran. Africa must not be forgotten. The next administration should closely examine America's political and investment policies and lay out an improved plan of action, a prescription they can put into practice throughout that supports the positive change already underway.

Focusing on Africa is not only the right thing to do, but it's also the smartest. Growth on the continent represents an expansion of global markets for U.S. goods and new producers for cheap inputs, decreasing our dependence on Asian producers. Currently, China has overtaken America as the dominant actor in many parts of Africa and without more comprehensive involvement, America's standing in this region will continue to decline.

Maintaining a flat commitment to African development is not enough. While aid programs are necessary to meet emergency needs, focusing too much on aid often leads to delivering resources only to flashpoint areas and undercuts areas of stability, which also need support. Central to the next President's African policy should be a push for increased investment in business development and the creation of sustainable industries. We must continue to help with microfinance programs and encourage American business investment in Africa. Programs that foster economic growth will help Africans advance out of poverty into a healthier, more prosperous future.

For those skeptical of investment in Africa, remember not that long ago that investors doubted business opportunities in BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China). Today, investments in those countries are among some of the most lucrative in the world, and companies such as Brazil's Embraear and India's Unisys are creating a burgeoning middle class in those nations. Trade drives economies from which large groups of workers benefit, whether they are in the industries being promoted, or in supporting businesses and services. So, while aid programs are an essential safety net for those lacking the most basic needs, aid cannot sustainably help people to feed, clothe, and educate themselves the way investment in small and medium-sized businesses can.

Over the past few years, Rwanda has become one of the most stable countries in Africa. Its government is among the least corrupt and the economy is steady, making it an ideal place for investment. Nonetheless, it has been a struggle for the government to attract direct foreign investment. Potential investors may still be spooked by the 1994 genocide, put off by Rwanda's landlocked geography, or perhaps unimpressed by its workforce. Addressing those issues would be a superb use of U.S. assets and influence. Uganda and Tanzania, among neighboring nations, also have the infrastructure and socio-political environment necessary to support foreign investments and have thus far been more effective in attracting it. With the right opportunities, attention, and assistance, East Africa could be the next BRIC.

At present, however, the immediate needs of Africans must still be met. With just 0.16% of US income spent on development assistance, the lowest percentage of any developed country, and though it's having a hugely beneficial effect, it is simply not enough. The next President must consider his long-term strategy for development and overall economic growth. It's through these next-level programs -- not aid -- that long term improvements will be affected. I urge John McCain and Barack Obama to visit Rwanda and to see for themselves how international investments will make all the difference in the lives of ordinary Africans, while benefiting Americans, too.