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President Abdoulaye Wade

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Africa's Seat at the Table

Posted: 11/05/09 10:16 AM ET

At the UN General Assembly in New York in late September, President Barack Obama invited sub-Saharan leaders to a private lunch and informal chat at the Waldorf-Astoria. Following on his Accra speech this summer, the president asked African heads of state to share responsibility on global issues. I am just beginning to get to know the President, but his approach impressed me as indisputably sincere.

Africa's concerns today are interconnected with those of the West -- and solutions must come from all continents and sectors. Battling global warming, the economic crisis, food and energy shortages, and AIDS and malaria requires co-partners, not post-colonial relationships. The U.S. and Europe have no monopoly on brainpower, and African leaders must wake up to a new reality: We are finally being listened to by the industrial world. In a separate conversation on the same day that African heads of state met with President Obama, World Bank president Robert Zoellick informed me that the bank has "borrowed" a number of Africa's sharpest minds for missions around the world. African expertise and global expertise are beginning to merge.

When international debate on stimulating a global but sustainable recovery shifted to the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh after the UN General Assembly, the focus again was on boosting African participation. At every international conference where the governance of the planet is concerned, I continue to press five reform recommendations:

Insist that rich countries respect existing commitments to reinforce the message of shared responsibility and accountability.

In the 2005 Gleneagles G-8 summit, dubbed the "100% debt relief summit," the G-8 committed to double aid to Africa and forgive the debt, both neither commitment has been realized. Oxfam calculates that these pledges alone could save some three million lives in Africa. In the 2009 G-8 meeting in Italy, another $20 billion was pledged for African agricultural development, but these funds too are for the most part undelivered. Even funds promised to the World Bank at the Rome meeting have been held up, hindering vital programs.

The Obama Administration now promises to lead by example and make good on its $3.2 billion pledge to the fund. But the remainder of international commitments should voluntarily and promptly be entrusted to the World Bank. G-20 leaders should recommend the immediate creation of a "payment follow-up committee" for unkept promises if the message of shared responsibility and accountability is to be taken seriously around the world.

Continue investing massively in infrastructure as a strategy for development, security, and boosting self-sufficiency in Africa, while moving away from unrestricted cash aid.

I've been preaching infrastructure investment for decades. The Americans, the Europeans, and the Chinese now all agree. There will be no end to poverty and the Millennium Development Goals will be meaningless if nations do not reinforce their ability to efficiently move people and products to market. Senegal's recent Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact for $540 million for building roads and an irrigation network is a tremendous step in the right direction, but the African continent needs a lot more: a transcontinental rail network, intra-national highways, bridges, improved modern ports ... Think of what the US would have become had the private sector not invested in the railroads, waterways, and interstate highway system. If we increase mobility commerce will follow. Without commerce, economic growth and poverty relief cannot be expected. But Africa is not just looking for the West to throw money at its problems.

Think agriculture to stimulate employment and economic growth in the developing world.

Africa doesn't suffer from unemployment like the US or Europe; we are burdened by millions of "insufficiently-occupied people". Western jobs may need to be saved or recovered; African employment has to be invented. In Senegal, 70 percent of our population relies on agriculture to survive. Our home-grown GOANA initiative, a global offensive for promoting food self-sufficiency and security, has already created thousands of new jobs for people who have never worked before.

Our youth do not seek to become become "peasants", but they take to their new identity as modern farmers. Young adults with a fertile piece of land to cultivate, are much less tempted by the risk of illegal immigration. In our southern region of Casamance, newly-empowered women will be stimulating the local economy by transforming fruit production into juice and dried fruit factories. Agriculture, reinforced with equipment and infrastructure, paves the way for economic growth. I never stop repeating: Don't send Africa money -- give us seeds and tractors.

Reinforce existing international structures for development.

World Bank president Zoellick, whose commitment to Africa has been exemplary, deserves greater support and creative input from African leaders. Like most international institutions, the World Bank is imperfect. But it's the best mechanism Africa has to work with today, and African leaders can help improve it by intensifying efforts to get the bank's interest-free loan program, the International Development Association (IDA), back on its feet.

Invite the private sector to play a much greater role in the African economic renaissance.

Africa is open for business. Opportunity abounds in almost all sectors of the economy. Senegal invites both small and large companies, as well as its resident diaspora, to come develop our infrastructure. We cannot create trans-national infrastructure without direct foreign investment. The revised Africa Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) paves the way, and we invite Americans to come create joint ventures with us in order to export African goods to the US market. American legislators can utilize these opportunities, as trade advocate Rosa Whitaker has suggested, with tax incentives for revenues generated in Africa.

Those are just five ideas. More will follow now in this "new era of engagement based on mutual interest" -- to borrow President Obama's words. But already, the days of "throw Africa a crumb" are over.