For decades the birthplace of humanity has been stymied in abject poverty and cradled in conflict and despair, yet there is hope for a more prosperous Africa, tomorrow and for decades to come. Today seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa -- six of which are in sub-Saharan Africa -- propelled by a rapidly growing middle class and a decade of democratic progress.
President Obama's legacy will, in part, include the story of Africa's growth. Last week in Washington the president convened more than 40 African leaders for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Two U.S. presidents before him, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, began a dialogue with African leaders that touched beyond the narrative of colonialism, foreign aid, and humanitarian assistance but primed a policy discussion of trade, investment, and sustainable growth.
While the summit symbolizes a continued partnership between the U.S. government and Africa, the stalemate and polarization in Congress may bring the fruitfulness of the relationship to a grinding halt. The inability of Congress to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank or the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act hampers the progress that has been made over the past two decades. While our government cannot, alone, turn African economies around, Africa, too, needs leaders who embrace hope and prosperity for all.
One such leader, Moïse Katumbi, who did not participate in last week's summit (probably because he's not a head of state), embodies that promise. His leadership is a remarkable story of progress and promise in one of the most conflict-ridden nations on Earth.
Moïse Katumbi is the twice-elected governor of the province of Katanga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The province is the size of Spain, in a nation roughly the size of Western Europe, and it has grown tremendously under his leadership.
Since taking office in 2007, he has increased the local tax base from $80 million to more than $3 billion by taking on entrenched corruption while increasing legal exports of copper cathode. He has used the added revenue to build enough primary and secondary schools to increase the number of children in schools from 600,000 to more 3 million, tripling the number of young girls in school in the process. Likewise, under his leadership, the number of citizens with clean running water increased from just 3 percent to more than 67 percent. There is a focus on improving infrastructure to promote commerce, and tripling the amount of food grown locally to feed the local population.
Since the mid-1990s, the Congo has not been known not for leaders like Katumbi but for a brutal civil war that has seen more that 5 million people killed since 1996.
While I’ve never met Katumbi, nor do I know more than what is publicly available, there is something different about him. The secret to his appeal to locals in Katanga lies in his business acumen that essentially made him a self-made billionaire, in a country that has been plagued for generations by elected officials who have robbed the public treasury to gratify themselves. He is, instead, as African Business Magazine observed last year, an elected official who strikes voters as "a man with a deep and rare sense of public service," whose "empathy with the people of his provinces is utterly sincere," and "whose determination to expand and improve the Katangan economy and society is that of a fierce patriot."
He is committed to running Katanga like a business -- and a big part of that commitment is striking public-private partnerships to build local communities.
While there are real challenges that plague Africa in ways that are much more profound than a three-day summit can address or fix, it's leaders like Katumbi who give me hope for a more prosperous Africa for generations to come.