We ignore Africa at our peril.
In vital resources–oil, copper, diamonds, gold, timber and more–the continent is rich beyond imagination. Indeed, Africa is more breadbasket than basket case. The United States is projected to import some 25 percent of its oil from Western Africa in coming years.
While the US media pays Africa little attention, the Chinese are leaders by far in the mad dash for a share of the continent’s natural treasures. Using some of the money it makes in trade with the United States, China is investing heavily across Africa, building highways, hotels, bridges and dams, seeking to lock up long-term access to resources and the good will of African leaders.
The United States is way behind. The African continent will only become more important in the future. The whole world has a stake in what happens there.
For decades Africa was little more than a pawn in the cold war; before that it was the playing field of competing imperialist nations. Now it is a key geographic territory in the fight against terror after Al Qaeda blew up embassies in Somalia and Kenya. The continent’s mineral resources reinforce its strategic importance.
Africa matters. Therefore it is in the United States’ and the world’s best interest that Africa’s fledgling democracies succeed so that true democracy might spread across the vast continent.
That is why I recently spent five days in Côte d’Ivoire, meeting with its current president and opposition leaders and addressing youth groups and religious figures, as the West African nation prepares for a crucial presidential election on November 29–a day that will go a long way in determining the future of democracy in the region.
For most of its forty-nine-year history as an independent nation, Côte d’Ivoire has been a shining light of a dimly viewed West Africa. Politically stable, culturally tolerant and economically vigorous, Côte d’Ivoire was and is a regional powerhouse.
As one US Embassy official described the nation of almost 19 million people to me, Côte d’Ivoire has been to its neighbors what the United States is to Mexico and Central America. “This is where people went to find work,” the official said. “If this economy gets shut down, you will see a dramatic impact on the entire region.”
Côte d’Ivoire produces 40 percent of the world’s cocoa and is a major exporter of bananas, coffee, cotton, palm oil, pineapples, rubber, timber and tuna. In recent years, according to US Embassy figures, petroleum exports have risen significantly, and petroleum is now the country’s largest foreign exchange earner.