– John Simon was recently U.S. Ambassador to the African Union and former Executive Vice President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington DC. The views expressed are his own. —
President Obama’s trip to Ghana highlights one of Africa’s leading success stories – a country that has held five consecutive democratic elections, recently transferring power peacefully to the opposition after it won a razor thin victory.
Ghana is not alone. Sub-Saharan countries made tremendous progress in the past decade. Freedom House ranks seven out of ten of Sub-Saharan countries as free or partly free. Through 2007, Africa experienced 10 years of uninterrupted economic growth, the last five at rates above 5 percent. Foreign capital inflows increased from only $7 billion in 2002 to $53 billion in 2007.
Yet continued progress is not inevitable. If Africa is to realize its potential, the hard work Africans have exerted over the past decade to improve the continent’s governance and economic policies must continue, and despite the myriad of pressing issues elsewhere, engagement by the international community in general, and the United States in particular, cannot flag.
Supporting Africa’s progress is not just about providing additional aid. Aid is an important element for financing Africa’s development, but aid flows to Sub-Saharan Africa have nearly tripled since 2000 and will quadruple by 2010 if donor commitments made at the Gleneagles G-8 Summit are met. More important now are efforts to help Africa increase its trade, solidify democratic norms through its own institutions, and resolve its remaining conflicts.