The US has and will continue to invest in people and build partnerships that promote better health, jobs, skills, education, opportunity, and security, writes Tibor Nagy.
I spent most of my 32-year career as an American diplomat on this continent, and I was fortunate to serve in Ethiopia, Guinea, Nigeria, Cameroon, Togo, Zambia, and the Seychelles.
The world, including Africa, has changed dramatically from when I became a diplomat in 1978. When I first set foot on the continent, there were no cellphones, no internet, few television stations, and to call back to America from Lusaka required booking a slot days ahead to reserve one of the few international lines available at that time.
Today, modern technology has changed all that. Mobile messenger apps effortlessly connect people in Africa and around the world; and last year when my grandson was born right here in South Africa, so far from home, I was incredibly grateful for the gift of real time communication!
Since I assumed my current role last September, this is my fourth trip to Africa. These trips provide me the opportunity to meet with government officials, business leaders, civil society, and Africa’s dynamic youth to hear a range of views and discuss concrete ways to strengthen cooperation.
So today, I am truly excited to speak to you about the enduring relationship between the United States and the countries of Africa, especially South Africa. Specifically, I want to talk about the US government’s policy priorities in Africa and how we are working with partners like South Africa to achieve our common goals.
Our engagement in Africa is driven largely by four guiding principles.
- First, the United States is interested in promoting stronger trade and business ties between Africa and America, to the benefit of the people of both.
- Second, we must harness the potential of Africa’s tremendous youth population to drive Africa’s economic growth and create real prosperity.
- Third, we must continue to advance peace and security across the continent.
- Fourth, I am here today to reinforce that America has an unwavering commitment to Africa. No other country in the world can match the depth and breadth of America’s long engagement with the people of Africa.
The United States greatly values its partnership with South Africa as the democratic and economic leader of the world’s fastest growing continent.
Nevertheless, South Africa faces some tough choices as it seeks to increase economic growth and come to grips with how best to manage and reform struggling state-owned enterprises. I would be remiss to play down the challenges you face. At the same time, we do not view these challenges as obstacles but an opportunity for closer cooperation.
Indeed, the United States is South Africa’s third largest trading partner, with two-way trade in 2018 at $13.7bn – and we’d like to be number one! Our imports from South Africa include everything from precious metals, iron, steel and aluminum, to automobiles, auto parts, and millions of cartons of citrus and table grapes from the Northern and Western Cape.
BUILD Act backed by Trump administration
We have been the largest source of foreign direct investment here for much of the last fifteen years. Over 500 American companies are active in South Africa, accounting for an estimated 10% of GDP and over 200 000 jobs.
The hallmark of American companies is that they are employing South Africans in good jobs, transferring skills, and developing talent – all the while improving the competiveness of South Africa in the global economy.
This US interest in deepening trade and investment ties with South Africa extends throughout the region, as well as the continent. With the strong backing of the Trump administration, our Congress recently passed legislation called the BUILD Act. This law doubles the available US government’s investment capital from $29bn to $60bn and offers promising opportunities for more US direct investment in Africa.
This new legislation will enable the US government to make equity investments in African companies, and we hope to use these resources to unlock billions in private capital from the United States.
Our government also recently unveiled the “Prosper Africa” Initiative. Prosper Africa is an ambitious effort to significantly increase two-way trade in goods and investment between America and Africa. Prosper Africa will help us expand the number of commercial deals between US and African counterparts and promote better business climates and financial markets on the continent.
US companies back Ramaphosa’s investment drive
US companies are investing in President Ramaphosa’s goal of raising US$100bn in new investments over five years. At last October’s investment conference in Johannesburg, US companies including McDonalds and Procter and Gamble announced large new investments, Microsoft announced it would build three data centers, and Amazon unveiled plans for a cloud-computing hub. Most recently, United Airlines announced a new, non-stop flight to Cape Town from the US, complementing flights by Delta Air Lines to Johannesburg.
Regionally, we are similarly excited to see US energy companies interested in investment opportunities in Namibia, production facilities in Eswatini, and agriculture in Angola. This is what US commercial engagement in Africa looks like.
Investing in Africa’s youth
Our second priority is harnessing the potential of Africa’s youth population. We have seen time and again that investing in education is the best way to invest in the future.
I saw this first-hand as Vice-Provost for International Affairs at Texas Tech University. Africa’s population is projected to double by 2050 to around 2.5 billion people, of which over 60% will be under the age of 25.
We must find ways to ensure that youth have the education and training that leads to enhanced employment opportunities.
Right here at Wits University, we have a great example of the US-South African education partnership in the IBM Research Lab. Just this year, US Department of State Deputy Secretary Sullivan visited this lab and was impressed with its capabilities and the potential for private-public partnerships to help solve pressing challenges in South Africa.
The Department of State has many programs to promote mentorship, networking, and career development for young people. This includes, of course, the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI)/Mandela Washington Fellowship.
This year, 700 young African leaders from all across Sub-Saharan Africa were selected to participate in the program. They are in the US at this very moment for training and academic coursework, networking and mentoring at 27 top US universities.
When they return home, they will join approximately 3 700 fellowship alumni, including 258 South Africans to tackle key issues their countries face today. In South Africa, alumni of US government exchange programs have made great strides in a variety of important areas.
For example, Murendeni Mafumo became a Mandela Washington Fellow in 2014 as a scientist working in water purification and attended a program at Yale University. Three years ago, he launched a social enterprise, Kusini Water, with a locally designed water purification system. The system uses an activated carbon filter made from macadamia nut shells. For every liter of water his company sells, they provide 20 liters of safe drinking water to communities that do not have access to clean water.
Murendeni is using his innovative work to bring systemic change in underserved communities. He attended the Global Entrepreneurship Summit earlier this month to share his expertise with the international business community.
Ntsiki Biyela, an alumna of our African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program broke new ground as the country’s first black female winemaker. Her incredible story from domestic worker to winemaker is even more impressive considering the marketing inroads she has made both here and abroad, including in the United States.
But an educated and innovative population is only possible with our third priority: advancing peace and stability. The United States will continue to help our African allies build secure and resilient communities bolstered by capable and accountable security and defense institutions.
These institutions should help to foster an environment in which businesses can flourish and the aspirations of young Africans can be met.
Cooperation in peacekeeping crucial
We support South Africa’s contributions to peace and security in Africa. Of note, with over 1 100 peacekeepers serving in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere, South Africa ranks in the top 20 of force contributors to UN missions. We greatly appreciate South Africa’s contributions and the participation of forces from other SADC countries, including Zambia and Malawi.
We would like to see our long-standing partnership with South Africa extend to other fora, especially multilateral bodies. South Africa currently plays an important role as a member of the United Nations Security Council and a leader in the African Union.
We were also very pleased to see the positive role that SADC, the Southern African Development Community, played when Lesotho faced a security crisis. SADC sent civilian and security reinforcements to support a neighbor in a time of need. This is exactly the role we would like to see regional organizations play across Africa.
Finally, our fourth priority – our unwavering support of Africa – brings us full circle. The United States offers a different model of engagement in Africa that is based on mutual respect, collaboration, sustainability, and transparency. We don’t simply invest in Africa, we invest in African people.
Africa’s most important resource is its people
We have walked side-by side with Africans for decades. How so?
Through our programs like Power Africa, the Peace Corps, the President’s Malaria Initiative, and our signature HIV/Aids program, the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, or Pepfar. These programs have provided electricity to towns and villages. They have brought enthusiastic American volunteers to rural areas across Africa to focus on community-led health and education projects.
They have also saved lives that could have been lost to malaria and HIV/Aids. Since 2004, Pepfar has invested over $6bn in HIV programs here, partnering with hundreds of South African organisations (including right here at Wits!) and the government of South Africa.
In the region, Pepfar represents a significant part of our foreign assistance. We are tremendously excited, therefore, that a number of countries in the region are on track to soon reach HIV epidemic control.
Through Pepfar and our National Institutes of Health, the United States supports pioneering biomedical research, including HIV vaccine trials. Every day, American and South African scientists, researchers, and public health experts are working together to enhance HIV prevention and care and develop innovative approaches to HIV antiretroviral therapy service delivery.
There is no better way to demonstrate the US commitment to Africa than through our investment in its most important resource – its people.
There is a Swahili proverb that says, “Unity is strength. Division is weakness.”
That is true within a country, and it is true between countries. As I said at the top of my remarks, I am visiting to listen, learn, and to find new arenas of cooperation. On this latter point, I also come to reaffirm the United States’ unwavering commitment to Africa, and to South Africa. We have and will continue to invest in people and build partnerships that promote better health, jobs, skills, education, opportunity, and security.
This is an exciting time to be in Africa. The dynamism of Africa’s youth is apparent everywhere you look, and if governments, businesses, and educational institutions unite in nurturing this next generation, Africa’s future will be secured. Africa is the dynamic continent of the future, and South Africa has proven itself a leader for other African nations to follow.
“Unity is strength. Division is weakness.”
Let us take this proverb to heart and continue to work together with common vision and purpose to promote shared American and African prosperity and security.
* This is a speech delivered on his visit to South Africa by US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy at the University of the Witwatersrand on June 21, 2019.