WASHINGTON, DC —
“Trade, not aid” was the theme for panelists discussing Africa’s growing economy at the Congressional Black Caucus’ Brain Trust meeting in Washington, DC recently.
Although speakers were mostly positive about what’s happening on the continent – including Botswana’s seven percent growth rate – Jay Ireland, the President and CEO for the Africa division of the multi-national giant General Electric (GE), introduced a note of caution into the discussion.
“Africa is rising. What I worry about is Africa getting choked,” Ireland said.
Ireland - who’s based in Nairobi, Kenya - said one of the biggest things Africa needs right now to maintain its economic momentum is basic education.
“We, the private sector, can take graduates from universities, or high schools, and train them into being technicians, engineers, leaders,” Ireland said. “But we can’t do that if we can’t get a good base of education provided to us by the governments themselves.”
Ireland added that ongoing financial investments are also critical.
But some in the audience questioned where those investments should come from. Akira Chiba, a Japanese diplomat who used to represent his government in South Sudan said, “When I was in South Sudan, I noticed a tremendous presence of Chinese nationals there—together, sadly, with a certain amount of unfriendliness toward them, to use a diplomatic terminology. So my question is what role do you expect China to play for further development of Africa?”
The World Bank’s Vice President for Africa, Makhtar Diop, was quick to answer.
“The needs are huge in Africa, and we cannot have the luxury as Africans to be picky about who should be coming and investing in Africa, be it the private sector, be it the World Bank, be it the IFC, be it China, be it the EU, be it the US. We need everybody to come and invest in Africa,” Diop said.
The day ended as it had begun, on a positive note. Africa was not only rising, panelists agreed, but finally getting the world’s attention as a place to come, do business, and make money.