Sub-Saharan Africa in the 21st century faces one great opportunity and two great dangers. And American foreign policy will profoundly affect each.
The great opportunity facing Africa is the realization of the economic potential of its nations. If African governments—at the insistence of their citizens—learn the lessons of history and emulate the development policies of Hamilton’s America, Meiji Japan, and post-Syngman Rhee Korea, African nations will generate their own economic miracles, profoundly improve the life chances of subsequent generations of Africans, and contribute to a more prosperous and peaceable global future.
The first great danger facing Africa is that the failure of state authority will entrench and intensify within, and spread beyond, the third of the continent it currently blights. In the absence of a just order imposed by armies and police forces, these parts of Africa will sink deeper into their morass of chaos, horror, and violence; their inhabitants will continue to be subjected in the extreme to death, disease, and degradation; and their neighbors will be increasingly threatened with these disorders spilling over into the rest of the continent.
The second great danger facing Africa is that Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, and their ilk will continue to threaten the security of citizens, the stability of nations, and the prospects of peace and prosperity along the ribbon of Islamicist terror currently stretched from Nigeria to Kenya, and that this threat may spread southward.
The responsibility for addressing these three great challenges rests primarily with Africans. African citizens must demand and forge governments that can accomplish peaceable order and stimulate economic abundance. African smallholder farmers must feed their neighbors and save their profits. African industrialists must build export-oriented factories to create the jobs that generate a labor bourgeoisie (the lever of democratization in modernizing societies). African priests, pastors, and pop stars must preach grace, peace, and virtue. African papas and mamas must shower their children with love while providing the coaching that will inculcate new generations with hope, grit, vigor, resolve, and ingenuity.
But for African responses to these challenges to succeed, an international order friendly to the future flourishing of Africa is indispensable. African economic miracles will depend on global markets open to African agricultural produce and industrial products … and simultaneously on patience from developed economies for African protectiveness toward indigenous smallholder farmers and infant industries. The re-establishment of state authority in the third of Africa currently blighted by state failure or extreme state fragility will require the assistance of international peacekeeping forces. The replacement of Islamicist terror cults with an Islam that contributes to peace and democracy will depend on courageous Muslim reformers worldwide as well as international military containment of Islamic millenarianism in the Middle East.
And such an international order depends on the United States of America. An America that simultaneously recognizes both the proper limits to what even the most powerful nation can and may do in the world and the necessity of American investment in the global common good.
It is because of the need for such an America in the 21st century that I (as an African) cheer for what Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in The Atlantic, calls, “The Obama Doctrine.” Mr. Goldberg writes:
Over the course of our conversations, I came to see Obama as a president who has grown steadily more fatalistic about the constraints on America’s ability to direct global events, even as he has, late in his presidency, accumulated a set of potentially historic foreign-policy achievements … despite his growing sense that larger forces—the riptide of tribal feeling in a world that should have already shed its atavism; the resilience of small men who rule large countries in ways contrary to their own best interests; the persistence of fear as a governing human emotion—frequently conspire against the best of America’s intentions. But he also has come to learn, he told me, that very little is accomplished in international affairs without U.S. leadership.
Obama talked me through this apparent contradiction. “I want a president who has the sense that you can’t fix everything,” he said. But on the other hand, “if we don’t set the agenda, it doesn’t happen. … The fact is, there is not a summit I’ve attended since I’ve been president where we are not setting the agenda, where we are not responsible for the key results,” he said. “That’s true whether you’re talking about nuclear security, whether you’re talking about saving the world financial system, whether you’re talking about climate.”
Like it or not, both the constraints on and the necessity of American leadership are so. I hope America’s next president administers this country’s considerable power with similar reserve and resolve. And that the next president will agree with Mr. Obama that, “Africa and Latin America … deserve far more US attention than they receive.”
Gideon Strauss is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Public Justice and Associate Professor in Worldview Studies at the Institute for Christian Studies.
Photo Credit: President Barack Obama shakes hands after making speech to Ghanian Parliament at the International Conference Center in Accra, Ghana on July 11, 2009 (Official White House photo by Pete Souza). Via US Army Africa on Flickr.