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Is the United States too late to the Party in Africa?

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By our correspondent in Houston: Texas

October 9th, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama, President of Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea First Lady  Mrs. Constancia Mangue de Obiang Nsue, and US First Lady Michelle Obama.
U.S. President Barack Obama, President of Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea First Lady Mrs. Constancia Mangue de Obiang Nsue, and US First Lady Michelle Obama.

In 2011, Hilary Clinton, the then Secretary of State, attended a business conference in the Zambian capital of Lusaka.  In an attempt to build economic partnerships in Africa, the United States sent the one of the largest delegations in years to the conference.  Secretary Clinton stated “Our approach is based on partnership, not patronage.  It is focused not on handouts but on the kind of economic growth that underlies long-term progress”.  Secretary Clinton also responded to China’s push to partner with many African countries stating China “has not always utilized the talents of the African people in pursuing business interests.”

Is the U.S too late to the party?  Is the U.S. ready to approach the continent with a consistent approach? The United States has been partnering with many Middle Eastern countries for several decades, in order to satisfy our thirst for oil.  With these partnerships we’ve befriended countries that are non-democratic, have a strong distaste for the U.S. to the point where they’ve inflicted violent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and abroad.  These countries and their citizens have made it clear that they like our money, but not us.  What the U.S. has missed, is the opportunities in Africa.  Many leaders within Africa are extremely interested in building relationships with the U.S., but the U.S. has been extremely resistant.  Why?  Most likely the United States feels that many African countries have governments that are seen as oppressive and corrupt.  However, for some reason this isn’t an issue within the Middle East which is really surprising, to say the least.

In fact, “when it comes to countries such as Saudi Arabia, we ignore the way the royal family runs the country. Saudi Arabia is not an electoral democracy, and Equatorial Guinea is.  Saudi Arabia has made progress due to U.S. pressure when it comes to human rights, but still remains on the list of most oppressive regimes; Equatorial Guinea has made a remarkable achievement in this field, even recognized and praised by the UN and many international Medias.  When the U.S. began doing business with the Saudi family, it was at the top of the list concerning human rights violations within its borders.   (The reports are excerpted from Freedom in the World 2010, which surveys the state of freedom in 194 countries and 14 select territories)”.

Former President George Bush with Saudi King Abdullah
Former President George Bush with Saudi King Abdullah

An example of this inconsistent approach is Equatorial Guinea.  Having spent time in the African country of Equatorial Guinea, I’ve found that the U.S. struggles to determine how they would like to approach this country.  In democratic and sustainable terms, it would be very difficult for anyone who has studied, analyzed the constant changes of political economic and social spectrum of this country, to find a better democratized country on the continent. What the U.S. needs is to have a group of U.S. members of the congress and entrepreneurs to visit this country and draw their conclusion from their own assessment.  In 2012,  MAECI,  a U.S. international consulting firm, led a Multidisciplinary Economic Mission to Equatorial Guinea. Although the mission was very successful, the Members of the Congress (Senators and Congressmen) from the States where the members of the mission originated have failed to effectively act on the concrete report of that mission to foster the US partnership with that country.  Nevertheless, because of determined willingness of Equatorial Guinea to partnership with the US, the mission translated into different projects being implemented by U.S. companies. In cooperation with General Electric, Princeton Power, NESL, the University of Delaware, etc.; MAECI is building the largest Off-grid solar electric systems on the Continent, (and one the largest in the world) on the AnnobonIsland. Within the Framework of President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo vision as embodied in the National Economic and Social Development “Horizon 20/20”, with the construction of this Off-grid solar electric systems, Equatorial Guinea will become one of the greenest countries in the world. MAECI is also involved in the construction of a Plant to produce Small Agricultural Implement for national needs and export to neighboring countries; the Agro industrial complex built by MAECI to produce corn cooking oil, corn flour, animal feed, using the production from a 750 ha of corn/soybean farm is set for inauguration by the end of this year.

U.S. companies are also extensively involved, with recognized success, in the agricultural development of the country.  Equatorial Guinea has large oil and natural gas reserves, and U.S. companies such as Exxon-Mobil, Marathon, have had a strong presence within the country for years.  The government of Equatorial Guinea is very interested in building a strong partnership with the U.S.  However, The U.S. has still not moved on this.  Over the past few years, China, South Korea, India, East European countries, Brazil, to name a few, have forged strong relationships, and are involved in most of the growth of this small countries’ expansion.  China is heavily involved in building the infrastructure of Equatorial Guinea, and seeking more partnerships to develop such programs as food and manufacturing.

The United States has conflicted views of what to do in Equatorial Guinea.  The U.S. would like to invest and support the growth, but feels it’s compromising its beliefs due to unfounded statements that are made about the government of Equatorial Guinea, and appear to be uncomfortable in partnering with a country that has a leader that has been in power for many years.   Unfortunately, the U.S. has not taken the time to make a comprehensive analysis, considering where the country comes from, beside the fact that there is no valid reason why Equatorial Guinea should be singled out among so many countries in Africa and in the world under the same situation. There is no foundation for that attitude. It is time for the Western countries to understand that democracy cannot be imported but has to be genuine, grown and nurtured from within; and the process takes time. One should remember how long it took Europe to become a democratic Continent, and needless to say that many countries in Europe still cannot be considered as democratic states.

Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea has been in power for several decades.  President Obiang has come under scrutiny over the years for the way in which he has run the country.  What the U.S. hasn’t taken into consideration is that the country, from when President Obiang Nguema took power, has gone from one of the poorest countries in the world (in democratic, social and economic terms), to one of the democratically advanced and economically richest per capita country on the Continent.  A third world country such as Equatorial Guinea lacks the experience to handle what comes with this new found wealth.  The United States should see this as an opportunity to assist and partner with African countries such as Equatorial Guinea while they go through this process.  Instead the U.S. has taken the approach that a third world country should have the ability to recognize it’s short comings and build a model country within a timeframe that neither the U.S. nor any so called developed western country were able to achieve.  The result has been lost opportunities.

The government of Equatorial Guinea has made great progress within the last five years.  The government has built roads, schools, hospitals and many other infrastructure projects with the oil revenue that has been created.  One of the most powerful initiatives has been in the agriculture sector.  The government of Equatorial Guinea is committed to feed its own people in order to create a foundation for sustainable future growth. The successful far-reaching and comprehensive Agriculture Program launched back in 2010/2011 by the then Minister of State in charge of Agriculture and Forest H.E. Teodoro NGUEMA OBIANG MANGUE (presently Vice President in charge of Security and Armed Forces), and called “The Green Revolution”, implemented by the U.S. company (MAECI), is still being visited by experts from many African countries as a model to be copied. Its objective of achieving food self-sufficiency is being attained, after only 18 months from inception! Some FAO experts have called the program a discovery on how to sustainably and economically reach food self-sufficiency in a developing country.

Based on Secretary Clinton’s 2011 comments, it sounded like the U.S. wanted to become more involved in Africa.  In order for that to happen, the U.S. must become proactive in assisting African countries in developing the genuine roadmap to their development.

We live in an extremely transparent world, with a 24 hour news cycle, which is causing the U.S. to take positions that they feel will protect them politically.  By taking this type of position, how does it benefit the U.S.?  This forces the United States to sell its population on initiatives through deception, such as how we were sold on the Iraq and Libya wars, while countries like China, India, Brazil, South Korea, are securing their future needs with partnerships they’re creating all over Africa.

With the changes that are taking place around the world, and the race for the super powers to control the depleting resources on the earth, it’s crucial for the U.S. to embrace Africa.  Unfortunately when dealing with emerging markets and countries, patience and understanding need to be used.  We need to focus our attention and resources on countries that want to partner with the U.S.

Equatorial Guinea is just one example of African countries that the U.S. should support, and there are more just within the Western Central African region.

We must look long term and ignore the short sited political rhetoric. There is absolutely no doubt that Africa is the Continent of the Future, and it is the last of the World’s frontiers.  If the US misses out, where do we go?