Skip to main content

U.S. business shouldn't miss 'the next China'

By Chris Coons
updated 8:58 PM EDT, Sun August 3, 2014
Toby Shapshak has selected Africa's most interesting startups: "From the founders of real-time info site Ushahidi comes a brick-like device that they call 'the internet's backup generator.'<!-- -->
</br>And that it is. The sturdy plastic-shelled device has everything you'd need to survive the wilds of the unreliably African internet, like Nairobi or Johannesburg. The<a href='http://www.brck.com/' target='_blank'> BRCK</a> has a big battery, so it can keep 20 devices connected for eight hours and is robust enough to handle power failures, poor line speeds and just general grumpiness."<!-- -->
</br> Toby Shapshak has selected Africa's most interesting startups: "From the founders of real-time info site Ushahidi comes a brick-like device that they call 'the internet's backup generator.'
And that it is. The sturdy plastic-shelled device has everything you'd need to survive the wilds of the unreliably African internet, like Nairobi or Johannesburg. The BRCK has a big battery, so it can keep 20 devices connected for eight hours and is robust enough to handle power failures, poor line speeds and just general grumpiness."
HIDE CAPTION
1. BRCK
2. Paperight
3. Jumia
4. DealDey
5. mPawa
6. Obami
7. SleepOut
8. 22seven
9. Kopo Kopo
10. SnapScan
11. The Able Wireless Company
13. Karibu Solar Power
12. Mxit
14. iROKOtv
Special mention: Project Isizwe
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More than 40 heads of state attend first Africa summit in the U.S. this week
  • Sen. Chris Coons: This is opportunity for U.S. business to create ties to fast-growing Africa
  • China surpassed the U.S. in trade with Africa, but America has distinct advantages, he says
  • Coons: The U.S. has African diaspora that succeeded here, and it's well-regarded in Africa

Editor's note: Chris Coons, a Democrat, is a U.S. senator from Delaware and chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Washington's relentless focus on crisis tends to cloud its ability to see great opportunities.

With more than 40 African heads of state coming to Washington this week for three days of meetings with President Barack Obama, Cabinet officials, members of Congress and American business leaders, the United States has a real opportunity to jump-start what has been a slow evolution in the way we have engaged with Africa.

It's an opportunity that should not be missed.

Sen. Chris Coons
Sen. Chris Coons

Foreign assistance is no longer America's primary export to Africa, and our engagement needs to change, too. The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit is an opportunity to showcase and strengthen a relationship that is evolving dramatically on economic, security and development fronts.

This will be the United States' first African heads-of-state summit, which puts us well behind our global competitors. China, which surpassed the United States as Africa's largest trading partner five years ago, has held five summits with African heads of state since 2000.

The Chinese have seen plainly what many U.S. businesses have not: That six of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies over the past decade were in sub-Saharan Africa. Since 2000, Chinese exports to Africa have outpaced American exports at a ratio of 3 to 1, and China is now Africa's largest trading partner.

Economic challenges await Jacob Zuma
S. Africa's impact on continent's economy
South Africa's tourism draw
Nigerian government defends its actions
Rubber fuels Liberia's economy

When China wants something from an African government -- mining rights or port exclusivity, for example -- it offers no-strings-attached "gifts" or investments in infrastructure.

While the United States offers values-driven policy and investments in people, especially in public health, the Chinese have a reputation for paying for the friendship of African governments with low-interest financing of construction projects.

U.S. foreign direct investment in Africa still outstrips the Chinese, but in trade and export sales to Africa, the Chinese have eclipsed us.

For the United States to continue competing, our relationship with African governments and businesses must evolve to include more meaningful and mutually beneficial partnerships. The summit's business forum on Tuesday will put American CEOs at the table with African heads of state and business leaders. This is matchmaking, with an eye on increasing U.S. exports to Africa's rapidly growing middle-class consumer base.

Opinion: What Obama can do about Ebola

American CEOs want new markets for their products, and American workers want jobs making those products. African leaders want more international companies to sell their products in their countries, invest in their growth and partner with local businesses. The opportunity for increased trade and investment is extraordinary and important for the evolution of the United States' relationship with the continent.

We can and should exercise our unique competitive advantages. The United States boasts an African diaspora drawn here by American universities and steeped in American culture and entrepreneurship, and a level of technology, innovation and quality that still commands the attention of African leaders, consumers and countries.

The U.S. has a unique opportunity to build bridges to emerging economies and democracies in Africa through the tens of thousands of Africans in our country who are a part of the diaspora. Doctors. engineers and businessmen, educated here and successful here, can connect the United States to Africa in ways China, Russia and India simply cannot.

After 50 years of President John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps, a decade of President George W. Bush's transformational campaign to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, and with the promise of President Obama's Power Africa electrification initiative, the United States is better regarded in Africa than anywhere in the world. I saw this firsthand as a student in Kenya in 1984 and have experienced it consistently in visits since.

We should build on the positive view of America and Americans created by the remarkable generosity of our investments in health, education, clean water and good governance to shift our engagement strategy from aid to trade.

China, Russia, Brazil and India are focused on the huge potential of Africa because of the increase in the number of stable and growing countries on the continent. While the bad news from a handful of countries dominates American news, the quietly good news about growth and opportunity in dozens of others is overlooked.

To its credit, the Obama administration has noticed.

Delegations led earlier this year by the secretaries of commerce and energy, the President's remarkable Young African Leaders Initiative, and the administration's Power Africa are all meaningful steps forward. Congress can do its part by strengthening and reauthorizing the African Growth and Opportunity Act before its authorization expires next year.

The real success of Obama's summit won't come in the form of a joint press statement or vague declaration of a path forward but in new contracts between U.S. companies with African partners and new commitments from African leaders.

Twenty years ago, every American company was deciding whether to take the risk of investing in and engaging in the newly opening markets of Asia, and China ended up being the dominant opportunity of the region.

Today, no competitive company is without some role in China. Africa will emerge as the next great growth market and opportunity of the 21st century, and China will not miss "the next China."

America shouldn't either.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:42 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT