Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat who chairs the African Affairs Subcommittee in the U.S. Senate recently joined with U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah to recruit more American business investment for Africa.

Calling Africa a "continent of tremendous opportunity", Coons, who was just back from traveling to Africa with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, made his comments at a business conference he hosted in Wilmington, Delaware, January 18 2012. He told participants that some countries on the continent are already booming and that others offer great potential for future economic growth.

"In trade, health and security, Africa is rapidly becoming one of the most important parts of the world," Coons said. As he has traveled through Delaware, the senator said, he has also seen a variety of businesses that are "extraordinarily interested in engaging in Africa."

Coons has a special interest in Africa, as a former exchange student in Kenya. On his most recent trip he traveled with Secretary Clinton January 16-17 to the continent with stops in Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Togo and Cape Verde, attending the inauguration of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in her second term as president of Liberia.

"Trade between Africa and the rest of the world has increased by 200 percent over the last decade," USAID's Shah said. "And in 2010, foreign direct investment was more than $55 billion -- five times what it was a decade earlier."

Helping poor nations develop long-term, self-sustaining business and industry is the new focus of international aid efforts, Shah said. Dubbed "USAID Forward," the aid reform campaign relies more on partnership, innovation and results rather than a continuous stream of subsistence aid.

"A cornerstone of this effort is forming new, high-impact public-private partnerships -- working and investing together to build new markets, unlock opportunity and improve global economic potential," Shah said. The USAID administrator cited several projects developing in that fashion in Africa:

  • Agricultural researchers at the Delaware-based chemical giant DuPont are working with a seed company to reach small farmers with the means to produce crops with greater yields and less fertilizer.
  • The consumer product company Procter & Gamble is working with USAID and African-based organizations to better distribute low-cost treatments to produce safe water and increase its availability.
  • USAID has teamed up with local organizations in Ethiopia to support a community health program that addresses nutrition, water, sanitation and health training, improving lives and empowering communities to build a better future.

While these efforts can lead to greater prosperity in the future, the humanitarian emergency in East Africa is a reminder that the continent is repeatedly beset with drought, hunger and famine. In the face of dire circumstances, with almost 13 million people in need of humanitarian aid, Shah said USAID's assistance reform effort has subdued some of the ferocity of this emergency. The agency worked with a Swiss insurer to provide livestock insurance for herders in Kenya, protecting them from the loss of their animals in drought. A collaboration with the Ethiopian government created a social safety net program that protected more than 7 million from falling into hunger or starvation.

The United States remains the largest donor to international humanitarian programs to address the East African humanitarian crisis, and Shah said the effort is producing results, with diminishing numbers of children needing therapeutic feeding programs, and increased survival rates for those receiving treatment for starvation.

Shah said the humanitarian programs in East Africa are providing the full range of response to hunger. At the same time, the Obama administration's Feed the Future program is "driving the kind of investments in agricultural development that will ensure countries escape [the] devastating cycle of famine and food aid."

About 400 Delawareans from business and industry, and from civic, nongovernmental and religious organizations, attended the meeting to connect with representatives from Africa, also present. Coons said, "It is my hope that we can strengthen and sustain these connections across our state with this most important of continents and raise our voices together about issues in Africa, including health, food security, human rights, development and business opportunities."


source: Charlene Porter for