July 13, 2009

Impressions of Obama's Visit to Ghana

Official White House photo
by Chuck Kennedy
Many of my friends and colleagues have asked about my impressions of President Obama's recent visit to Ghana. Specifically, will Mr. Obama's visit increase foreign direct investment (FDI) into Africa? Will highlighting Ghana's successes in democracy and rule of law motivate other nations to expedite policy changes? Mr. Obama's speech to the Ghanaian Parliament on July 11, 2009 focused "on four areas that are critical to the future of Africa and the entire developing world: democracy, opportunity, health, and the peaceful resolution of conflict." I will discuss the first two points in this blog.

Addressing the issue of democracy, Mr. Obama said, "Governments that respect the will of their own people are more prosperous, more stable, and more successful than governments that do not. This is about more than just holding elections. It's also about what happens between elections. Repression can take many forms, and too many nations, even those that have elections, are plagued by problems that condemn their people to poverty. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves -- or if police -- if police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top -- or the head of the Port Authority is corrupt. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny, even if occasionally you sprinkle an election in there. And now is the time for that style of governance to end."

Ghanaians created a good example when Mr. Obama said, "Across Africa, we've seen countless examples of people taking control of their destiny, and making change from the bottom up." As I discussed in this blog, Ghana's presidential election, and subsequent run-off election on December 28, 2008, represented Ghanaians' support of the democractic process and self-determination. In John Atta Mills' narrow victory over Nana Akufo-Addo, each candidate and their respective supporters, and all Ghanaians respected the election process that allowed for a peaceful political transition.

Regarding creating economic opportunities, I agree with Mr. Obama, "With better governance...Africa holds the promise of a broader base of prosperity." Africans are very entrepreneurial and there are many investment opportunities in agriculture, banking, information and communications technology (including mobile applications), manufacturing, and renewable energy. Regarding renewable energy, Africa could be a natural research and development center testing the latest innovative solutions to meet the energy demands in developing and industrialized nations alike. "Think about it: Across Africa, there is bountiful wind and solar power; geothermal energy and biofuels. From the Rift Valley to the North African deserts; from the Western coasts to South Africa's crops -- Africa's boundless natural gifts can generate its own power, while exporting profitable, clean energy abroad," said Mr. Obama.

I am unsure if Mr. Obama's visit will have a direct impact on increasing FDI, but his visit exemplifies Ghana's success in building a stable democracy that supports rule of law and creating a business climate that will attract the attention of investors in the coming years.

I also want to mention Julia Wilson's interview on CNBC about investing in Africa (video is posted below). Ms. Wilson is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Wilson Global Communications LLC, an integrated marketing communications and strategic public relations consultancy headquartered in Washington, D.C. Ms. Wilson noted there are great risks in investing in Africa, but investors have to perform their due diligence just like they would for any market. Furthermore, according to Ms. Wilson, investors should take a regional approach to investing in Africa. I support this strategy, which is similar to the approach investors often make when investing in Europe or large geographic nations such as India and China. While I agree there are several opportunities, in Ms. Wilson’s words, "to help Africans help themselves," Africans must continue the path to eradicate corruption and promote operational transparency.

Like his recent predecessors, Mr. Obama's trip has highlighted the success and opportunities that exist in Africa. Young people make up a large percentage of Africa's population, which make them significant producers and consumers in a global economy. As Mr. Obama explained, "Africans have shown the capacity and commitment to create their own opportunities. But old habits must also be broken." The time is now for Africa to demonstrate their willingness and ability to participate proactively in a vastly global economy.

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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