When I came to CCA, the world was a very different one. 9-11 was unimaginable. Within five years the Middle East was aflame and remains so. Our development priorities shifted to address central Asia and the Middle East. Somalia and Sudan were the primary trouble spots, but now there are similar challenges in West Africa, parts of North Africa, and Sudan itself seems less a problem than its splinter nation, South Sudan, a new country that our own nation very much helped to create. South Africa was considered a beacon of hope and excitement for the world, having one of the world’s best constitutions, and there was beginning to develop a sense of optimism, even as Africa was still considered by some such as The Economist as nearly hopeless “basket case” for development. One of its magazine covers declared it as such. China’s entry into Africa was seen unlikely by some of the best of think tanks in Washington. Our members, then the most hardy of sorts who had been engaged in Africa for some time saw the French as their biggest rivals. Because of my work with China before I came to CCA, I was in a very small minority that believed China was ready to explode onto the scene throughout Africa, but few seemed to want to listen or believe that. I also believed that we missed an opportunity to cooperate more fully with China on African development, but I am not convinced that opportunity is completely lost. It is clear that China is now the major player in Africa and will likely remain so for some time, whether they are as open to cooperation as they once were remains to be seen.
As for South Africa, which was the star of Africa when I came to CCA, there is now a great sense of disappointment in the direction it seems to be headed, yet one need remember that within 25 years after the establishment of our own great constitution, we had an internal rebellion, a nation still divided on the issue of slavery, a leading political figure shot and killed in a duel, and were about to enter another war with what is now our greatest ally, Great Britain. All of this is to say it is difficult to predict the future. Things change. As the song goes, “Pendulums swing as pendulums do” and for some time there was the group chant that Africa was on an irreversible rise. That, too, is changing as if attached to an invisible pendulum in the continuum.
The ‘irreversible’ growth is slowing, and progress is uneven at best on the continent. There are reasons for everything, and there are far more experts for each reason than are really necessary. We view Africa too often in the abstract and not as an equal part of our small rock in the endless universe. We view it as a laboratory for almost everything, often failing to leave parts in peace and alone to solve their own problems. Change is difficult at the individual level. You need only look yourself in the mirror to know that. At the village, urban and national levels it is even more complex.
But change does come. What I have learned is that anyone who is serious about Africa needs to be patient, realistic and leave emotion out of the equation if at all possible. Put your personal agendas aside and see Africans as partners and equals, not as supplicants that you have to help for whatever reasons, real or imagined. You will be far more effective if you do that and even more so if you believe it. I am convinced that if we do this, all of us will be much better human beings.
I have always seen the Corporate Council on Africa not so much a business organization, but as an organization that builds relationships through business. It is more than just increasing the dollars you carry. The real richness of this organization is its convening power, the bringing together of individuals, in this case through business, to learn from one another, and to work with one another for the common good and towards a saner development of global society. The private sector is vital to that, for governments over time tend to be top down, forgetting that they serve, not rule. A vital private sector linked internationally can do so much good for the future of this troubled planet.
I want to thank all of you who have been a part of or encountered CCA at one time or another, for each of you have made my life richer, but far more importantly, in each encounter through us you have enriched so many other lives as well, and although we are small, I believe the contributions we have made to U.S.-Africa relations, development and understanding have been significant. I hope they will continue to do so.