President Bush has teed-up an Africa agenda that leaves President-elect Barack Obama the best chance to shoot a quick foreign policy “hole-in-one.” All Mr. Obama needs to do is engage the private sector.
A scion of the liberal pop-culture establishment that helped sweep Mr. Obama into office, Bob Geldof (Irish political activist, front-man of the “Boomtown Rats” and producer of numerous “Live Aid” concerts) toured Africa aboard Air Force One with Mr. Bush. In a Time magazine column, he praised the president as “the person who has quadrupled aid to the poorest people on the planet.” Mr. Bush has placed America on a track to increase America’s annual African aid to almost $9-Billion by 2010, a fourfold increase since 2004.
In the U.S. vice presidential debate, Vice President-elect Joe Biden was asked if the Obama-Biden campaign had made any promise that “you’re not going to be able to keep.” He answered: “the one thing we might have to slow down is a commitment we made to double foreign assistance.”
Health care is a pillar of U.S. assistance to Africa. Some $1 billion per year funds the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Most of that goes to Africa. Additional funds fight malaria, TB, a resurgence of polio and waterborne diseases. More African kids die from diarrhea contracted from dirty water than from AIDS and malaria combined.
Americans, with an unparalleled history of generosity toward the developing world, are justified in asking why they should send billions of dollars to promote health care in Africa while millions of Americans are losing their homes, jobs and go without adequate health care.
The answer lies not in altruism and humanitarian concern but in the fact that communicable diseases undermine the social fabric of African states and the viability of their security apparatus, threatening U.S. national security interests by creating a breeding ground for insurgencies and global terrorist recruiting.
On a recent visit to the continent, an African flag officer of a country with close ties to the United States and embroiled in a decades-old civil war confided to me that the 20 percent attrition rate among his elite troops from HIV/AIDS is of far more concern than casualties suffered in combat.
Even Africa’s successes create new health challenges. South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana, to name a few, have stabilized politically and socially but must now focus on the same chronic diseases that plague the developed world. Diabetes, heart disease and cancer require a sustainable health care infrastructure.
A World Bank report titled “The Business of Health in Africa: Partnering with the Private Sector to Improve People’s Lives,” that was funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, predicts $25 billion to $30 billion will be allocated over the next 10 years “with the private sector playing a key role.”
Victor Barnes, who directs health initiatives at the Corporate Council on Africa says the private sector is needed to maximize those resources. A “perfect storm” can be created between allocated funds and the expertise of corporations that recognize “enlightened self-interest” as a way to achieve significant return on investment in Africa’s health care marketplace.
Mr. Barnes, whose 25 years of experience in developmental health care and economics spans Republican and Democratic U.S. administrations recently convened the first-ever US-Africa Private Sector Health Forum in Washington, D.C. Africa health-care meetings seeking donations are a dime a dozen: Potential recipients beg for money and potential nonprofit donors worry that their charitable wells are running dry. By contrast, this forum was the first to bring together for-profit African and American private health care enterprises with financial institutions that control funds to mitigate investment risk in Africa. Participants left the Forum with a “deal book” that provides specifics for bidding on funded African health care projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The private sector has a unique opportunity to leverage vast public and philanthropic funds to create a more stable environment for America and its African partners while achieving significant shareholder value.
Tony Das is president and CEO of Global Markets Consulting Group, LLC.