- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Last week I flew to Washington to sign the Obama administration’s first Millennium Challenge Corporation grant to a foreign nation, a $540 million grant to my home country of Senegal.

That grant will provide invaluable support for a host of infrastructure projects in Senegal - and I was honored to hear Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton cite Senegal as a “shining example of what a free market democracy can look like” in the developing world.

Yet I was even more struck by the fact that the grant helps demarcate a new relationship under the Obama administration between America and Africa.

In decades past, aid to Africa often followed a post-colonialist model. News stories frequently depicted aiding Africa as a lost cause - the problems of poverty, corruption, ethnic strife, disease and strongman governments made Africa sometimes seem like a money pit where aid yielded too few results.

Today, by contrast, many of Africa’s long-standing ills are receding. In Africa 2009, many nations have some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and healthy democratic governments. U.S. aid to Africa now entails a mutually beneficial relationship between donor and recipient, not a one-sided doling out of support. The movement toward self-sufficiency, partnership-building, and greater accountability that President Obama spoke of in his Africa address in Ghana in July is taking hold.

The benefits to Senegal of the Obama administration’s first Millennium Challenge Corporation grant are plain. The average Senegalese citizen still earns a modest $1,600 a year. Gasoline in Dakar costs more than $5 a gallon. We battle every day to keep our power plants sufficiently fueled to supply an uninterrupted supply of electricity. In the rainy season, many roads wash out and lowland housing floods.

The funds will assist us in rehabilitating several key highways and installing a major irrigation system crucial for boosting agricultural productivity, economic growth, and food security. It will help our farmers get their products to local markets - and it will help fortify more robust cross-border trade with our neighbors. Our current agricultural initiative, GOANA, which has Senegal headed toward self-sufficiency in food production, will be reinforced by the compact.

In short, this grant is not breeding dependency in Senegal but building self-sufficiency. As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day - teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

The benefits to America of the grant are less self-evident but nonetheless real. They include:

c Shared values: The relationship between our countries is based on our common faith in the ideals of liberty, democracy, gender equality, respect of human rights, and a free market economy. And I would add a shared commitment to religious and racial tolerance. Senegal is 95 percent Muslim - and proud of its moderate nature and racial inclusiveness. It is a pro-Western, Muslim nation in a region where America’s reputation has not always fared well with Muslim populations. Like the United States, Senegal is heavily invested in the cause of universal education - we currently lead the world in per capita spending on education and have invested in the free schooling of all Senegalese youth.

c Security: Senegal is strategically located on the coast of West Africa, a five-hour flight from the East Coast of the United States. Although West Africa will soon provide 25 percent of U.S. oil and gas needs, Senegal also has made alternative energy a national priority, and it aspires to be an energy exporter in the near future. Our solar, biofuel and wind energy initiatives on the regional level are wholly consistent with Mr. Obama’s vision for a new green economy.

c Environment: Senegal is at the forefront of ecological innovation in Africa and is leading efforts to advance the construction of the Great Green Wall, a 15-mile-wide path of trees and lakes used to halt desertification. We are also introducing an Atlantic seawall to halt erosion of our valuable coastline and building a network of solar-run eco-villages to fortify rural communities across the country. The consequences of global warming require coordinated international responses, and Senegal intends to play a role in the global debate about climate adaptation.

c Commerce: Last but not least, investing in infrastructure is central to stimulating trade and business development. Africa is the world’s last major untapped market, with the West African market alone containing over 300 million consumers.

American investors and companies will be able to participate more fully in a continent ready for sustainable growth - as will the massive diaspora of formerly African citizens now living in the United States. To unleash its potential, Africa requires better transportation networks, from roads and bridges to waterways and train lines.

What’s still missing on the continent is the ease of getting goods to local and regional markets and managing distribution and development to ensure efficient and honest commerce. The grant helps to fill that gap. Don’t forget that railroads and highway networks, with federal support, made the American economy into an international powerhouse.

The one-way, post-colonial tradition of American aid to Africa is winding down, with a new tradition of partnership and accountability emerging in its stead. Mr. Obama is committed to that new relationship and so am I.

Last week, beneath a portrait of Benjamin Franklin, Mrs. Clinton and I witnessed the signing of the grant as the great American master of reinvention looked on approvingly. But the new Africa was not new to Mrs. Clinton. Go to Senegal, she suggested, and see it for yourself.

Abdoulaye Wade is the president of Senegal.

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