The 'three issues that will make or break the Prosper Africa initiative'

The 'three issues that will make or break the Prosper Africa initiative'
Published date:
Wednesday, 18 May 2022
Author:
Zainab Usman, Katie Auth

The U.S. government’s Prosper Africa program, launched in 2019, aims to double two-way trade and investment between the United States and African countries and, in doing so, to put a new face on American foreign policy in Africa.

Despite the initiative’s embrace by two separate administrations, it has so far been slow to live up to expectations. The Prosper Africa Act, a draft piece of bipartisan legislation put forward in the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, now languishes in Congress, overshadowed by other crises and attracting little attention.

Allowing the legislation to expire is a mistake. To help ensure its success, the Prosper Africa Act’s sponsors should address three key issues around its scope, strategic positioning, and diaspora engagement.

Today’s shifting geopolitical landscape makes the goals of Prosper Africa more important than ever before. U.S.-Africa relations have historically focused on humanitarian and security concerns, but Africa’s major economies have grown rapidly and should play a much broader and more strategic role in U.S. foreign policy.

Since 2009, when China edged out the United States as Africa’s largest bilateral trade partner, U.S.-Africa trade has declined from a peak of $142 billion in 2008 to just $64 billion in 2021. Outside of extractive industries, American business presence on the continent in some places trails that of countries like Turkey and India.

With its explicit focus on specific projects (for example, infrastructure development or export of U.S. goods), job creation, and shared prosperity, Prosper Africa aims to accelerate and expand an ongoing shift in U.S. foreign assistance toward more investment-driven approaches.

prosperafrica2

Recent disruptions in the global economy further reinforce the salience of Prosper Africa’s objectives. The increased financial flows and business engagement it envisions could be pivotal in helping African countries recover from massive economic shocks brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They could also be essential for building infrastructure and public services to support economic transformations underpinning both U.S. and African interests, including clean energy transitions.

However, an investment-driven initiative needs stability to attract private-sector partners, and they will hesitate to engage with a program that may not last beyond an election cycle. That’s why the Prosper Africa Act is crucial. The bill would ensure that Prosper Africa is an established, non-partisan component of U.S. foreign assistance, making it more likely this presidential initiative continues under future administrations.

Furthermore, the Prosper Africa Act would provide congressional backing for the initiative’s structure and mandate and make several significant improvements to the executive program, including reworking its advisory council structure to include a wider and more diverse set of private-sector actors (including those from the African diaspora) than has historically been prioritized by U.S. investment platforms.

These worthy goals notwithstanding, the success of Prosper Africa may ultimately depend on how the initiative and the draft bill in Congress put forward to back it address three key issues.

First, the bill needs revision. Its expansive scope purposefully allows for flexibility but could prove unwieldy. The draft legislation is written without an explicit focus on any specific sectors of the economy. This is based on the rationale that the private sector’s interests and capacity should drive its areas of focus, and the U.S. government should not artificially narrow the range of priority investments.

But an initiative designed to serve as a one-stop shop for effectively everything may struggle to be efficient and focused enough to succeed. Congress should consider prioritizing a few specific industries based on criteria such as the U.S. private sector’s comparative advantage in spaces like pharmaceuticals, digital technologies, and higher education.

Second, the United States should utilize Prosper Africa to align its own strategic geopolitical and economic priorities with those of its African partners. For example, Prosper Africa could be a tool to help the United States diversify its critical minerals and technology supply chains away from China and Russia by facilitating investment in refining and processing of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other minerals crucial for clean energy in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia while also strengthening social and environmental safeguards.

A potential project still under review by the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation to finance the redevelopment of two lithium mines in Namibia is an example of Africa’s potential.

Finally, the U.S. Congress should also consider more ways of engaging African partners—especially those in anchor economies such as Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa—in shaping the legislation and the initiative. Policymakers, businesses, and civil society—both in Africa and in the U.S.-based African diaspora—have an important opportunity to help influence its content and direction and to ensure that it speaks not only to U.S. interests, but to the mutual benefits to be gained by both the United States and its African partners through a closer, more investment-focused relationship.

For decades, humanitarian and security concerns have dominated U.S. engagement with Africa, precisely because the United States rarely considered Africa a region of strategic interest. Now, in a changing geopolitical landscape, the United States needs to rethink its relationship with the continent. The Prosper Africa Act and the initiative it seeks to bolster represent a landmark effort to strengthen U.S. economic and business engagement in Africa—a move that would benefit all partners.

Yet to realize its full promise, the Prosper Africa Act must balance the bill’s expansive scope with some sectoral specificity, frame the initiative as one that aligns U.S. strategic economic priorities with those of African partners, and proactively engage stakeholders in key African markets, especially their U.S.-based diaspora. In an emerging multipolar world with rising powers, Congress should move to pass the Prosper Africa Act to ensure the United States secures a place as the economic partner of choice for Africa.


  Click here to view the draft legislation: Bill H.R.6455 - Prosper Africa Act

View related news articles

US legislators seek to codify the Prosper Africa Act

 In January 2022, representatives McCaul (R-TX) and Murphy (D-FL) put forward the Prosper Africa Act (H.R.6455) to codify the existing Prosper Africa initiative into law. This program strives to increase investment and trade cooperation among the United States and African nations. Since 2019, the initiative enabled almost 800 deals worth $50 billion. The codification of Prosper Africa will benefit the program by...

14 March 2022

US seeks more investment opportunities in Africa

The US government is exploring ways to expand trade and investment opportunities in Africa, in a bid to scramble for the control of the continent’s raw materials with other world’s powerful nations such as China and Russia. The US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Akunna Cook said the country has yet to deepen its presence in Africa, which has a population of about 1.3 billion people.  “We have been behind the curve for...

25 February 2022

US Congress: Representatives McCaul, Murphy introduce Prosper Africa Act

House Foreign Affairs Committee Lead Republican Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) introduced the Prosper Africa Act to codify interagency efforts and promote, facilitate and increase two-way trade and investment between the United States and Africa.  “Advancing two-way trade and investment between the U.S. and African partners must be a key foreign policy priority,” said Rep....

21 January 2022

Biden eyes up Africa as new trade market, reboots Trump-era initiative

The Joe Biden administration has announced plans to revamp the Trump-era Prosper Africa initiative, as it works to “substantially increase” two-way trade and investment between the US and Africa. With a focus on infrastructure, clean energy and healthcare, the White House said in recent weeks that it would kickstart a new Prosper Africa Build Together Campaign, having also requested US$80m from Congress in additional funding...

01 September 2021

Biden Administration launches initiative to build US-Africa trade

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced a new push to expand business ties between U.S. companies and Africa, with a focus on clean energy, health, agribusiness and transportation infrastructure on the continent. U.S. industry executives welcomed the interest, but said dollar flows will lag until the administration wraps up its lengthy review of Trump administration trade measures and sets a clear policy on investments in liquefied...

28 July 2021

Digital press briefing about the US government Prosper Africa initiative (incl. sound file)

Moderator:   Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. [scroll to bottom for the sound recording]  I would like to welcome our participants from across the continent and thank all of you for taking part in this discussion.  Today we are very pleased to be joined by Victoria Whitney, Chief Operating Officer for the U.S. Government’s Prosper Africa Initiative. ...

29 October 2020

'Beyond AGOA – Prosper Africa'

The 18th AGOA Forum that took place earlier in August was once again a reminder to business not only to make the most of AGOA, but also to start thinking beyond it. South Africa, along with the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, is able to export more than 6,000 types of products to the United States without paying US import tariffs. This is thanks to a preferential trade dispensation offered by the United States under the...

21 August 2019

Reason for optimism in Trump's 'Prosper Africa' policy

When I entered the Joaquim Chissano International Conference center in Maputo, Mozambique, on 19 June for the opening of the Corporate Council on Africa’s (CCA) summit and the roll-out of the Trump administration’s Prosper Africa strategy, my first reaction was, “what were the organizers thinking?!” Who inaugurates a U.S. policy to counter our global competitors, most notably China, in a conference center built by the Chinese, with a...

01 July 2019

How US’s Prosper Africa plan can benefit businesses on the continent

In my visit to Mozambique and SA last week I stressed with government and business leaders that the US wants to be Africa’s trade and investment partner. Together with my colleagues from across the US government, including the commerce department and the US Agency for International Development, we outlined a compelling case for the value of a US-Africa commercial partnership based on mutual advantage and shared interest in prosperity for...

28 June 2019

Prosper Africa’s partial answer to promoting US trade and investment

Commerce Deputy Secretary Karen Dunn Kelley last week unveiled the Trump administration's signature initiative “Prosper Africa.” Building on National Security Adviser John Bolton’s remarks in December 2018, she outlined the U.S. government’s plan to establish a one-stop shop to facilitate deals and “modernize and coordinate the resources of U.S. agencies” to help U.S. companies pursue commercial opportunities in...

26 June 2019