During his campaign for president in 2008, Barack Obama promised that he would restore America’s standing in the world—in part by using his unique multicultural background to better communicate with U.S. friends and foes alike. While Obama has certainly enjoyed some foreign policy successes, there is one region in which he has so far glaringly and disappointingly fallen well short of that promise: Africa.
By every conceivable metric, Africa is growing in stature and importance. More than 60 percent of Africans are below the age of 25, and the continent’s population is expected to double by 2050 to more than 2 billion people. The continent’s economy is growing faster than any other’s. Indeed, according to International Monetary Fund figures, 10 of the world’s 20 fastest-growing economies are located in Africa, and recent surveys of institutional investors reveal that sub-Saharan Africa is the region where most investors intend to increase their portfolio exposure in the coming decade.
But for years now, the United States has been losing ground in Africa to various competitors, particularly China. China’s annual trade and investment in Africa has increased sixfold over the past 10 years and now stands at more than $150 billion. This has to do largely with the fact that China has made Africa a top priority. The Chinese government spends considerable time and money wooing African leaders by hosting state visits in Beijing, financing large infrastructure projects across the continent, and doing everything else in its power to deepen commercial and political relations between China and Africa.