Africa has unrivalled potential that, if properly tapped, can make it the world's economic powerhouse. In the way are poverty and disease, conflicts, poor governance, corruption and a lack of infrastructure. Foreign governments are well aware of the possibilities, which is why every few years they woo African heads of state at summits; the US joined the growing list last week. But unlocking the continent's prospects will not come about through self-interest or greed - there has to be coordinated development.
No continent has economic growth as vibrant, and six of its 54 countries are among the world's 10 fastest-growing. China has taken the lead with trade, investment and aid and President Xi Jinping has made African diplomacy a priority. But there is rising discontent among Africans that they are losing out to Chinese companies, traders and workers. China, trying to recalibrate its approach, has reached out to the US to work together on financing and building infrastructure projects.
The US, overtaken by China as the biggest trading partner in 2009, has been slow to add summitry to its strategy; African leaders have regularly been courted at such events by China, India, Japan, the EU, Turkey and Brazil. US President Barack Obama made appropriate pledges to 50 governments, offering US$33 billion in new commitments of investment and loans and US$4 billion for health care and medicine. He had good reason: Africa has abundant natural resources, a burgeoning middle class, a young population that in decades will comprise the world's biggest workforce and 60 per cent of the world's uncultivated farmland. Political instability has decreased. But there are also trouble spots, the worst among them Libya, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Peace is fragile in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia remains ungovernable and Islamic extremists are pushing agendas.
Stability is crucial for development and China, the US and other nations can improve contributions to peacekeeping forces. They can encourage trade between countries and regions; high tariffs, poor transportation and a lack of desire to allow the free flow of people and goods means just 13 per cent of African trade is inter-regional. Governments can help build infrastructure such as roads, ports and electricity networks, as Chinese companies are already doing. But involvement should not be about competing with China. Foreign governments have to work together so that Africa and its people can move forward.