As President Obama commences his first major Africa trip, focusing primarily on U.S. business investment and trade, the eyes of the world are upon him. Where will his priorities lie? China currently conducts more trade with African nations than the U.S. does, mainly because it attaches fewer political strings to its trade deals. Yet China’s business practices have not always proven good for Africans. Can the U.S. find a way to invest more in Africa’s development? What would a moral trade policy with Africa look like?
With this trip providing such an opportunity for good will, it behooves President Obama to consider smart investments that will benefit Africa as well as America. Failed aid efforts of past decades have soured both Africans and Americans toward unexamined financial commitments. And economic imperialism has done more harm than good to Africans and, consequently, to U.S. international relations in Africa.
President Obama has the opportunity to find a better way forward. For example, he might highlight the model of smart non-profits like Samasource and Digital Divide Data. Such non-profits address the problem of the burgeoning population of unemployed, impoverished African youth by offering young people jobs processing digital data through the $300 billion Business Process Outsourcing industry. Digital Divide Data (ranked #25 in The Global Journal’s top 100 NGOs of 2013) offers part-time jobs to promising young people and pays their way through universities while they are working. Once they have finished their education, their job prospects increase immensely, with most earning five times what their secondary school classmates earn, thus breaking out of the cycle of poverty.
The Rockefeller Foundation, recognizing the value of such training, recently launched Digital Jobs Africa, “a seven-year, $83 million initiative to improve the lives of one million people in six African countries through digital job opportunities and skills training.” Eme Essien Lore, the foundation’s Nairobi-based senior associate director, explained, “The reason digital employment really rose to the top for us was because we saw the skills they get from these kinds of jobs as a springboard to other types of employment.”
A moral trade policy should look not only to America’s future but to the global future, strengthening Africa by empowering its youth. For this reason, President Obama needs to take seriously the success of Digital Divide Data, Samasource, and other non-profits that strengthen Africa’s foundation by creating job opportunities for young Africans. Only by investing in the well-being of our trade partners and fellow human beings can we forge a truly sustainable business relationship.