What’s going to be President Obama’s legacy on Africa? President Clinton championed AGOA, still the core of US-Africa trade relations. President Bush built PEPFAR and the MCC. There’s an outside chance that Feed the Future could be Obama’s lasting contribution, but I think the jury’s still out. So what kind of big impact-big splash effort could we hope for in the next four years, from either a second Obama term or a new Romney administration?My starting assumption is that any new White House effort on Africa policy would have to meet the following criteria:
- Addresses a real problem that affects both economic growth and human welfare
- Has very limited direct fiscal costs by leveraging private investment
- The United States has some clear role or comparative advantage
- Rationalizing US policy tools to promote private investment. There are plenty of useful federal agencies and instruments to get this done, but they are spread across the bureaucracy and (despite some valiant efforts at coordination such as the experimental Partnership for Growth), the current interagency is still far too fragmented and confused to be deployed efficiently. At a minimum, OPIC could be bolstered to lead this effort. Even better would be a consolidation of various agencies and programs working on private investment under one roof, perhaps along the lines of the US Development Bank proposed by the ONE Campaign’s Ben Leo and me.
- A negotiated truce with the environment lobby. Powerful political constituencies who are concerned about climate change or local environmental impact may see such an effort as a threat. For example, in response to special interests, OPIC has put in place a greenhouse gas emissions policy that means it can barely participate in natural gas-fired power projects, even in countries that are dirt poor and have almost zero emissions. Yes, some of the energy poverty gap can be closed via renewables and new off-grid technologies (OPIC is doing a lot of this already). But Africa’s cities and industrial zones are invariably going to need additional traditional on-grid power fueled by these countries’ own natural gas. Some compromise with the environmental lobby will have to be found that meets both global emissions goals and allows poor people to turn on a light. (Here’s one such idea I have floated already.)
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.