BY IVOR ICHIKOWITZ, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR — 01/01/19 07:02 PM EST 61THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY CONTRIBUTORS ARE THEIR OWN AND NOT THE VIEW OF THE HILL
I was pleased to read the latest from Washington, as U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton outlined President Trump’s ambitious ‘Prosper Africa’ agenda. As an entrepreneur committed to our continent’s industrialization, Mr. Bolton’s words rang true regarding the need for the U.S. to take the long-overdue steps to work alongside African partners, creating “…greater independence, self-reliance and growth, rather than furthering dependency, domination, and debt.”
This news is also well received in its timing, as recent U.S. administrations have often avoided African investment priorities until well in to a president’s second term.
However, there are clear and present fissures behind the intent of ‘Prosper Africa’, with U.S. focus seemingly placed on seizing the geopolitical chessboard, in competitive fashion, from BRICS players Russia and China. While it may be argued that there is truth behind Mr. Bolton’s statements, that action is necessary because both actors are “…targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States”, America choosing to unilaterally invest on the continent against them, may miss its mark; it will both fail to address the growing challenges of our time and stifle the U.S. mission in this so-called ‘race to the top’.
When it comes to African investment, there can be no singular prosperity, no sustainable economic growth nor mutually-beneficial, long-term partnership opportunity, without first ensuring stability by bolstering states under threat. Should the U.S. wisely invest in defense and security priorities and the technologies behind them, proven to light the spark of industrialization, they will be fueling Africa’s manufacturing capacity and trade potential; they will be helping to create jobs, checking endemic poverty and playing a lead role in African and indeed global security and well-being.
In short and in support of U.S. policy priorities, working with our continent and alongside nations such as China, both the public and private sectors investing in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)-borne solutions to the challenges of today, ‘Prosper Africa’ can truly help “Make America Great Again”.
The modern defense and security threats facing our continent are being exported en masse in form and in frequency, steadily globalizing and permeating around the world. To focus economically on offering African countries an alternative to partnerships with Beijing and Moscow is important and welcome in the face of longstanding absenteeism (as less than 1 percent of America’s foreign direct investment went to Africa in 2013, while at least 3.4 percent of China’s direct FDI went to the region, with much of China’s FDI going unreported). However, such focus should be implemented with a scalpel rather than broadsword; we can never lose sight on what are today asymmetrical security challenges, threats hindering the prosperity of us all.
Understandably, with 1.2 billion people on the continent, compounded by seismic geopolitical shifts abroad, Africa is indeed, “…a vitally important theatre for great power competition,” as Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi eloquently stated. We are also a geo-commercially motivated series of diverse economies, similar only in our abundance of human capital, natural resources and potential to, with rapidity and efficacy, form newfound collaborative agreements to the dramatic benefit of our partners around the world.
It’s also clear that in years past, China has played a huge role in the development of Africa, supporting the steady growth of the continent. However, there is an attached belief to some that this was undertaken singularly so that China remains in lock-step competition with the United States for geopolitical dominance; that theirs is ‘predatory capitalism’ personified and warrants similar reaction from the U.S.
This is untrue; contrary to perhaps popular belief, Africans will never allow ‘colonization’ in any of its forms to again unfold within our emboldened democracies. The notion that Africa will serve as innocent bystander, the grass on which the two elephants of China and the United States combatively roll, is thinking outlandishly outdated.
It is necessary for the United States to step up and collaborate with Africa as we continue to work side by side with sovereign governments in Asia, the Middle East and around the world. I take great pride in Paramount Group doing so, playing our part in the private sector, leading by example in enhancing our partners’ technological and defense intelligence, capabilities and prowess, while exploring the ‘art of the possible’ over land, sea and air; 4IR-driven breakthroughs and word-beating technologies such as predictive artificial intelligence (‘A.I.’)-driven situational awareness, 3D printing and the dynamic benchmark of portable manufacturing.
My enterprise focuses on these ‘out of the box’ solutions to the challenges of defense and security, with our partners’ further industrialization at the forefront. At the crux of any nation’s ability to protect its sovereignty while maintaining an advantageous environment for global trade is the fundamental desire to host its own defense industrial capability. From this capability’s establishment, we find a pattern of high-skills training, employment and overall sustainable development which has bared fruit for decades all across the world.
For nearly 25 years, we have watched this pattern unfold while maintaining vigilance in forecasting the evolutionary defense and security trends and uncertain threats alike challenging nations. Whether these strikes are undertaken by extremist terrorist cabals, such as a truck barreling down the streets of London or Nice or an explosive device in Times Square, or they are commercially motivated, such as oil and gas piracy or poachers operating as organized crime syndicates, they are a scourge on our safety and endanger the security of our communities, our heritage and ultimately, our way of life.
More can simply be done to safeguard our citizenries at home and abroad, while vitalizing the economies of tomorrow.
Brookings Institute Senior Fellow Landry Signé rightly commended the ‘Prosper Africa’ initiative as ”…one of the most business-friendly U.S.-Africa policies in recent times—at least in principle.” And U.S. Congress has been almost always bipartisan on African issues and “…has been nothing if not consistent in support for the U.S. to focus on trade and investment in dealing with African nations.”
With President Trump planning to allocate $750 billion behind the U.S. military in the fiscal year 2020 – a $50 billion increase over previous plans – it simply makes good business sense for the administration to, in 2019 and beyond, place attention and focus on the ‘how’ rather than solely the ‘why’ Africa as a continent should be a lasting, ‘paramount’ U.S. defense and security and critically, economic investment priority.
Ivor Ichikowitz is an entrepreneur, industrialist, and Founder and Executive Chairman of Paramount Group, an African-based global defense and aerospace business and leader in defense and security innovation. The views expressed are his own.