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Africa needs private sector investment

APARC brings former African presidents together for economic talks

Charles Stith, director of APARC, which organized the African Presidential Roundtable 2006 last week in South Africa.

On April 20 and 21 former African presidents came from Botswana, Burundi, Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, and several other countries to brainstorm about their continent’s future. The University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, hosted the 10 former heads of state for the fourth annual African Presidential Roundtable, organized by the African Presidential Archives and Research Center (APARC) at Boston University.
   
For two days, the former presidents met with global business leaders, diplomats, and university students and discussed several sides of one fundamental issue: Africa needs more private investment to grow and develop economically. According to the World Bank, the gross national income per capita in the 45 nations of sub-Saharan Africa, representing more than 725 million people, increased just .02 percent between 1990 and 2002. While the amount of private investment in Africa is growing, from $10.6 billion in 2004 to a projected $28.5 billion in 2006, the amount of private-sector money flowing into Africa and the Middle East combined still equals only about 8 percent of investments in emerging markets, according to the Institute of International Finance, Inc. Asia, by contrast, will receive about 40 percent of these investments.
   
APARC was established as a complement to BU’s African Studies Center to study current trends related to democratization and free-market reform in Africa. In addition to hosting a residency program on campus for former African heads of state who leave office voluntarily, it encourages a multidisciplinary approach to teaching about Africa and organizes forums for African leaders to engage other public and private sector leaders regarding Africa’s global relationships.

The former presidents attending this year’s roundtable, who included Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, Daniel arap Moi of Kenya, and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, also discussed Africa’s image in the American media and the lack of investment by Africans who have moved to other parts of the world and prospered, two issues deemed critical to improving the continent’s financial picture, according to Charles Stith, director of APARC and a former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania.

“Improving Africa’s ‘brand’ and engaging the African Diaspora in Africa’s development are critical to increasing private capital flows to the continent,” says Stith, noting that this year’s Presidential Roundtable was “particularly significant” because in January several former African heads of state formed the African Forum, to advocate on issues of importance to Africa’s development, and the roundtable discussions “might inform their agenda.”

Stith reports that the former African presidents concluded “that sitting African heads of state need to develop strategies to creatively and constructively engage the Western media [and] give higher priority to engaging the Diaspora on visits to Western nations.”