Africa’s vast wealth and its strategic location provided the original motivation for colonialism and continue to account for the continent’s importance. Historically, the continent’s fortunes have shifted as its strategic importance has waxed and waned. In 2000, The Economist described Africa as the “hopeless” continent. 1 By 2013, in a major turnaround, the March 2 issue of The Economist special report touted “Emerging Africa” as “a hopeful continent.” 2 Clearly much has changed on the continent since that fi rst Economist article. Over the past decade and a half, much of Africa has registered strong economic growth, with an aggregate GDP growth rate of 5.8% between 2000 and 2010 and an average growth rate of 4.1% between 2011 and 2013. The World Bank estimates that Africa’s growth was 4.5% in 2014 and forecast economic growth rates of 4.6% in 2015, rising to 5.1% in 2017. 3 Growth has been fueled by investments in infrastructure, agricultural production, and an expansion of the service sector, while commodities demand and capital infl ows are expected to contribute less to growth. 4 Africa’s 2006 total Gross National Income (GNI) of $978 billion put it ahead of India as a total market. In fact, its market was larger than that of all the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries except China. Ranked against countries, Africa’s economy would have placed it at number 10 in the world. 5 In 2014, private equity capital raised for investment in Africa was estimated at $4 billion, with more than half of that invested. However, the World Bank estimates that the continent needs an additional $90 billion per year just to improve infrastructure. While investment increases are essential to sustaining recent growth rates, despite these investment increases, only about 1% of global private equity goes to Africa. 6
Long an economic backwater whose main attraction was its raw materials, Africa has enjoyed recent growth that has made the continent more attractive to investment. Although country growth rates have varied, the continent’s vast natural resources, growing middle class, and rapidly expanding population have attracted growing trade and investment and improved the prospects for Africa. Africa’s strategic significance goes beyond its vast natural resource wealth and trade potential and also extends to its geographical position astride major sea lanes and growing influence in international forums, where African states make up the largest voting bloc. Of course, Africa’s strategic importance
is also tied to the threat of radical Islam and the continent’s role in the transnational trafficking of drugs, arms, people, and other contraband. These elements of Africa’s strategic significance have made Africa a growing U.S. security concern. Most of the commentary on Africa’s strategic importance has centered on counterterrorism, access to Africa’s natural resources, and the potential for strategic competition, especially between the U.S. and China, but these are not the only strategic factors involved.