Behind the headlines about health crises, poverty and conflict, there is another under-told story about Africa. It is a more positive story about nations on the rise, about burgeoning democracies and about tremendous potential for long-term economic growth.
Working in partnership with African countries and businesses, U.S. and Minnesota companies and citizens can contribute to that more positive story.
As Joshua Meltzer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, pointed out earlier this year before the Federal Trade Commission, an important way to support opportunity and growth in Africa is "through increasing African engagement with the international economy through increased participation in international trade."
After record growth of 5 to 7 percent over the past decade, sub-Saharan African economic growth fell to 3.5 percent in 2015 and 3 percent last year.
Meltzer noted that U.S. trade with Africa has been underdeveloped and on the decrease in recent years.
But there is reason to be hopeful. The International Monetary Fund says, "We remain optimistic about the region's medium-term growth prospects. For one … even the current growth picture is highly varied across countries. Second, and perhaps more important, the underlying drivers of growth over the medium term [including favorable demographics] remain in place."
Lower oil and mineral exports meant some African countries were buying less from the U.S. But Minnesota exports to Africa increased by 30 percent in 2016 over the previous year, totaling $185 million.
Growth was particularly strong in exports to Algeria, Ethiopia and Morocco.
U.S. total exports totaled $22.3 billion, down from $27.1 billion the previous year.
Such Minnesota companies as Cargill, General Mills, 3M, Medtronic and Donaldson continue to invest in Africa.
What they and other firms see is what former President Obama said was the "world's next major economic success story," one that offered great opportunities for American business.
The countries of Africa have a huge and youthful workforce, an increasing middle class, a developing financial services network based in part on mobile phone technology and abundant natural resources.
But business and government leaders understand that business investment alone will not have a significant impact on Africa's success. It will take a combination of the work of NGOs such as St. Paul-based Books For Africa and US AID support for developing countries, whose funding faces possible severe cuts.
Since 1988 BFA has shipped 39 million school and law books to 49 African countries. Books are critical to the education of Africa's students and future workforce.
As former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale, honorary co-chairs of Books For Africa's Law and Democracy Initiative, have said: "In the 21st Century more than ever before, the natural resource that matters most is the talent of a nation's citizens. Education and literacy is the key to unlocking potential. For hundreds of millions of individuals, literacy is the bridge from misery to hope. For a society and economy, it is simply essential for sustained social and economic development."
An educated workforce leads to development of democratic states and the rule of law, which in turn fosters economic and business growth and international trade.
African trade with Minnesota was the subject of a forum on May 18 at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management and hosted by the Carlson school, Books For Africa and the Minnesota Trade Office.
We participated in the discussion and were impressed by the interest of Minnesota businesses in Africa and its development.
While it is difficult to know what the new American administration's Africa policies will be at this point, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said during his confirmation hearing that the U.S. cannot afford to ignore a market the size of Africa.
Many Africans want to do business with Americans. U.S. business people just have to show up. The U.S., with the combined efforts of business leaders, NGOs and foreign aid, can have a huge positive impact on the people of Africa.
Florie Liser, the new president of the Corporate Council on Africa, correctly pointed out that "there are many challenges and opportunities that U.S. policy should address because we cannot afford to ignore the second fastest growing market in the world. Africa is undergoing the most rapid urbanization of any region."
She noted that there is discussion that the Trump administration will focus on peace, security and counterterrorism in Africa.
"There is a link between these issues and the continent's economic development," she said. We need to "lead a dialogue on the U.S. stake in greater U.S.-Africa economic engagement."
Africa is a continent full of possibilities. Companies in Minnesota and around the U.S. need to collaborate with our friends in Africa to realize our mutual vision of a stronger, more dynamic Africa contributing to global growth and prosperity.
Carlos Dos Santos is the ambassador to the U.S. from Mozambique. Jeffrey Sturchio is the chairman of the Corporate Council on Africa, based in Washington, D.C., and president and chief executive at Rabin Martin, a global health strategy consulting firm.