Our investment in Africa is starting to pay dividends
Africa is rising. Six of the fastest ten growing economies are not in Asia. They are in Africa. Indeed the African economy has outgrown that of East Asia in eight of the last ten years.
In concert with this economic growth, there has also been a growth in democracy. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 30 nations held 45 elections last year, and 20 nations will hold 38 elections this year. The Arab Spring has ushered in a new era of democracy in Africa’s north. The result is that Africa has never been more democratic.
The battle against African poverty is also looking promising. Australian aid has helped almost 750,000 people access safe water and more than half a million people access basic sanitation. In Ethiopia, child mortality has been reduced by a third in the last five years.
This is revolution. And it is a revolution which will see some countries like The Gambia meet all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 and Africa as a whole make progress against the MDGs which could not have been imagined when the goals were set in 2000.
As Africa rises, Australia’s role in the African continent is blossoming. Led by the mining sector, Australian companies now have $50 billion in current and prospective investment in the continent. Two hundred companies are involved in more than 650 projects across Africa.
This commercial investment highlights the synergy between Australia and Africa which we are now well and truly exploring. Both the Australian and African continents are characterized by having large deserts and great mineral wealth, as well as dry-land and tropical agriculture. As a developed country with world class expertise in mining and farming, we are as well placed as any developed world nation in partnering with Africa in its development.
The scope of this opportunity has led Australia to dramatically increase its footprint in Africa. We have in recent years opened embassies in Ethiopia and Ghana. We are about to open another embassy in Senegal: the first Australia embassy in Francophone Africa. We have established diplomatic relations with every nation in Africa as well as the African Union.
Our aid has grown such that we now provide more than half a billion dollars in development assistance to Africa which represents a quadrupling in our aid contribution to Africa since 2007.
There remain very great challenges facing Africa.
Africa is still poor. Humanitarian crises still afflict the continent. In recent years we have seen another famine in the Horn of Africa and the drought in the Sahel is currently the world’s largest humanitarian emergency, with 18 million people exposed to potentially fatal food shortages.
The breakdown in governance in northern Mali is deeply concerning. Terrorist organizations are on the march in this part of the world and the prospect of such entities using the breakdown of order as an opportunity to establish bases there is very real. And a recent coup in Guinea-Bissau is a reminder of the use of this means of gaining power which sadly characterised much of Africa’s past.
But even on the question of peace and security, Africa can tell an optimistic story. Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone are all emerging from conflict. Despite the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan the parties are at least talking.
There are concerns in the Democratic Republic of Congo but at the same time many thousands of Africans serving under the banner of the UN are making a difference in the DRC. And the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is an entirely African endeavour consisting of several thousand peacekeepers from African nations that is providing Somalia with more hope of a peaceful future than it has had in a quarter of a century.
Spending four days at the African Union Summit last week it was impossible not to be struck by the optimism of Africa. You had a sense that if Africa can meet its peace and security challenges the potential for the continent is almost limitless.
Thirty per cent of the world’s mineral resources are in Africa, yet only 5 per cent of mineral exploitation is occurring on the African continent. Sixty per cent of the world’s unused arable land is in Africa. There is much upside in the future of Africa and Australia is poised to play a big part in it. In the process of helping Africa meet its destiny Australia will also be a significant beneficiary.
In Australia’s world view, the place of Africa is growing larger by the day. Be it peace and security assistance, aid, commercial engagement or diplomatic relations, Australia is becoming deeply immersed in Africa. At every level we have bought into Africa’s future and we are there to stay.
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