Our hopes for President Obama’s trip to Africa

Photo credit: Associated Press

All eyes will be on Africa this week as Obama makes his second — and first multi-day, multi-country – trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president. His focus will be on the growth of economic vitality, the importance of democracy and the progress that has been made in fighting disease and hunger.

President Obama can highlight the incredible progress that so many countries on the continent are making – including massive gains in health and agriculture – and demonstrate how the less than 1 percent of our budget that goes toward aid to Africa can make a huge difference to those in need. He also can highlight the need to look at our partnership with the continent in a new way – through trade, investment and the incredible entrepreneurial spirit of Africa’s youth.

Here are a few things we will be looking out for during his visits to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania:

Energy Poverty
Today, more than 550 million African citizens – that’s 7 in 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa -lack access to even the most basic electricity. This severely hampers modern medical services, job opportunities, the ability to get a decent education, and efforts to strengthen women’s empowerment. Energy access is key to economic growth on the continent. Increased access will expand opportunities for investment and growth and create the conditions necessary to help countries to lift themselves out of poverty. When the President visits the Ubungo Power Plant in Tanzania on July 1, he’ll see the transformative power of energy – and we’re hopeful that he’ll address what both public and private institutions can do to responsibly address this disparity.

Global Health
While we’ve seen incredible progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, without a heightened sense of urgency and sustained collective action from donors and affected countries alike, an AIDS-free generation will remain unattainable. Recently, the administration announced that PEPFAR support has saved 1 million babies from HIV infection — one of many historic milestones achieved in the last decade through programs such as PEPFAR and the Global Fund. We hope that President Obama’s visit to a community center in Cape Town will showcase the lifesaving impacts that his Administration’s investments have had and that he will make the case to continue bipartisan support for global health programs in order to finally end the pandemic. Equally important, we hope he will highlight the leadership role the South African government has played in financing its own domestic health challenges.

Global Assistance
In tough economic times, it’s worth reminding the American public that our entire foreign aid budget is less than 1 percent of the federal budget, not 20 percent as commonly assumed…and the Africa portion is just a fraction of that. We at ONE are pleased that US assistance to Africa is rising, even as overall aid budgets are flat (as seen in our newly released 2013 DATA Report). We’re already seeing a huge return on investment from programs such as Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, which leverages resources and to combat hunger. But in order to help the poorest countries accelerate progress on the MDGs, this momentum must be maintained. President Obama should push other donors to reverse cuts to Africa, and push African governments to commit much more of their own resources and put in place strong, transparent processes to ensure that they are used effectively.

Africa is a continent full of young entrepreneurs and business leaders — the great generation that Nelson Mandela spoke of in Trafalgar Square — ready to take the lead. It’s in our moral, economic and strategic interests to participate in the rise of Africa – and we shouldn’t take our foot off the gas now.