KIGALI – The dream that the twenty-first century will be the “African Century” is powerful and intoxicating. It is also becoming reality. As African officials gather in Washington, DC, on August 4-6 for the first US-Africa Leaders Summit, it is worth considering the basis – and the limits – of the continent’s progress.
While conflict and poverty remain serious problems in many African regions, our continent is not only more stable than ever before; it is also experiencing some of the highest economic growth rates anywhere on the planet. Over the past decade, tens of millions of people across Africa have joined the middle class; our cities are expanding rapidly; and our population is the most youthful in the world.
But Africans must not take it for granted that their time has come. Words are cheap, and, despite the continent’s positive momentum, we know that history is littered with squandered dreams – nowhere more so than in Africa.
So there is much that we in Africa must do to seize our opportunity. Building bigger, more integrated sub-regional markets that are deeply embedded in the global economy is one of the most urgent tasks that we are facing. After all, from the European Union to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to the North American Free Trade Agreement, we see how geographic regions can create conditions for shared growth and prosperity by removing barriers to commerce, harmonizing regulatory norms, opening labor markets, and developing common infrastructure.