African heads of state, other high-level policymakers, and business leaders traveled to Washington for a three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which ends Thursday. The Biden administration boldly billed the summit, the second iteration since the Obama administration’s inaugural event in 2014, as a defining moment for U.S. policy toward the region.
Regrettably, other than a series of flashy announcements, President Joe Biden seemed intent on a bloated approach of talking and checking diplomatic boxes, with the summit full of big-picture promises and repeated emphasis on “deals.”
Biden, in fact, declared that “the United States is all in on Africa’s future.”
Notably, upon announcing the Africa summit while in Morocco in July, Vice President Kamala Harris underscored that it would showcase America’s “enduring commitment to Africa” and seek to address barriers to trade and investment there, including “limited access to capital, the high cost of financing, and legal and regulatory bottlenecks.”
Indeed, policies that promote economic freedom matter to Africa more than ever, and Washington and African leaders should be more candid and proactive about that.
American aid continues to flow to Africa. However, a renewed American effort to promote economic freedom in Africa should be a central part of the long-term U.S. mission to assist African countries.
Economic freedom is the long-term solution to the continent’s weak health security capacities and many other challenges. The dearth of economic freedom in Africa correlates with the lack of food security and poor nutrition, which directly relates to political instability, high infant mortality rates, outbreaks of disease, childhood learning disabilities, and occasional famines.
As The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom has reminded us annually since 1995, preserving and advancing economic freedom is about empowering people and ensuring real, lasting progress by unleashing greater opportunities. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.)
The Index of Economic Freedom has demonstrated the undeniable links among economic freedom, individual liberty, and prosperity in nations around the world. The facts are indisputable: Free markets and free people work hand in hand to increase prosperity and quality of life. Freer economies also have led the world in innovation and economic growth, and governments in those nations have been made increasingly accountable to those they govern.
Perhaps not surprisingly, countries with freer markets tend to be more resilient in times of crisis and more capable of handling challenging external shocks. Thanks to free-market incentives and the flexibility to respond to changing conditions that come with less government central planning, these countries have the widest availability of food, medicine, and other crucial necessities.
As the 2022 Index of Economic Freedom emphasizes, Africa can do much more to advance economic freedom and liberate its many entrepreneurs. The U.S., however, cannot give countries in Africa the political will needed to transform their economies according to greater openness, transparency, accountability, and good governance, both political and economic.
That may still be a tall order to many countries in Africa, but America can, through consistent policy dialogues with African partners and by providing technical help for reform-minded countries, support the cause of economic freedom there.
In his speech Wednesday at a summit event called the U.S.-Africa Business Forum, Biden highlighted more than $15 billion in two-way trade and investment commitments, deals, and partnerships with dozens of American companies in fields such as clean energy, internet access, gender equality, and agriculture, among others.
Yet the U.S. should step up its own game more considerably. The Biden administration’s evolving efforts to become more deeply engaged in Africa, raise the American profile, and elevate its participation on the continent are welcome. However, without a discernible, real trade component—particularly America’s global leadership in building a predictable trading environment—it would be an empty gesture.
To that end, it was a step forward for the U.S. to ink a memorandum of understanding with the new African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat to explore trade and investment opportunities between Africa and America. But in practice, the nonbinding memorandum is largely a symbolic and diplomatic gesture, which surely will add to the time it takes for negotiations to reach a real trade deal.
Going beyond the memorandum of understanding and other feel-good promises, the proven right way forward lies in advancing free-market policies that enhance overall economic freedom in Africa as well as here at home.
Indeed, cultivating broad-based and capable private sectors nurtured by the rule of law, market openness, and regulatory efficiency—key ingredients of economic freedom—should be the foundation of America’s lasting strategy for practical engagement with Africa or other parts of the world.
This is far more important than big talk that will evaporate and “woke” public diplomacy that increasingly has undermined America’s foreign policy and national interests.
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