Economic prosperity for Africa, too

Posted: Jun 17, 2003 12:00 AM

News from Africa and the Middle East these days could have been written by Charles Dickens: In terms of problems, it is the worst of times, but in terms of opportunities for peace and democratic development, it is also the best of times.

It is painful to read of the ongoing AIDS epidemic, a bloody civil war in the Congo and Ivory Coast, and daily headlines about new killings, dislocated families and malnourished and starving children, all in the context of a global recession. But for those who follow news from Africa on a daily basis, there is also reason for hope.

Strong leadership is emerging on the continent of Africa with an even stronger chance for advancing the transition toward democracy, trade and economic development. Coinciding with the recent flood of bad news, The Washington Post ran two important articles on Africa last week. One written by Secretary of State Colin Powell about the Millennium Challenge Account initiative is titled "Aid for the Enterprising." The other, written by Post columnist David Ignatius, was headlined "Turning Africa Around."

As a longtime student of Gen. George C. Marshall's, Will Clayton's and Ludwig Erhard's efforts in post-World-War-II Europe, I believe that while there are differences between now and then, there are also important lessons that can be applied to the Middle East and Central Asia, and to Africa, as well. A recent Wall Street Journal editorial talked about applying free-market principles to Iraq to create an Iraqi "wirtschaftswunder," or economic miracle. We don't need a miracle; we just need to apply sound economic principles.

In his op-ed column, Powell wrote: "Lifting humanity out of poverty is one of the greatest moral challenges of the 21st century." He also proposed a framework in which to meet the challenge: the Bush administration's MCA initiative that would use the offer of American aid to challenge countries to adopt free-market and democratic reforms.

I also envision a 21st century Marshall Plan for the Middle East and Central Asia, but there is no reason why it cannot be applied to Africa, too. In addition to Powell's insights, Ignatius also suggested several intriguing and progressive ideas that include allowing all products from Africa to enter the United States duty-free and quota-free. I support his suggestion of allowing U.S. businesses investing in Africa to repatriate their profits tax-free for a five- or 10-year period as a means of kick-starting capital investment in Africa. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni summed up the essence of these proposals nicely when he said, "Ultimately, we don't need aid, we need trade."

Ghana's President John Kufuor accepted the challenge of adopting free-market and democratic reforms during a recent speech when he said, "Good governance will be the guiding principle on the continent." In this effort, African leaders may want to call upon experts who have traveled down this road before so as to avoid repeating the same mistakes of those who have gone before them.

One such expert who comes immediately to mind is Hernando de Soto, the president of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy and author of  The Mystery of Capital.   De Soto has helped numerous countries, such as his home nation of Peru, Egypt and Mexico grapple with turning "dead" assets into "live" capital by helping formalize rules for contracts and titles to property. De Soto and I are planning a trip to Afghanistan in the fall at the invitation of President Hamed Karzai.

Also, two meetings this summer will take place that will be profoundly important. The first is the Sixth Leon H. Sullivan Summit, formerly the African-African American Summit, which will take place in the Nigerian capital of Aduja in July. I will attend this summit, along with the organization's new chairman and longtime civil rights activist Ambassador Andrew Young.

In July, the African Union will hold its second Heads of State and Government Conference in Maputo, Mozambique, which I hope to visit, as well. The AU seeks to bring peace and political stability to Africa by achieving greater social, economic and regional integration on the African continent. To help realize this vision for Africa, the AU seeks to establish a regional parliament, adopt a single currency, increase reliance on free-market economies and bolster private investment for all 54 African countries.

When I go to Africa next month and Afghanistan in the fall, I will carry a message that there is reason to hope. Not only will I attempt to convey to Africa and the Middle East that America cares about these areas, I also want to carry the message that the Bush administration's MCA initiative creates a framework in which the good intentions of Africans, Muslims and Americans can be forged into a working plan of economic growth and democratic development that will extend from Kabul across the Middle East to Jerusalem and on to the Cape of Good Hope.