CAPE TOWN, South Africa – A U.S.-Africa business summit ended Friday with a rebuke from Uganda’s president that the West was more interested in exploiting than nurturing the resources of the world’s poorest continent.
President Yoweri Museveni said industrialized countries were wrong to place a higher value on Africa’s rich raw materials than on its 900 million people, who should no longer be considered aid recipients but potential consumers.
“The greatest enemy of business in the world is under-consumption,” Museveni told a gathering of hundreds of senior executives from companies including Coca-Cola Co. and Chevron Corp. “If they were consuming enough you would be much richer than you are now.”
Africa is experiencing its highest rates of growth and lowest levels of inflation in 30 years, and stable democracies have become the norm rather than the exception.
China and India have led the rush for influence and investment on a continent that is both rich in natural resources and offers huge untapped potential in consumer demand, leaving the United States scrambling behind.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson said the U.S.-Africa business summit, organized by the Corporate Council on Africa, was proof that international companies realize Africa is becoming an active player in the global economy.
“Investors see attractive direct, portfolio and equity investment opportunities all across the continent,” he said.
“These results demonstrate the immediate impact of good leadership,” he said, adding that African leaders still needed to do more to fight corruption and mismanagement, boost respect for human rights, and spread economic progress more widely.
“Africa needs properly regulated and well-functioning financial markets,” he said, adding that included legal structures to protect property and investors’ rights.
He said research showed that lack of access to finance was one of the biggest constraints on private sector growth in Africa – less than 20 percent of Africans have a bank account.
He said the example of the telecommunications industry showed Africa’s potential. It is the fastest growing mobile-phone market in the world, and the penetration level has grown from practically nothing to more than 20 percent in the space of a few years, he said.
Paulson addressed the closing dinner of the conference during a three-nation African tour. He will attend a meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from the G-20 group of industrialized and big developing countries just outside Cape Town at the weekend.
A World Bank report Wednesday said African economic growth had averaged 5.4 percent over the past decade thanks to high commodity and oil prices, which have led to a boom in oil producing countries such as Nigeria and Angola. Some 25 countries have growth rates of more than 3 percent.
Despite the economic progress and the spread of stable democracies, Africa receives less than 3 percent of global foreign direct investment, and most of it is linked to oil.
Uganda’s Museveni said lack of infrastructure remained one of the biggest obstacles. He said that if Western governments and private companies wouldn’t invest in the construction of dams for hydroelectric power, for instance, then Africa would do it alone.
Museveni’s sound economic policies have made Uganda one of the darlings of the West. He also has won acclaim for his dogged insistence on education and training as the key to future prosperity.
But in his speech at the closing dinner, Museveni made it clear that Uganda and other African countries owed the West no favors.
“Africa has been hemorrhaging resources,” he said. “It is a misnomer that the West is helping Africa. This is not true.”
He said Uganda, the world’s fourth-biggest coffee exporter, received $1 per kilogram of coffee. The beans were then roasted and ground in London and sold for $20, he said.
“For each 1 kilogram of coffee, we are donating $19,” he said. “We have been doing this for a long time. But we are fighting it. We are going to change.”