I will take the opportunity today to pick on Robert Hormats, the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment. While I recall hearing him delivering incredibly uninspiring remarks in person about two years ago (a colleague of mine said he sounded like a ‘political hack’), I want to focus today on his recent comments at the World Economic Forum in Pretoria, South Africa, which I find more irksome than uninspiring.
In his prepared remarks, Hormats focuses on the “extent to which the (economic) image of Africa has changed.” He dwells on the changing perceptions of the Economist, a magazine that also irks me for the prestige it has accumulated without managing to bring much of anything new to the table.
Hormats criticizes African nations for their ‘thick borders’ that hinder international trade. This may be true, but given our nation’s incredibly tight visa regime that makes it impossible for many Africans to visit the US, this kind of strikes me as the pot calling the kettle black. Hormats than notes that AGOA, which I am always hearing about, only consists of $5 billion in annual non-petroleum exports. This seems like a pretty miniscule figure to be generating all this hoopla to me.
Hormats states the US government has recently launched the “Doing Business in Africa Campaign” (I’m sad to say I don’t know it, so some research is in order). The campaign was launched in South Africa because the country “can play a prominent role in directing U.S. investment into other parts of the continent.”
What the heck does that mean? All I can think from that statement is that old, rich white men (which I may or may not be one day) in US boardrooms may feel more at ease dealing with old, rich white South African men as they are found in greater supply in South Africa than elsewhere on the continent.
Hormats concludes his remarks with the dangerously sweeping statement that “what is good for Africa is good for America. And what is good for America is good for Africa.”[i] Was US support for Mobutu in Zaire good for Africa? Our support for Savimbi in Angola? Is our support for Blaise Compaore good for Burkina Faso? Conversely, President Mutharika in Malawi, a former World Bank official, was reviled by the West at the time of his death, despite his enormous gain in food security.
I recently received an e-mail from Karen Bass stating that the House is debating a resolution on “Increasing American Jobs through Greater Exports to Africa Act of 2013.” The bill’s sponsor, Bobby Rush, echoes Hormats, stating “the United States will move forward by helping Africa to move forward.”
Capitalism must really be in crisis if we are now dependent on increased African consumption to help pull the US out of its economic malaise (and Bob Hormats is admitting to it nonetheless!).
[i] He prefaces this with the words ‘enhanced trade’, but I think that’s a pretty meaningless distinction.