Over the next decade, more than $1 trillion in natural resources will be extracted from the African continent. Currently, Africa exports more than $300 billion a year in oil, gas and mineral exports—more than four times the amount of aid the continent receives. But that money is not building roads, schools and hospitals for Africa’s people. In fact, booming extractives industries often lead to more poverty and powerlessness.
The people of Kedougou, Senegal, for instance, live atop a large scale gold-mining operation. Despite the riches found in their soil, none of it has been returned to their community. Many have lost access to the agricultural land that sustained their families, and many others did not even receive adequate compensation when they were forced off their lands without consultation.
United States President Barack Obama got it right four years ago when he said Africa’s future lies with Africa’s institutions. Now as he travels to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania, I hope he will use the opportunity to shine a bright light on the transparency and accountability shortfalls that perpetuate poverty and inequality on the continent.
Africa’s leaders need to be more open about how they spend their budgets, and what they do with fees and royalties from oil and mining companies operating on their soil. African citizens have a right to decide how to put their countries’ resources to work for their own futures. Let them claim their rights and fight for their own development.
For his part, the US president should lead by example, and release US government aid data. African citizens, as recipients of American aid, have a right to know whether this money is achieving real results—as does the American public. As one of the largest aid donors in the world, the United States should not be one of the least transparent.
On his last trip to Africa in 2009, Obama urged Africans to take more leadership of their own development. The US government need not make this harder than it should be. There is enormous value in the power of local people to decide how aid is spent, and how to lead their own development efforts in partnership with the US.
What Africa’s people want now is a fair new deal that gets the continent’s resources working for them. Support by Obama along this path will be warmly welcomed.
—The author is the executive director of Oxfam International based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.