By Anita Powell
How big is the U.S. commitment to Africa?
Let us count the ways, says Victoria Whitney, chief operating officer of the Prosper Africa initiative, launched in 2018. She says that in the past year, the initiative, which spans 17 U.S. government agencies, has facilitated more than $22 billion worth of deals in more than 30 African countries, with agreements focusing on small and medium-sized African businesses.
This week, she announced new measures that aim to harness private U.S. investment and pour it into African entrepreneurship.
“This new continent-wide program is going to provide a really wide range of services – think business consulting and transition facilitation, targeted policy interventions, really the core tenets of the Prosper Africa Initiative – and is expected to deliver billions more dollars in exports and investment and create hundreds of thousands of jobs by 2026,” she told journalists in a teleconference. “I really think this new program is going to be a game changer.”
Prosper Africa is one of many U.S. government initiatives aimed at bringing private investment into the continent.
The International Development Finance Corporation is the federal government’s development finance institution. It works on financing private development projects in lower- and middle-income countries. Since its launch at the beginning of 2020, it has invested more than $8 billion in 300 projects in Africa, along with the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is working on $10 billion worth of deals.
“Adam Boehler, Prosper Africa’s executive chair as well as CEO of the DFC, he describes it really well in the way that he does,” Whitney said. “He said, for years we lacked the type of investment infrastructure to really be on the board. And when people would sort of say, where is the United States, well, we didn’t have the best answer. But because of the BUILD Act, because of Prosper Africa, we do have an answer. We’re saying, we’re new but we’re big time, as he had said, and you’re going to see much, much more from us.”
Martyn Davies, managing director of emerging markets and Africa at Deloitte, told VOA he’s noticed an increase in private investment initiatives from American investors, and that it makes sense.
“I think there was previously a lot stronger interest in the infrastructure, and infrastructure assets, but I think the challenges of navigating through often challenging public-sector bureaucracies … has resulted in a dampening, I think, to an extent, of some of the infrastructure plays,” he said. “I think, however, going forward, I think U.S. multinationals remain incredibly well positioned, especially in terms of brand recognition and the like, toward the African continent.”
Sean Cairncross, CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, another U.S. government initiative, is working to build a global investment platform to attract U.S. capital to Africa. Investing in African entrepreneurs, he said, just makes sense, and aligns with this administration’s foreign policy.
“This partnership is well-aligned with our key priorities, which is seeking new and innovative opportunities for blended finance,” he said. “It’s a priority that this administration is, like I say, 100% behind and the interagency coordination on this is, I think, an unheralded piece of the Trump administration’s foreign development push.”
Whitney acknowledges that the world of investment seems abstract and complicated. So, she said, here’s a real-life example of how the program has worked for one Ghanaian entrepreneur:
“Eugenia Akuete first started a shea cosmetics company, and she turned to USAID for technical assistance as well as some market intelligence, matchmaking, and networking support,” Whitney said. “And then she also received seed capital and technical assistance from USADF, both Prosper Africa leading partners. And she attended numerous USAID-sponsored training sessions and conferences.”
Today, she said, Akuete’s products are available in more than 1,000 Target stores in the U.S. And on the continent, 10,000 shea nut pickers have jobs.