Thomas Barnett urges the U.S. government to look beyond foreign aid and debt forgiveness when trying to spur improvements in Africa's standard of living.

Let me clue you in on something: When the average Western businessman goes to Africa, he sees bad environment, bad infrastructure, bad climate, and bad governance. And guess what? He's not particularly inclined to invest his money. But when the average Chinese or Indian businessman goes to Africa, he sees all the same things and thinks to himself, "Hmmm, not that different from home. I can make a lot of profit happen here!" Ditto for a lot of Arab money looking to reassert itself throughout Africa in the manner of centuries past (hint: Europeans weren't the only colonial masters).

My point is this: Africans aren't waiting for the West to finally decide to connect it up to the global economy. Asia has already beaten us to the punch, and for a lot of good reasons.


A recent World Bank study made this point in spades. It detailed how foreign direct investments from China and India, while overwhelmingly concentrated in extractive industries (energy, minerals, agriculture), are both growing rapidly and diversifying to the point where African economies are being integrated into buyer-driven network chains (think Wal-Mart) and producer-driven network chains (think Toyota). The rise of such "network trade" (largely within multinational corporations) means that Asia is starting to do to Africa what America once did to Asia: pulling new sources of cheap labor into the lower ends of global production chains, all while moving itself up the ladder into higher-tech (and thus higher-paying) jobs.

Too exploitative for your tastes? Perhaps you'd prefer Africans still picking cotton decades from now and calling that "development." Africa is only 30 percent urbanized today, or roughly where China was when it began its great rise thanks to Deng Xiaoping. Africa is expected to be half urbanized within a generation's time, so tell me: What do you expect all those new urban laborers to do?