The head of a US government agency that helps private companies do business in the developing world is in Kenya with a plan seeking to enable the US to better compete with China’s investments in Africa.
Ray Washburne, president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (Opic), arrived on July 21st and is expected to meet with Kenyan officials to outline his agency’s three-year, $1 billion “Connect Africa” initiative.
Opic is specifically seeking to support the 470-kilometre, $3 billion Nairobi-Mombasa expressway whose building is scheduled to begin this month under contract with the US-based engineering company Bechtel.
In addition to Connect Africa’s backing for transportation and communications projects on the continent, Mr Washburne will likely tout a proposal moving through Congress to vastly expand Opic’s portfolio.
“The Chinese are in with ports and railroads and highways – things that we need to be in as a competitor,” Mr Washburne said last week during a stop in South Africa.
He also repeated Trump administration’s warnings that China’s $126 billion “Belt and Road” investment initiative is saddling African countries with crushing debts.
The new legislation recently approved by the US House would double Opic’s access to US government credits to a total of $60 billion.
The Trump team’s support for the scale-up marks a turnaround in the White House’s approach to both Opic and Africa.
President Trump had previously sought to kill Opic.
He has also offered few positive remarks about Africa and has not launched any US programme of the size and scope of President Clinton’s Agoa trade preferences, President George W. Bush’s anti-Aids initiative and President Barack Obama’s plan to bring electricity to some unlit parts of the continent.
The proposal soon to be debated in the US Senate aims to modernise the financial tools available to Opic, which has not been substantially overhauled since its launch in 1971.
The agency would also be renamed the International Development Finance Corporation to highlight its primary purpose of helping US businesses make much greater investments in Africa and other capital-poor regions of the world.
Independent analysts of US development policy are offering positive appraisals of the legislation, which could be signed into law this year.
“A new modernised agency is necessary because private finance, rather than aid, is the future,” former Opic head Rob Mosbacher Jnr wrote recently.
“Foreign aid is the appropriate tool for tackling health challenges and responding to humanitarian crises,” Mr Mosbacher asserted in a Forbes magazine commentary co-authored with Todd Moss, a senior figure at the Washington-based Centre for Global Development.
“Development finance — or the deployment of commercial capital for public policy purposes — is the most potent weapon we have to expand markets, spread the benefits of capitalism and spur private sector growth,” the analysts added.
Mr Washburne has also hailed the legislation, which he described in a statement last week as “essential.”
With its implementation, he said, “the US government will be better equipped to drive economic growth in emerging markets and provide an alternative to state-directed initiatives that can leave developing countries worse off.”