Despite its problems, Africa has economic potential

Former Atlantan Julius Coles sees great potential in the continent of Africa. But poverty and disease threaten to destroy that potential.

Coles, president of Washington D.C.-based Africare, was the International Day speaker at the Atlanta Rotary Club on Monday. Africare is largest non-governmental organization focused exclusively on Africa.

Hundreds of millions Africans live on less than $2 a day, Coles said. Since 1981, 25 million people have died worldwide of HIV/AIDs, with 15 milion of those in Africa. Combine those problems with malaria, starvation, draught and foreign debt.

“These statistic are not very encouraging,” Coles said.

But there’s also opportuntiy. By 2050, Africa will have one of the world’s youngest populations with only 20 percent of its people older than 60. Many nations in Africa are growing at more than 5 percent a year, faster than most established economies.

And Africa has an abundant amount of natural resources, a fact that China and India have quickly discovered.

For all those reasons, it is strategically important for the United States to develop stronger relations with African countries.

Cole credited former President George W. Bush for doing just that.

“He tripled U.S. assistance to Africa between 2001 and 2006,” Coles said.

But Coles said United States could do much more.

By the way, Coles was introduced by Dr. Louis Sullivan, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services who is a longtime colleague. Both went to Morehouse College and both went to the same elementary school and high school.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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