One of the more than 200 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 was freed last week. While the other girls remain prisoners of the ISIS-aligned terrorist group, this single liberation is inspiring. It represents the power of persistence. In particular, it should remind us of the necessity of positive American engagement in Africa. That matters because a rising tide of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders-inspired isolationists wants America to retreat from Africa and other parts of the world.
Instead we must acknowledge how far Africa has come in the past 10 years and how instrumental the United States has been in guiding that continental journey.
Consider Africa’s dramatic reduction of poverty and expansion of economic opportunity. Thanks to verifiable, well-managed U.S. aid programs, Africans across the continent are benefiting from targeted investments. Whether in reducing child mortality rates from diseases such as Malaria and HIV/AIDs, or in bolstering access to quality education or in laying the infrastructure necessary for sustained economic growth, Americans have saved hundreds of thousands of African lives and improved hundreds of millions more. We have done so with a relatively limited annual investment (less than 1 percent of the federal budget).
But note something else. Africans are grateful to America for all we’ve done. In a Pew poll last summer, massive majorities in African nations expressed a favorable attitude toward the United States. It’s easy to understand why: these peoples — some of the most impoverished globally — have seen an exceptional nation in America’s sustained support.
American assistance has also made Africa more secure than it was a decade ago. Although President Obama’s humanitarian record is exceptionally weak, and we could do much more to confront terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, U.S. efforts have improved the security situation across much of the continent. Consider, for one, the U.S.-brokered peace agreement that ended an exceptionally brutal civil war in Sudan. Or contemplate Tunisia’s improved ability to challenge domestic terrorists. Or just think about the state of Somalia today. That long afflicted nation remains unstable, but it is providing a semblance of security against criminal gangs and Al-Shabaab terrorists. These things matter. And without the United States, they almost certainly would not have been possible.
Moreover, while we often regard U.S. security operations as risky and expensive, Africa proves how small groups of Americans achieve great things. The utility of 12-member U.S. Army Special Forces A-Teams in training, advising and assisting African security forces offers an especially good example here.
Yet ultimately, our continued support for African development should find motivation in a more simple understanding: our support serves our own economic and security interests. After all, if African nations continue to move toward rule of law, economic dynamism and improved social stability, their success will mean fewer war zones and terrorists for us to confront. It will mean access to more markets for American goods and services.
To be sure, helping Africans in each nation build this better future won’t occur overnight. There will be challenges and disappointments ahead. But the alternative is an Africa where China continues to bleed the poor of opportunity, and one in which groups like Boko Haram continue shape innocent young lives towards misery.
In short, it would be an Africa devoid of American interests and American ideals.
Tom Rogan is a Senior Contributor to Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.