There are many ways to express this. Take, for example, a recent analysis by The Economist, which found that in the first decade of this century six of the world's ten fastest growing economies were in Sub-Saharan Africa. Economists expect these trends to deepen, with some predicting 7 percent average growth for the continent over the next 20 years, which is more even than what is projected for China.
One would never know this from reading America's mainstream media, which provides almost no African business coverage and seems resolutely stuck on stories like Somalia, rape in Congo and Sudan (which until recently meant Darfur), all important enough to be sure, but not so important as to justify obscuring the much bigger picture of growth, regional integration and accelerating connection with the global economy.
While the United States maintains its traditional focus on Africa as basket case, China, for one, heartily embraces the continent. This is not because of any benevolent mission, much less because of any "Yellow Man's Burden." Many focus on China's interest in Africa's immense storehouse of natural resources. This is important, to be sure, but it is far from the entire picture. China has returned to the continent big time in equal measure because it sees Africa, whose population will double by mid-century, as the future. Yes, you got that right. Africa and its growing markets, its booming middle classes, its massive need for new infrastructure, and its ability to sustain rapid growth, quite unlike the indebted and aging West, is the future.
Pursuing its competitive advantage, which stems from its own huge build-out, China has focused heavily on infrastructure. Chinese companies are building roads and ports, stadiums and new government ministries, bridges and new power stations here at a historic clip. Along the way, the have also built any number of new African airports. On this trip alone I have taken off from glistening new Chinese-built structures in Addis Ababa and Maputo. What my travel tells me, though, is that even more than these "hard" assets, Africa is in need of vastly greater "soft" connectivity.
Airports are great, but on a continent where people fly, as some of my seat-mates on this itinerary have, from Washington to Addis Ababa in order to get to Lagos, what is needed most are flights -- many more flights -- both between the U.S. and Africa (there are currently precious few), and between African countries themselves. Africa is woefully under-endowed in international air routes and connections, and for a United States that is unable to compete with China in bridge and tunnel construction, this pitches to an American strength. Boeing, remember, is the country's largest exporter.
Beyond good business, connecting the United States to Africa with more robust air networks is a smart way of enhancing American soft power on the continent, linking the continent's rising middle classes with the United States, and making it easier for American business people, and not just aid workers, to reach new markets.