Africa is rapidly approaching unprecedented economic and demographic heights, demanding the attention of major world economic players. Seeking to find a place for the United States within Africa’s increasingly competitive future, National Security Advisor, John Bolton, revealed a new “Africa Strategy” in December 2018. Yet, nearly five months after the strategy’s announcement, there remains no new concrete economic policies, despite the plan’s emphasis on U.S. business development via an initiative dubbed “Prosper Africa.”

Neither Bolton nor the White House have issued follow-up “Prosper Africa” announcements, leaving the direction of the program unclear. During March visits to South Africa and Angola, Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan was keen on highlighting U.S. trade initiatives launched in the past several years—many of them substantial—but without mentioning what the “Prosper Africa” accomplishes or if relations between the U.S. and Africa have changed course. With the policy’s weak follow-through, it appears as a passive continuation from President Barack Obama’s policy—itself a continuation of previous long standing initiatives—without significant differences.

To reverse “Prosper Africa’s sluggish trajectory, its beginning phase should include three steps.

Keep the Delegations Coming: Productive 2018 US-Africa Cooperation Can Be Repeated

In July 2018, the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa (PAC-DBIA), headed by Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, sent a delegation to Ethiopia, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, and Ghana, which resulted in $1 billion of investment deals. Ross also led the group in the signing of economic cooperation agreements. The timing made sense: Kenya is the “Tiger economy” of East Africa with continued expected growth, Ethiopia has reformed its way towards free markets, Cote d’Ivoire expected to hit increases of 7-9% two years in a row, and Ghana contended for the title of the “World’s Fastest Growing Economy” in 2018.

In the wake of tapping into these successes, the “Prosper Africa” plan should launch new delegations into countries with similar prospects, particularly in East Africa, where China has placed most of its bets. Ethiopia and Kenya’s neighbors of Rwanda, Tanzania, Djibouti, and Uganda are also seeing strong growth as East Africa collectively became the continent’s fastest growing region in 2018. They would make an excellent trial run for the first true “Prosper Africa” delegation.

A new economic tour would have access to economic muscle; in October 2018, the U.S. Senate passed the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act which authorized up to $60 billion for developing world infrastructure. “Prosper Africa” could connect these funds to the rising stars of East Africa and become a real competitor with China.

Put in the Diplomats: Real Diplomats!

Shifting the U.S.’ economic weight into new countries requires reinvesting in and refocusing on the U.S. diplomatic corps and away from over-prioritizing on security. Historically, finance initiatives such as BUILD have incurred some mismanagement, highlighting the need for government presence on the ground to guide policy. As the State Department currently stands, any prospective “Prosper Africa” push would be hamstrung by a short-staffed team. Moreover, Trump’s nomination of a fashion designer mogul for US Ambassador to South Africa does not belay a strategy based on African diplomatic experience. Former CIA chief and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will need to shift his rhetoric and policy priority away from defense-dominated thinking and towards the goals of “Prosper Africa.” Think more handshakes, less coups.

After Damaging Gaffes, A Reset is Needed

Perhaps of all of the diplomatic fiascoes in the Trump State Department—likely the most controversy-prone and unconventional in its history—Africa has had possibly been treated the worst, particularly from the President himself, who has made repeated damaging comments, outright insults, and condescending remarks toward African leaders and countries. Firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson via Twitter while touring Africa was also not in the favor of U.S.’ image. To repair these poor optics, a renewed effort to show U.S. commitment is called for, perhaps in the form of Presidential visits with new, respective, and constructive dialogue.

The Risk of Inaction: A Diminished U.S. Presence is a Strategic Mistake

Without these steps, the “Prosper Africa” plan crumbles, laden with wishful thinking and locally meaningless politics that could have long-term negative outcomes. On the Trump administration’s terms of America First foreign policy, the act of pulling back or doing nothing at all damages U.S.-African relations and supersedes short-term gains.

As the world sends envoys, builds new embassies, and invests deeper into African economies, the U.S.’ unstructured and toothless approach increasingly risks passing an event horizon whereby relationships are scuttled semi-permanently or even for a generation. African governments and business leaders will not likely turn down new money or opportunities, but they may be quicker to turn to those who they trust through longer and ongoing economic relations, and those who show them with respect.

The initiative clearly remains with the Europeans and Chinese, who make up 48.7% and 25.6% share of world-Africa trade, respectively, compared with the U.S.’ 19.9%.  As other countries angle toward the $2.6 Trillion expected African revenue forecast by 2020, markets over 1.5 billion people by 2025, and African consumer spending growth at 4% a year, the U.S. government is moving slowly and remains far from closing the competitive gap. 

In the coming decades during African indigenous ascendance, at a point when the region’s main economies of Nigeria, South Africa, Angola, and Ethiopia elevate into supra-regional powers in their own right, the current prevailing dialogue’s focus on outsider involvement in Africa may one day be irrelevant, the U.S. a former player that came and went.

The time is now to follow-through on “Prosper Africa,” as the U.S. is the party with the most to lose.

About the author: Cameron Evers is the 2019 YPFP Africa Fellow. He is currently a Senior Intelligence Analyst at WorldAware, Inc., a global risk firm, where he advises a Fortune 500 financial company on geopolitical risk. Previously, Cameron researched for U.S. and Africa-based consultancies and publications with an emphasis on revolutionary movements, civil-military relations, and regime change. He has given talks on African politics within the U.S. government and universities. He holds a Master's degree in International Policy from the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs.

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.