The African Century

By David J. O'Reilly, Chairman and CEO
ChevronTexaco Corporation

2004 Africare Bishop John T. Walker Memorial Dinner

Washington, D.C., November 5, 2004

Greetings, and welcome to the Africare's 2004 Bishop John T. Walker Memorial Dinner, the largest annual event for Africa in the United States. It's an honor to serve as your national chair.

Each of you here tonight can take deep pride in your support for Africare and its mission of aid to Africa. Tonight's proceeds, reflecting our "Through the Eyes of a Child" theme this year, will support initiatives aimed at improving African lives for generations to come. In fact, I just learned from my friend Julius Coles that this dinner has raised nearly $1 million, right on target for our goal. So congratulations to Africare and to all of you.

I'd like to recognize, among our many distinguished guests here tonight, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Secretary Powell is a strong supporter of Africa and of improving the quality of life for the people there. Last year, employees of ChevronTexaco's Nigeria affiliate were deeply honored when he presented them with the U.S. Secretary of State's Award for Corporate Excellence. The award recognized the steps the company has taken to be a good corporate citizen and a responsible business partner.

It was a proud moment for all of us at ChevronTexaco. And we thank Secretary Powell, once again, for this great honor.

I'd also like to salute those who represent Africa in our nation's capital, including members of the African ambassadorial corps. Your presence here is a welcome reminder of Africa's many contributions to our lives and helps draw our world closer together.

Tonight, we are recognizing two very special people: the Honorable Richard Lugar and the Honorable Donald Payne.

Sen. Lugar was a leader in passing the Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986, in authoring the original African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in 2000, and in advocating a larger U.S. role in fighting HIV/AIDS.

Rep. Payne, the first African American congressman from New Jersey, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and an AGOA III co-sponsor, serves as the ranking member of the House Africa Subcommittee.

Both men have helped improve the lives of Africans and other people around the globe. Please join me in congratulating Sen. Lugar and Rep. Payne.

An African proverb goes, "a chattering bird builds no nest," so I better get on with what I have to say. Many analysts are predicting that powered by the booming Asia Pacific economies, this will be known as The Asian Century.

I believe, however, in the idea that this also can become The African Century. Let me restate that. I believe this also must become The African Century. Africa's potential is too great, its resources too broad and diverse, and its people too creative for it not to reach its full potential.

To be sure, Africa faces many challenges. Success will require patience, persistence and perseverance. But I am optimistic for three reasons: first, the encouraging signs of growth and democracy in Africa itself; second, the constructive role of business investment in expanding Africa's economy; and third, the success of private-public partnerships in African business and social investing.

Let's look at all three. Though it is often unheralded, African nations are making headway socially, economically, politically and environmentally. ChevronTexaco's board of directors recently visited, for the first time, Angola and South Africa. I've been a visitor to both countries many times before, and I was struck by the visible progress in both countries.

Ten years ago, most South African homes lacked electricity. On the streets, a visitor felt tension, apprehension and uncertainty. In Angola's case, there were constant reminders of the cost of conflict. You wondered whether either country could hold together.

Today in South Africa, you can literally see the improvement at night. Nearly 70 percent of households now have electricity. In Angola, with war behind it, you can hear the change in the hum of Luanda's busy traffic. There's still a long way to go, but there's a powerful sense of positive energy. You can see the basic building blocks of life being restored.

African nations have come together for good governance as members of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, or NEPAD, and of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

I am particularly encouraged by the recent creation of the African Leadership Council and its mission to spread reform across the continent. Next year, for example, the council, through its close ties to NEPAD, will begin holding seminars for cabinet ministers and government officials. Among other subjects, the curriculum covers the rule of law, ethics, fiscal management and the basics of modern economics.

Best of all, more African nations are turning to democracy. In fact, over the past decade, the number of democracies in Africa has doubled.

Now we all know that many of these democracies remain fragile. But I'm convinced that each one turns a significant page in the calendar of The African Century. And I believe that each one yields its own "democracy dividend," in the form of leaders who listen, social spending that responds to community needs, and open economies driven by free markets.

My second reason for optimism regarding The African Century is the way international business, in partnership with multilaterals, host governments and NGOs, is changing the shape and substance of its engagement with the developing world. Nowhere is this more evident than in Africa, where such private-public initiatives are having a positive impact in cities and villages throughout the continent. These efforts often address issues affecting entire regions or nations. They also reflect a profound shift in philosophy from, in Leon Sullivan's words, a "hand out to a hand up."

Two years ago, ChevronTexaco and a diverse group of partners, including Africare, through humanitarian work launched a $50 million initiative in Angola. Our collective goal was to create sustainable, scalable projects that could help the nation rebuild from its long civil war. One initiative alone - providing seeds, tools, food and technical aid to small farms - will have helped nearly 700,000 Angolans by the end of this year.

Sometimes I'm asked why business should care about seed planting or microlending. My answer is always the same: Business must care, not only for ethical and moral reasons, which I think we all share, but because it's in our own financial interest to care. In fact, I can't think of a single business advantage in people being poor. Not one.

My third reason for optimism about The African Century is my strong belief that business investment can provide the foundation for Africa's economic growth and development.

At a time when most of the world's fastest growing economies are net importers of energy, Africa ranks second only to the Middle East as an oil exporter. The United States, for example, now imports as much oil from Africa as from Saudi Arabia. We obtain more oil from Angola than from Kuwait.

In short, the world's thirst for energy is opening the taps on an enormous cash flow, and much of that flow is heading straight for Africa.

ChevronTexaco, as the largest U.S. investor in sub-Saharan Africa, plans with its partners to invest $20 billion in projects related to Africa over the next five years. This will mean more jobs for Africans, greater opportunities for African-owned businesses, and more tax dollars to support African schools, hospitals and clinics.

Others may disagree, but I believe that Africa is moving toward a brighter future and that for Africa in the 21st century, the best is yet to come.

All of us have a stake in that brighter future, in a healthy, growing Africa. But we must redouble our efforts now:

  • Corporations must continue to recognize that to achieve success, how we do business is as important as the business we do. We must remain steadfast in our commitment to improving the quality of life wherever we operate.
  • African governments must press ahead with reforms. They must realize the full potential of the "democracy dividend," by using that dividend wisely and well.
  • Multilaterals, particularly international financial institutions, must continue to support, accommodate and foster African economic growth by advocating lower trade and tariff barriers, reducing debt burdens, and nurturing local enterprise.
  • Finally, Africans themselves must not waver in their pursuit of progress. Whenever I visit, I am impressed by Africa's people - their warmth, their openness and, even in the face of adversity, their joyous appetite for life. Every day in the life of Africa is a day of accomplishment: the farmer bringing surplus crops to market, the African doctor bringing health care to a rural village, the teacher bringing education to a new generation of leaders, and the woman entrepreneur bringing her baking skills to the start-up of a successful restaurant.

Seen through a child's eyes, 100 years is a very, very long time. Seen through the lens of history, however, a century can fly by in an instant. So our task is urgent. I know each of you here tonight wants Africa to reach its full potential. And that's what gives me the greatest confidence of all. Working together, we can ensure that the 21st century will become The African Century.

Updated: November 2004