Obama declares first US-Africa summit an ‘extraordinary event’

Posted on August 21, 2014

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The first summit between the US and nearly all African countries was declared an overall success on Thursday by President of the United States, Barack Obama.

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The US President called it an “extraordinary event” when the curtain came down after three days on Wednesday night when Washington’s most posh hotels and key government buildings were temporarily but heavily African.

On the occasion, Obama declared the US had generated USD 37 billion in new investments for Africa in sectors including infrastructure, electricity, public health and security. Another USD 110 million annual support to the African Union peacekeeping efforts have been revealed.

“I got the impression that African leaders actually enjoyed the summit, particularly interacting with businesses,” African Union Commission Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told reporters on Thursday. “At most of these summits you are not offered that opportunity. Leaders were saying that is was what was unique about this summit.”

That was certainly one of Obama’s priorities as he steps up his country’s engagement with his Kenyan father’s continent and tries to catch up with China, Africa’s biggest trading partner.

A statement by the Presidency quoted President Jacob Zuma of South Africa upon his return on Thursday, “The US-Africa Leaders Summit has reshaped the relationship between Africa and the US and augurs well for co-operation for mutual benefit into the future.” At the summit, a great majority of the African Union’s 54 countries were represented by presidents and prime ministers, and a monarch in Swaziland’s case,

It was preceded by a successful ministerial forum of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) passed by Congress in 2000, and arguably the friendliest US legislation from Africa’s standpoint in recent history.

Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe was one of three invited African presidents who did not attend.

Obama announced that the first US-Africa Leaders Summit would not be the last. “This will be an ongoing event,” he told a news conference, prefacing his remarks with an apology to the people of Washington and thanking them for the forbearance they showed during traffic jams, road closures and tight security, all caused by the summit.

Obama said he would encourage his successor, when he steps down in January 2017, to keep the US-Africa summits going.

The leaders examined how to work together to advance trade and investment relations, particularly in infrastructure and energy, transforming African economies and integrating the global value chains. The importance of quality and timely service delivery was emphasized.

Regional integration, it was agreed, must be accelerated not just as a social imperative but as an economic necessity. President Obama pledged to support continental integration initiatives while contributing to building capacity to facilitate intra-continental trade as well as negotiating contractual agreements with investors to enhance beneficiation from local resource exploitation.

During the dialogue with almost 50 African leaders in attendance, they articulated in unison the support to curb the illicit financial flows from Africa. Mechanisms will be established to build the capacities of African states to monitor and limit the illicit flow of funds through tax evasion and other unacceptable methods.

The leaders focused on systemic security challenges and threats and how to address them more effectively at the regional and continental levels. They agreed to enhance regional cooperation, crisis prevention and support to African early warning mechanisms. The US will assist countries that have already indicated their willingness to form part of the rapid deployment capacities and peacekeeping. President Obama announced an annual contribution of USD 110 million to support the African Union’s peacekeeping initiatives in countries like Somalia and the Central African Republic. The US will also support capacity development to build strong and professional security forces.

Billions of dollars in contracts have been up for grabs at similar meetings set up by US rivals, but Washington seems confident about catching up. Only one percent of US exports go to Africa, a statistic President Obama seems bent on changing.

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