Obama pledges investment and partnership with Africa

Unveils $33B effort in talk with leaders

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WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on Tues­day prom­ised more than $33 bil­lion in pub­lic and pri­vate in­vest­ments in Africa, pledg­ing that the United States wants to de­liver busi­ness and de­vel­op­ment to the rap­idly boom­ing con­ti­nent, where China al­ready has a mas­sive pres­ence.

Mr. Obama made the re­marks as he ad­dressed the U.S.-Africa Lead­ers Sum­mit, the first of its kind and the larg­est event any Amer­i­can pres­i­dent has held with African heads of state and gov­ern­ment. Coun­tries in­clud­ing China have held sim­i­lar events for years as they’ve sought ac­cess to African mar­kets for oil and other nat­u­ral re­sources.

But the United States, Mr. Obama in­sisted, wants a dif­fer­ent kind of re­la­tion­ship. “We don’t look to Africa sim­ply for its nat­u­ral re­sources,” he said. “We rec­og­nize Africa for its great­est re­source, which is its peo­ple and its tal­ents and their po­ten­tial.”

Mr. Obama didn’t men­tion any for­eign com­pe­ti­tion, though China has been crit­i­cized for seek­ing ac­cess to mar­kets in or­der to pur­chase raw ma­teri­als and sell its man­u­fac­tured goods.

“We don’t sim­ply want to ex­tract min­er­als from the ground for our growth,” Mr. Obama told the gath­er­ing of African lead­ers and busi­ness lead­ers from the United States and Africa. “We want to build gen­u­ine part­ner­ships that cre­ate jobs and op­por­tu­nity for all our peoples, and that un­leash the next era of African growth. That’s the kind of part­ner­ship Amer­ica of­fers.”

To that end, Mr. Obama an­nounced a $7 bil­lion pro­gram to pro­mote U.S. ex­ports to, and in­vest­ments in, Africa un­der the Do­ing Busi­ness in Africa cam­paign. U.S. com­pa­nies have an­nounced new deals in en­ergy, avi­a­tion, bank­ing and con­struc­tion worth more than $14 bil­lion, he said. And he an­nounced more than $12 bil­lion in new com­mit­ments for his Power Africa ini­tia­tive, which seeks to in­crease ac­cess to elec­tric­ity to more than 600 mil­lion peo­ple.

Crit­ics have sug­gested that the United States is late to Africa, and for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, who pre­ceded Mr. Obama in speak­ing to the fo­rum, urged U.S. busi­nesses to em­brace Africa. “We are miss­ing the boat,” Mr. Clin­ton said. “This is a very im­por­tant part of our fu­ture.”

Speak­ers noted that six of the 10 fast­est-grow­ing coun­tries in the world are in Africa, and that its mid­dle class is the fast­est-grow­ing in the world. Other na­tions are al­ready deeply in­vested in the con­ti­nent, and the United States now re­al­izes “we have some catch­ing up to do. … We are let­ting Europe and China go faster than the U.S.,” said for­mer New York Mayor Mi­chael Bloomberg, whose Bloomberg Phi­lan­thro­pies hosted the sum­mit, along with the U.S. Com­merce Depart­ment.

Mr. Obama noted that the con­ti­nent still faces “enor­mous chal­lenges” with pov­erty, con­flict, hun­ger and dis­ease, but he cited “a new Africa that’s emerg­ing.”

Tan­za­nia Pres­i­dent Jakaya Kik­wete echoed Mr. Obama’s re­marks, say­ing Africa still has its “hot spots,” but that many of its 53 coun­tries have changed over the past de­cade, with lead­ers en­dors­ing strong eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal pol­i­cies. “De­moc­racy has taken root, gov­er­nance is en­shrined,” Mr. Kik­wete said. “There is stron­ger com­mit­ment now to fight vices, cor­rup­tion, drug traf­fick­ing. There is more re­spect for hu­man rights.”

But Mr. Obama, Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden pressed the African lead­ers in par­tic­u­lar to crack down on cor­rup­tion. “People should be able to start a busi­ness and ship their goods with­out hav­ing to pay a bribe or hire some­body’s cousin,” Mr. Obama said.

Cor­rup­tion in a num­ber of coun­tries ham­pers the United States to the ben­e­fit of coun­tries such as China, said An­drew Spal­ding, a Univer­sity of Rich­mond School of Law as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor and an in­ter­na­tional busi­ness and cor­rup­tion ex­pert. The United States ag­gres­sively en­forces laws that pro­hibit U.S. com­pa­nies from brib­ing for­eign gov­ern­ments, Mr. Spal­ding said. Other ex­port­ers, par­tic­u­larly China, do not en­force such pro­hi­bi­tions, al­low­ing them to “fill the void” in coun­tries where cor­rup­tion is ram­pant, he said.

The at­ten­tion to Africa in­cluded a White House din­ner late Tues­day night hosted by Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. Singer Lionel Richie was to per­form, and the menu in­cluded touches of Africa, in­clud­ing beef served with cher­moula, a mari­nade pop­u­lar in North Africa.

The push for more in­vest­ment with Africa comes at an op­por­tune time, with many African coun­tries ea­ger to pro­cess their nat­u­ral re­sources in­side their bor­ders and not sim­ply ex­port their raw ma­terial, said Vera Songwe, World Bank coun­try di­rec­tor for Sene­gal, Cape Verde, Gam­bia, Guinea-Bis­sau and Mau­ri­ta­nia. She called it a good time “for U.S. com­pa­nies with the cut­ting-edge ex­per­tise to come in and part­ner with the con­ti­nent to do this, and I think this is what we’re see­ing more and more of.”

The U.S. ap­proach to busi­ness in Africa “is al­most the op­po­site of the Chi­nese ap­proach,” said Wit­ney Sch­neid­man, a for­mer dep­uty as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for African af­fairs. He noted that when U.S. com­pa­nies such as Mi­cro­soft, Procter & Gam­ble or Gen­eral Elec­tric in­vest in Africa, they gen­er­ally hire and train Africans, which “has an in­cred­i­ble rip­ple ef­fect, and it helps to cre­ate skills; it helps to cre­ate this mid­dle class.”

Chi­nese trade has grown more rap­idly over the last de­cade than U.S. trade, Mr. Sch­neid­man said, but “the African mar­ket is so large, and there’s such an op­por­tu­nity there, and there’s so many dif­fer­ent needs that I think it’s re­ally about how do we get more U.S. com­pa­nies into the con­ti­nent.”

Mr. Obama called on House Re­pub­li­cans to re­au­tho­rize the im­per­iled Ex­port-Im­port Bank of the United States, a call echoed by Mr. Clin­ton, who called GOP crit­i­cism of the gov­ern­ment agency “ri­dic­u­lous.”

“Eco­nom­ics is not the­ol­ogy. If you’re run­ning a coun­try, you’ve got to try to cre­ate an op­por­tu­nity for all of your busi­nesses to be com­pet­i­tive,” Mr. Clin­ton said of the agency that helps pro­mote U.S. busi­nesses that want to sell prod­ucts over­seas.

Re­pub­li­can law­mak­ers na­tion­wide are di­vided over whether Con­gress should re­new the bank’s char­ter by a Sept. 30 dead­line, with some charg­ing that it doles out “sweet­heart deals” for par­tic­u­lar com­pa­nies.

United States - North America - East Asia - Asia - New York City - New York - China - Greater China - Barack Obama - West Africa - East Africa - Africa - Bill Clinton - China government - John Kerry - Joe Biden - Michael Bloomberg - Michelle Obama - Tanzania - Jakaya Kikwete - Lionel Richie


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