7 August 2014
African leaders and the United States have agreed to work together to build stronger trade ties between the two continents, South African President Jacob Zuma said at the close of the historic US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington on Wednesday.
Hailing the summit as a major success, Zuma touted the inroads made at the summit, including more than $33-billion in investments in Africa announced by US President Barack Obama.
The summit, the first of its kind to be hosted by a US president, was seen by many as an attempt by Obama, who has African origins, to recalibrate relations between America and Africa. Some say it was also a legacy issue for Obama, whose father hails from Kenya.
However, Zuma said that the conference had succeeded in bringing almost all African leaders together under one roof to discuss common interest with the United States, a crucial market for African goods.
Africa is home to six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies and a rapidly expanding middle class, Zuma said, and this week’s summit was an affirmation both of Africa’s growth and of US willingness to take Africa on board as the two regions seek to expand their growth.
South Africa’s inclusion in Agoa ‘no longer an issue’
He added that, following the summit, the question of whether South Africa would continue to be part of a renewed Agoa no longer an issue.
“That to us is very important, because before we came here some people were saying South Africa is now developed and doesn’t need Agoa. That is no longer the issue, because everyone has realised that South Africa is one of the key players in the integration of the continent and [that] if you pull South Africa out of that you really will be in a sense destabilising that process.”
A ministerial meeting at the US State Department ahead of Wednesday’s summit had also eased lingering doubts regarding the Obama administration’s support for the renewal of the African Growth Opportunity Act (Agoa) when the Act’s current term comes to an end next year.
“Given the manner in which this summit has helped to foster our relationship, it’s going to be very difficult for any future American leader to come and ignore that this summit has taken place and what it has achieved,” Zuma said.
Support for Africa’s stand-by force
He said a great part of the summit’s deliberations had focused on boosting US business ties with Africa, the continuation of Agoa, good governance as well as peace and security.
The US also pledged to provide financial support for Africa’s stand-by force, which is expected to start operating in October.
The good news is that America has changed its earlier stance on conflict resolution on the continent, and will not attempt to send any troops to Africa in times of crisis but will instead leave this to the continent’s leaders and the African Union.
Since 2009, the US has committed to provide nearly $892-million to develop African peacekeeping capacity and strengthen African institutions. The US has also come out strongly in support of the work done by more than 67 000 African peacekeepers serving with the African Union and United Nations in Africa.
US ‘not just playing catch-up with China
Zuma played down suggestions made by some analysts that the US was simply playing catch-up with China, which is increasingly expanding its presence in the continent.
“The view is that anyone who wants to make business in Africa is welcome. The Chinese have a role to play. Even Obama says they have a relationship with China. China’s presence in Africa is not an issue that was discussed. What we discussed was that Africa is opening up and whoever wants to come and invest is welcome.
“Africa is saying here we are, we are ready to do business, and whoever wants to do business with Africa must come. A relationship should be based on mutual benefit and understanding,” Zuma said.
There were fears, earlier this week, that the US stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the current outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in west Africa would overshadow the summit.
But in his final press conference at the end of the summit, Obama said leaders from both sides had emerged more determined to strengthen ties between the US and one of the world’s most dynamic and fastest growing regions.
New financing to promote US exports to Africa
“The summit advanced our shared interests in increased US-Africa trade and US investment in Africa and highlighted America’s commitment to Africa’s security, its democratic development, and its people,” Obama said.
“By enabling discussion of tangible actions that can be taken to deepen the US-Africa partnership, the Summit fostered stronger ties between the United States and Africa.”
The summit’s theme – “investing in the next generation” – reflected the common ambition that the US shared with Africa “to leave our nations better for future generations by making concrete gains in peace and security, good governance, and economic development,” he said.
On Wednesday, Obama announced $33-billion in new financing to promote US exports to and investment in Africa.
He made the announcement at the first US-Africa Business Forum, where he said that $7-billion would go to new financing to promote US exports to and investments in Africa under the Doing Business in Africa Campaign.
US companies will also sign deals in clean energy, aviation, banking, and construction worth more than $14-billion, in addition to $12-billion in new commitments under the President’s Power Africa initiative from private sector partners, the World Bank, and the government of Sweden.