American companies to invest US$14 billion in Africa

Washington seeks stronger ties with continent amid China's gains there

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 August, 2014, 10:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2014, 2:52am

American companies are planning US$14 billion worth of investments in Africa, it was revealed yesterday as the US-Africa leaders' summit turned its focus to boosting commercial ties.

President Barack Obama is to formally announce the investment projects as he addresses 35 presidents, nine prime ministers, three vice-presidents, two foreign ministers and a king from the African continent invited to Washington for the historic gathering.

The first day of the summit, the largest such meeting ever held in the US capital, saw American officials chiding their guests over democratic reform and civil rights.

The three days of talks marks one of Obama's biggest initiatives for Africa and comes against the backdrop of an Ebola outbreak and several security crises there.

Obama and titans of US commerce and industry will try to convince their counterparts that America is as determined to take part in Africa's growth story as China or Europe.

Washington is seeking stronger economic ties with Africa, having found itself outpaced by China and Europe on a continent where the International Monetary Fund expects to see 5.4 per cent growth this year and 5.8 the next.

Secretary of State John Kerry was straightforward about Washington's aims. "I say unabashedly: we want and we will work hard to get more American companies to invest in Africa," he said. "We also want more African companies to invest here in the United States, and there's no reason that they shouldn't."

The United States remains the largest source of investment on the continent, but most of that has been in the oil and gas sector. A White House official said the new investments being announced will span a range of industries, including construction, clean energy, banking and information technology.

Vice-President Joe Biden met African civil rights leaders and encouraged them to fight against corruption.

"It's a cancer in Africa as well as around the world. Widespread corruption is an affront to the dignity of its people and a direct threat to each of your nations' stability, all nations' stability," Biden said.

Outside the State Department a crowd of about 100 protesters, many from Washington's large expatriate Ethiopian community, demanded the United States not cosy up to African autocrats.

Citing the example of South Africa's late anti-apartheid champion Nelson Mandela, Kerry said most Africans supported limiting their leaders to two terms in office.

"We will urge leaders not to alter national constitutions for personal or political gain," Kerry said. But he did not directly name any of the long-serving leaders, most of whom were nonetheless invited to the summit including Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Rwanda's Paul Kagame, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni or Cameroon's Paul Biya.

Earlier on Monday, Kerry met with President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo and welcomed his efforts to tackle militia violence in the war-torn nation.

The top US diplomat also vowed that the United States would support the work of embattled gay activists and would champion press freedom "including for journalists charged with terrorism or imprisoned on arbitrary grounds".