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Africa Wants Trade, Not Aid, Says ObamaMonday, October 03, 2016 > 09:44:06
US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has told business and political leaders that if Africa is to fulfil its economic potential and achieve growth, then major Western countries need to shift their focus from aid programmes to developing stronger trade links.
President Obama was speaking at the US-Africa Business Forum (USABF) in New York last week. The event, created two years ago, brings together heads of states and business leaders to examine how America can forge closer commercial ties with the continent.
Among some of the projects announced at the forum last week were investments in thermal and wind power in Senegal, urban solar farms in South Africa, TV white space and low-cost bandwidth to rural areas of Kenya, and the building of a metro-fibre network in Liberia.
Addressing the conference, Obama told delegates that “Africa is on the move”, adding that the continent is “home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world and … powered by the youngest population anywhere on the planet”.
He told the meeting that everywhere he travels in Africa, “from Senegal to South Africa, Africans insist they do not just want aid, they want trade. They want partners, not patrons. [Africa has] a middle class projected to grow to more than a billion customers,” he added.
Following his election as the first African-American US president in 2008, Obama has been engaged in African issues, visiting Africa twice during his second term of office − Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania in 2013, and Kenya and the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia in 2015.
He may yet visit Nigeria before his presidency ends, and is scheduled to meet President Muhammadu Buhari in New York later this year.
In addition to improving bilateral relations with Kenya and Nigeria, President Obama’s mediation efforts have helped transitions in recent years in Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso.
Observers credit the US President with the fact that, as well as highlighting the need for good governance, he has consistently claimed that Africa can only flourish if there is more trade and investment into the continent.
Key to his efforts have been to gear US−Africa policy towards trade, and put in place practical initiatives, such as the USABF, to build relationships and encourage investment. Since 2008, the Department of Commerce has opened offices in Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Tanzania.
The department also has an expanded presence in Ghana and re-established a presence at the African Development Bank. In addition, major players in corporate America, such as Blackstone, General Electric and Johnson and Johnson are developing long-term investment strategies across the continent, complementing Exxon’s and Chevron’s many decades of engagement.
Other companies are testing the waters, assessing whether investing in Africa is profitable.
Obama told delegates: “All of you should be wanting to make money and create great products and great services, and be profitable, and do right by your investors. But the good news is, in Africa right now, if you are doing well, you can also be doing a lot of good.”
He added that this would be his last USABF as president, but it was likely that he would attend again as a private citizen.
Writing in the Huffington Post, the event’s organisers Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Penny Pritzker, US Secretary of Commerce said Africa could be the great economic success of the 21st Century.
They wrote: “Incomes are rising. Investments in infrastructure and technology are accelerating growth across a range of industries. Africa today is home to 700 companies with revenues greater than $500 million. Consumer spending is on track to climb to $1 trillion over the next four years. The workforce is projected to be the largest on the planet by 2040. The continent could make up a quarter of the global economy by the year 2050.
“African markets are also poised to benefit from several long-term trends, including the fastest-growing middle class in the world, an expanding urban population, and increasing access to mobile technology and the internet. By the end of this century, some estimates predict that 40 per cent of the world’s youth will be African, which would be an unprecedented concentration of young consumers.”