Black Affairs, Africa and Development

US-Africa Summit: ‘It’s Up To You African Leaders’

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The recent summit at which African leaders engaged America in charting a way forward for the continent provided a great opportunity for President Barack Obama to demonstrate that he shares the positive yearnings and aspirations of the African people for better life. His message at the summit has gone down as probably the frankest admonition to African leaders from a sitting American president. Away from unctuous diplomatese, Obama admonished them to do the right thing at home if they wanted the limited help from abroad to achieve the desired impact. He said foreign aid had made some impact in the past but has now reached its limits. Foreign aid deployed with macroeconomic reforms, he noted, resulted in 2 to 4 per cent yearly growth since 1980.

Positive as that may seem, the route to achieving the kind of economic feat recorded by the Asian Tigers was injection of massive investment by local and foreign players. Obama placed the ball squarely in the courts of African leaders: “It is up to you African leaders to set the right priorities and implement the right policies at home in order to allow us to leverage limited funds to attract investors. It’s your problem, guys.”

The African leaders were able to have personal discussions with top leaders of industry in America in a clear departure from other summits where bureaucracy and diplomacy took centre stage. Although President Obama did not have one-on-one meetings with each African leader, he spent at least eight hours listening to their problems and perspectives before making his own contributions and unveiling areas in which African nations could partner with America and its industrial leaders to transform the continent.

Industrialisation will remain a mirage until the problem of electricity is solved. The Obama administration has offered through a programme tagged “Power Africa” to encourage private investors to leverage on the opportunities available through agencies such as OPIC, EXIMBANK and TDA to invest in electricity generation in Africa.

In the same vein, the “Feed the Future” knowledge-driven programme administered through USAID will address the lack of technology and infrastructure in agriculture which is the main occupation of most Africans in the rural areas. The summit generated new investment worth $37 billion in infrastructure, electricity, public health, and food security, among others.

African leaders were also admonished to encourage science. It became known that some countries were already on this path. For example, South Africa is planning to increase funding for research and development from 0.84 per cent of GDP to 1.5 per cent in the next five years. It is hoped that the Nigerian government will also earnestly draw up its own plan on how it intends to tap into the positive fallouts of the US-Africa Summit.

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