Nicole Gaouette Washington
Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday urged greater US investment in Africa to help develop a relationship focused more on shared opportunity and economic growth than on crisis management.
“For too long, ties between the US and Africa were largely rooted in meeting the challenges and crises of the moment,” Kerry told diplomats and dignitaries in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“We want more American companies to be here, to invest here – both to unleash the power of the private sector in Africa and to create jobs in America,” Kerry said, even while warning of the damage that conflict, corruption and curbs on freedoms could do to Africa’s potential.
The top US diplomat is on a five-day visit to Africa, with stops in Ethiopia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola.
Africa had eight of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies and would have a larger workforce than India or China by 2040, Kerry said. Conditions were ripe for investment in its people, partnerships with the US and freedoms, he said.
“The time is now for us to get ahead of the curve, to invest in education for the vast and increasing number of young people, to build a more open exchange of ideas and information that leads to partnership and innovation.”
As part of that effort, President Barack Obama was “committed to a seamless renewal” of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, Kerry said.
The Act gives trade preferences to certain sub-Saharan African commodities to support regional economies and broaden ties.
He noted that US companies were active in Africa. IBM, based in New York, had invested at least $100 million (R1.05 billion) in the continent, while Microsoft was investing in what it calls the “Mawingu”, the Swahili word for “cloud”.
Google was exploring ways of developing under-used spectrum to bring broadband internet access to remote communities, Kerry said.
With 60 percent of the world’s arable land, Africa’s agribusiness opportunities were huge, and the US was encouraging investment in crops with greater yields and better resistance to extreme weather, he said.
Kerry also stressed the social and economic benefits of freedoms, without referring directly to repression. It is an issue in Ethiopia, where press freedoms are curtailed, as well as in Angola and the DRC.
Over the next three years, 37 of the 54 African nations would hold elections, including 15 presidential elections.
“These elections will be vitally important, but elections cannot be the only opportunity for citizens to shape the future.
“Nations in Africa, like nations all over the world, are strongest when citizens have a say, when they have a stake in their nation’s success.” – Bloomberg