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Washington - The United States will step up its support for the African militaries battling Islamic extremists or conducting dangerous peacekeeping missions, President Barack Obama said Wednesday.
Marking the end of a historic Washington summit with African leaders and officials representing 50 nations, Obama said boosting Africa's security would help shore up its economic achievements
Tens of billions of dollars in investments and financial support had already been announced, but Obama said the continent needs to redouble reform efforts to deepen growth and opportunity.
African countries have impressive economic strides but need to slash corruption, improve human rights, especially the rights of women, and strengthen the rule of law, he warned.
“This summit reflects the reality that, even as Africa continues to face great challenges, we're also seeing the emergence of a new, more prosperous Africa,” Obama told reporters after the talks.
“We agreed that Africa's growth depends, first and foremost, on continued reforms in Africa by Africans.”
While governance and security were important in the summit, Obama delivered to the 45 heads of state and government that came to Washington some $33 billion (R353 billion) in new commitments of investment and loans, much of it to targeting the continent's vastly undersupplied electric power capacity.
The new money for power plants will help deliver power to 60 million African households and businesses, he said.
In addition to that, he said the US collective of non-governmental aid and development groups, InterAction, was promising $4 billion in new funds for health care and medicines in Africa.
“Combined with the investments we announced yesterday and the agreements made today, this summit has helped to mobilise some $37
billion for Africa's progress,” Obama said.
The long-awaited summit aimed in part at deepening economic relations and increasing trade between the two sides, and brought together hundreds of top business executives.
The United States has stood aside as China and Europe have pushed in front to take part in Africa's economic takeoff.
African businessmen criticised their American counterparts for holding on to outdated stereotypes of a backwards, corrupt and risk-laden continent - despite the presence of top US chief executives.
But African leaders also admitted they have much work to do, even as they welcomed US attention.
The new security measures included a pledge of $110 million a year over the next three to five years to help African militaries rapidly deploy peacekeeping troops to conflicts.
That effort will first involve Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, which will commit troops to a stand-by force ready to assist United Nations and African Union missions.
“We will join with six countries that have demonstrated a track record as peacekeepers,” Obama said.
In addition, the US committed $65 million to a new initiative to strengthen the abilities of law enforcement and justice authorities in six western African nations to combat transnational threats like drug trafficking and extremist groups like Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram.
Obama stressed, however, that reforms are still crucial to battling security threats.
“One of the best inoculators is a society in which everybody feels that they have a stake in the existing order and they feel their grievances can be resolved through political means rather than through violence,” he said.
“That's just one more reason why good governance has to be part of the recipe that we use for a strong, stable and prosperous Africa.”
The United States already provides major logistics and intelligence support to the African Union mission in Somalia, and US special forces are helping Uganda hunt warlord Joseph Kony.
Obama repeated Washington's call for Egypt to free three jailed Al-Jazeera journalists, and called on African governments in general to respect freedom of the press.
The summit also discussed health crises in Africa, against the backdrop of the world's worst ever outbreak of Ebola fever, which has killed more than 900 people in West Africa.
Obama said it was too early to consider sending an experimental American drug, which has been administered to two US aid workers, to treat African victims of the epidemic.
Obama's election in 2008 as the first black US president had inspired hope across the continent that America would finally focus more attention on Africa.
While some leaders were clearly pleased that Washington was hosting a US-Africa summit, the largest such gathering ever held, others were disappointed that it came six years into Obama's mandate.
Only pariah African countries were not invited to send a delegation: Sudan, led by war crimes indictee Omar al-Bashir; Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe and the Eritrea of autocrat Issaias Afeworki.
The Central African Republic, which has a transitional administration not recognised by the African Union was also absent. - Sapa-AFP