Washington - As America’s first president of African descent, President Barack Obama “could have done more” for Africa, President Jacob Zuma said on Monday on the eve of a meeting with Obama at the first US-Africa summit.
But Obama had “navigated that situation well”, Zuma told the National Press Club in Washington.
He had been asked whether Obama’s African descent had influenced his dealing with Africa and whether his engagement had met his expectations.
Zuma said he believed Obama’s African origins had influenced his dealings with Africa partly because they had created expectations.
The degree of engagement with Africa had not matched what many had expected.
“I believe he could have done more. He is aware of that situation and has navigated that situation well.”
Zuma said the US-African Leaders’ Summit provided an opportunity for African leaders to engage further with Obama and the US on Africa’s economic growth, development and security.
“We are ready to discuss partnerships that will assist in making African-led initiatives succeed.
“We hope that the outcomes of the summit can be achieved and be implemented through multilateral mechanisms. We also look forward to outcomes that will be co-owned, co-developed and co-driven by the participating nations.”
Zuma reiterated a message he had delivered at the US Chamber of Commerce, that South Africa looked forward to the expansion of trade and investment opportunities with the US and other key markets to help it overcome its challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
“The African Growth and Opportunity Act has been a powerful instrument in achieving this goal,” he said, referring to the US law that, since 2000, has given qualified African countries preferential access to the US.
More than 95 percent of South Africa’s exports entered the US market through the act, Agoa.
“While opening up markets for our goods, Agoa has been opening up and helping to grow new markets for American goods and services. We look forward to a seamless, unconditional and long-term renewal of Agoa, with South Africa included among the beneficiaries.”
The US Congress has to decide next year whether to renew Agoa and whether South Africa should remain part of it. Many US business interests and legislators want South Africa to be “graduated” because they consider it too rich to need Agoa benefits or because, they complain, it is discriminating against US imports.
South Africa is looking into the complaints to try to avoid losing the Agoa benefits, which have substantially boosted exports to the US, especially of manufactured goods.
At the National Press Club and the US Chamber of Commerce, Zuma delivered a strong message about the conflict in Gaza.
At the chamber, he expressed “outrage” at the violence and condemned strongly “the senseless shelling of civilian shelters by Israel”.
At the press club he broadened his message, condemning “the killing of Israeli civilians by Hamas”.
“We call on all sides to lay down arms and work towards a negotiated solution that will lead to the internationally recognised and supported two states solution.”
Zuma said there would be no point in expelling the Israeli ambassador or recalling South Africa’s ambassador to Israel when South Africa needed to maintain communications to share its experience of negotiating a peaceful resolution.
Independent Foreign Service