US President Barack Obama.

Washington - US President Barack Obama plans to announce today $14 billion (R149 billion) in commitments from US companies for investments in Africa, a centrepiece of his goal of strengthening commercial ties to the continent.

More than a dozen companies, including General Electric and International Business Machines, are making the pledge, which Obama is scheduled to outline during a US–Africa Business Forum in Washington that is part of a three-day summit involving 40 African heads of state, according to an administration official.

The White House said in a statement that the money will go into areas including construction, energy, finance and technology.

They “will deepen US economic engagement in Africa, fuelling growth that will support broader African prosperity and emerging markets for US businesses,” the administration said.

The White House declined to give specifics of the projects involved.

Part of is is the $2 billion that GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt said yesterday that his company plans to invest in Africa by 2018, according to the official, who asked for anonymity because wider commitment hasn’t been announced.

The summit is part of Obama’s effort to shift the US approach to Africa from providing aid to fostering investment and trade.

After five years of a foreign policy focused on expanding ties to Asia, the crises in North Africa and the Middle East, winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and, more recently, confronting a more assertive Russia, Obama is turning to building a legacy in Africa.


Africa’s Ascent


“These agreements represent conclusive evidence that America is open for more business with Africa as the continent’s economic ascent is just beginning,” Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said in a statement.

Today’s daylong US-Africa Business Forum, hosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the US Commerce Department, will give business and national leaders an opportunity to discuss investment and the continent’s economy.

Bloomberg philanthropies is led by Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg, the parent of Bloomberg News.

More than 90 US companies are participating in the forum, where Obama will deliver remarks and take part in a discussion with business executives and government leaders, according to the White House.


GE Plans


The Africa spending planned by GE will go to develop facilities, improve supply chains and train workers, according to a statement from the Fairfield, Connecticut-based company.

GE’s Africa business includes supplying locomotives for Nigeria and aircraft engines for Kenya Airways.

The local payroll will swell to 4,000 people during the next few years compared with about 2,000 now, according to Jay Ireland, GE’s Africa chief executive.

Africa is home to six of the 10 fastest-growing economies and Obama is seeking to make inroads for the US and challenge China as the continent’s top investor and trading partner.

China’s trade with Africa was surpassed $200 billion last year, more than double that of the US.

Obama earlier unveiled initiatives to double access to power in six African countries and expand trade, food security and health initiatives, and his inaugural Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders began last month.

The Power Africa initiative, which still requires action by Congress, envisioned a five-year $7 billion plan to double access to power in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania - singled out for good governance practices.


Rights Push


Part of the US approach involves helping African nations become more attractive to investment by nudging governments there to expand human rights - in particular those of women - and stamp out corruption.

“No democracy can survive without the active, intense participation of its people,” Vice President Joe Biden said in remarks yesterday to the summit’s civil society forum.

He said governments in Africa must “draw on the talents of all of your people, including women and girls” because marginalising them is “a waste.”

Corruption, he said, stifles economic growth and prevents democracy from taking root.

“It’s a cancer in Africa as well as around the world.”

The centrepiece of the US commercial relationship with the continent has been the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which was signed into law in 2000 and is up for renewal next year.

It gives duty-free entry to the US for certain products from sub-Saharan nations that practice good governance.

Thirty-nine of the region’s 49 countries qualify for benefits under the law, according to the office of the US Trade Representative.

Imports covered under the law amounted to $26.8 billion last year, quadruple the amount in 2001.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman said last week the Obama administration wants to revise the pact and emphasise production in Africa, giving an opening to US companies. - Bloomberg News