President Barack Obama speaks at the US-Africa Business Forum during the US-Africa Leaders Summit, in Washington, on August 5, 2014. Picture: Charles Dharapak

Washington - US President Barack Obama pledged action not words to boost Africa’s progress when he opened the first US-Africa leaders’ summit with about 40 African leaders in Washington on Wednesday.

Obama said that although Africa itself was rising through its own efforts, it still faced challenges which the US could help it address.

“It’s time for a new model of partnership between America and Africa – a partnership of equals that focuses on African capacity to solve problems, and on Africa’s capacity to grow.

“More governments are embracing economic reforms, attracting record levels of investment. Gains in development, increasing agricultural production, declining rates in infectious diseases are being driven by African plans.

“African security forces and African peacekeepers are risking their lives to meet regional threats. A new generation of young Africans is making its voice heard.”

At the US-Africa business forum here on Tuesday Obama announced a total of about $19 billion (R203bn) in government measures to boost Africa’s development, including funding to expand his Power Africa initiative to triple the number of Africans with access to electricity.

But the US has made clear that this summit is about creating the climate for private sector investment in Africa rather than dishing out huge amounts of state money. And so Obama also announced $14bn in new deals by US companies in clean energy, aviation, banking, and construction, many of them to be done through US government assistance.

However, Obama also said Africa needed some support and so he said yesterday that he and the African leaders, including President Jacob Zuma would focus on accelerating investment through economic and regulatory reforms, regional integration, and the empowerment of women to expand growth.

They would also work to strengthen the governance upon which economic growth and free societies depended, including rule of law, open government, accountable and transparent institutions, strong civil societies, and respect for the universal human rights of all people.

And the leaders would also discuss how to deepen their security co-operation to create a safe environment for investment. African security forces and peacekeepers were taking the lead in doing that but the US was ready to increase its support for their efforts.

“So, in short, we are here not just to talk. We are here to take action – concrete steps to build on Africa’s progress and forge the partnerships of equals that we seek; tangible steps to deliver more prosperity, more security, and more justice to our citizens.”

Though Zuma’s contribution to the debate had not been revealed yet, his officials had indicated before that he would emphasise to Obama the need for a partnership of equals with the US and that Africa was already dealing with issues such as the improvement of its own governance.

In a discussion at the business forum he noted that hardly anyone outside Africa knew about the African Peer Review Mechanism, through which African leaders peer-review each other’s governance. - Independent Foreign Service

Cape Times