“I stand before you as the president of the United States and a proud American. I also stand before you as the son of a man from Africa. The blood of Africa runs through our family. And so for us, the bonds between our countries, our continents, are deeply personal.” – President Barack Obama
At a time when much of the world seems to be tearing apart in places like Iraq, Israel, Gaza, Syria and Ukraine, last week President Obama hosted leaders from 50 African nations at the White House for a three-day summit, described by the Administration as reflecting “the common ambition that the people and government of the United States share with the people and governments of Africa to leave our nations better for future generations by making concrete gains in peace and security, good governance and economic development.” Themed, “Investment in the Next Generation,” the summit was the largest gathering of African heads of state in our nation’s history.
The President acknowledged the personal aspect of the meeting by referencing his father, Barack Obama, Sr., who was born in Kenya, as well as the painful legacy of the African slave trade. But the primary focus of the meeting was on strengthening economic ties between the United States and Africa in ways that spur African development and create tens of thousands of American jobs. President Obama used the summit to announce a shift in America’s relationship with what he called "the new Africa.” Where once United States involvement centered on providing humanitarian aid to Africa, it will now concentrate on expanding trade and investments that benefit both America and the African continent. While challenges of health, security and governance remain, the fact is that Africa has six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world. Its population is expected to double by 2050, when two-thirds will be young people under the age of 35. Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes explained, “Insofar as we can promote trade and investment, that is going to create new markets for our goods… and ultimately create jobs in both the United States and Africa. So this is about seizing the opportunity of African growth and development in our mutual interests.”
In his post-summit press conference, the President announced that the three-day gathering had generated some $37 billion for Africa’s progress on top of substantial efforts that have been made in the past. This includes $33 billion by U.S. companies in new trade and investment, a U.S. government investment of $110 million per year for three to five years to help build the peace-keeping capacity of more than a half-dozen African nations to deal with militant extremists like Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabaab in Somalia, a tripling of the United States’ Power Africa Initiative goal, which now aims to bring electricity to 60 million African homes and businesses, and an increase in efforts by both the Obama Administration and American non-governmental organizations to combat HIV/AIDs and improve maternal and child health.
The President made it clear that “Africa’s prosperity ultimately depends on its greatest resource – its people.” None of the investments and trade agreements will matter unless African countries do more to promote good governance, the rule of law, open and accountable institutions, strong civil societies and the protection of human rights for all citizens.
Africa, America and President Obama are inextricably bound by the ties of blood and history. We applaud the President’s commitment to bind our futures with stronger partnerships in economic development and in meeting the health and security challenges that affect America, Africa and the world.
Marc Morial is the president & CEO of the National Urban League.