The three-day summit, which begins on Monday, will focus on trade relations between the US and African nations and opening new economic opportunities. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker is expected to announce new business deals worth more than $1 billion.
Areas of cooperation between the two parties will include agriculture, democratic governance, and electricity. And Africa’s leaders are hoping that the US will open its markets to more of their products.
During Al Jazeera America’s Sunday night segment “The Week Ahead,” Richelle Carey spoke to Kate Almquist Knopf, Director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, and to Amadou Sy, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative.
Amadou Sy said that the event is very timely, and that it will be beneficial even if its outcome is just to familiarize Americans with the diversity, energy, and vibrancy of Africa.
When asked why it has taken so long to pursue this initiative, Sy said that “during his first term Obama had to deal with the worst financial crisis since the Depression here in the US. But now is the window of opportunity to do something for Africa.”
Knopf added that “it’s a recognition of the growing importance of Africa to the United States. The fact that there are over a billion people on the continent, and population growth there is likely to quadruple over the next decades, it represents an increasingly important area for us economically, for security reasons, and for transnational and global issues.”
In terms of security, the US has been concerned about fighter groups across the continent, ranging from Boko Haram in the West to Al Shabab in the East.
The GDP of sub-Saharan Africa has grown at a much faster rate than the rest of the world over the past decade. Last year, US goods exports to the region stood at $24 billion, a 250 percent increase from 2003; while imports stood at $39.3 billion, which was up by 53 percent from a decade ago.
Sy said Africa has a young population that is growing quickly and a middle class that is expanding, and that more jobs must be created for young people. He said that traditionally US interests in the Africa have had to do with the oil and gas sectors. But now there’s a lot of potential in other sectors, such as information, technology, communications, and retail opportunities.
Knopf agreed, adding that “the expanding middle class is a market that we cannot afford to ignore for our own economy’s sake.”
The US’s sudden push for stronger relations with African nations is partially a response to the increasing economic ties between Africa and China. Beijing is investing billions of dollars in the continent, and has been its biggest trade partner since 2009.
But Sy said that “when it comes to trade, it’s true that China is now the largest bi-lateral trade partner with Africa, but when it comes to investment, the US and France are the strongest.” He added that “the problem is that all the investment goes to very few countries – Nigeria, Angola, South Africa – and very few sectors, namely the oil sector.” He said moving forward, other sectors should be opened up to the US private sector, and added that Africans have their own priorities, such as better infrastructure and access to electricity.
"There’s incredible space for American businesses to diversify and to expand beyond natural resources and oil,” said Knopf. “I think there’s also tremendous potential for African economies to trade within Africa."