The New Times (Kigali)

4 August 2014

Rwanda: Which Slice of the African Pie Will U.S. Companies Bite?

Several giant corporations are this week expected to enter new joint ventures with African companies and governments as the US-Africa Leadership Summit gets underway in Washington DC.

The summit, that has drawn nearly 50 African leaders, is expected to showcase US interest in Africa through a series of public-private partnership deals to boost trade and investment.

US government is expected to announce close to $900 million dollars

in new trade investments and foreign assistance programmes across the continent.

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 up its market to more African products.

The Gross Domestic Product of sub-Saharan Africa has grown at a much faster rate compared to the rest of the world over the past decade which has drawn international attention.

As a result, in 2013, US goods exported to the Sub-Saharan African region stood at $24bn, a 250 per cent increase from 2003; while imports stood at $39.3bn, up by 53 per cent from a decade ago.

Pundits say the US' sudden push for stronger relations with Africa is partially a response to the growing Sino-Africa economic ties. China is investing heavily in Africa and has since 2009 been Africa's biggest trade partner.

During the summit new support for Power Africa Initiative is expected to be announced. Power Africa Initiative is a privately-funded programme launched by the US President, Barack Obama, last year to install 10,000 megawatts of new generation capacity and connect 20 million new customers across Africa by 2018.

"You will see a series of announcements on agriculture and food, power and energy. We will make big announcements that demonstrate these are big ambitions we can take on with our African partners and the private sector," Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the US Agency for International Development (Usaid) told the media.

Companies pledged $7 billion to Power Africa Initiative last year and, during the summit an excess of $20 billion in new investments will be made. The World Bank is expected to make a major contribution toward the programme.

In other funding increases, the State Department is expected to announce a further $60 million a year for peacekeeping training in six African countries, according to US officials.

President Paul Kagame is expected to speak on the second day of the summit during a session dubbed 'Game Plan: Shaping the future of a fast-growing continent', alongside his counterparts from Tanzania, Senegal and Tunisia. The session will be ushered by US Secretary of State John .F. Kerry.

Sheikh Omar Khalfan, a lecturer of international relations at the College of Arts and Humanities, University of Rwanda, said Washington D.C should desist from using its financial support to Africa to impose American beliefs and practices on the continent.

"It should not come with strings attached, African countries are sovereign states and should be treated as such," he told The New Times yesterday.

Khalfan advised African governments and businesses to work towards adding value to what they produce with view to start exporting finished or semi-finished products, rather than raw materials which fetch much less money.

John Bosco Kalisa, country programmes director, TradeMark East Africa-Rwanda, said Africa-US partnership should focus more on production.

"US should help unlock capital for African and grow their manufacturing sector; the Americans can also help mobilise funds in areas such as mining, agriculture and horticulture," he said.

He particularly said the US should significantly scale up its partnership with land-locked African countries given the latter's unique challenges in transportation and access to international markets.

The summit will also discuss the policies that enable economic growth, good governance, strategic investments, infrastructure development, as well as successful public private partnerships--now and in the years ahead.

Major Sessions at the summit include, Expanding Opportunities: The new era for business in Africa, Open Markets: Financing the Africa of tomorrow, Powering Africa: Lending development in Infrastructure and Game Plan: shaping the future of a fast-grown continent.

Moderators include former US President Bill Clinton, African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka, US National Security Advisor Susan Rice and renowned journalist Charlie Rose.

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