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Washington summit considered major boost to U.S-Africa relations

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After nearly a week of wheeling and dealing in Washington D.C., business leaders and policy makers from the United States and Africa are calling the first ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit an enormous success.

Recognizing African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka by name for his role in helping to boost business ties between the U.S. and Africa, President Barack Obama said, “We’ve joined with African governments, the African Development Bank, and the private sector -- and I will tell you, the response has exceeded our projections.” Obama went on to say that “projects and negotiations are underway that when completed, will put us nearly 80 percent of the way toward our goal. On top of the significant resources we’ve already committed, I’m announcing that the United States will increase our pledge to $300 million a year for this effort.” 

It was all part of a gathering of American and African entrepreneurs, business leaders and remarkably, more than 40 Heads of State interested in harnessing the economic power of Africa, which is home to six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies.

“I’ve been to many summits where Africa has been discussed but I found this summit to be a discussion of mutual understanding,” said AfDB President Donald Kaberuka of the economic and development interests forged at the three-day meeting. “I want to commend President Obama for convening this summit, which is business oriented and seeks to look at Africa as a land of opportunity, with residual challenges of course, but a land of opportunity.”

The summit highlighted trans-Atlantic dedication to improving Africa’s security, along with human and democratic development through a series of public and private partnerships. The main events of the summit’s final day hit on regional peace and stability, governing for the next generation of Africans and investing in the continent’s future.

When it comes to Africa’s future, Kaberuka said going forward it is important that all sides work hard to ensure the agreements made at the summit are realized. One of the key projects Kaberuka said he has his eye on is the “Power Africa” program.

“The African Development Bank plays a big role,” Kaberuka said. “Inside the Power Africa program we’ve committed close to $3 billion to bring more electricity to African homes and businesses.” With fresh pledges made at the summit to the program, Kaberuka said the bank “will be working with the U.S. institutions to accelerate the programs related to trade and facilitation, logistics, moving goods and nationalize across the boarders inside the African continent because, as the president [Obama] put it very well, trade with the world begins with your neighbor.”

Other outcomes include The African Union Commission pledge to redoubling its efforts to advance educational opportunities through the Pan-African University. Benin has set up two business-type incubators and committed to recruiting 15,000 youths in 2015 to fill civil servant positions. Burkina Faso announced a youth investment project involving 46,800 young men and women who will be offered an opportunity to find sustainable jobs in the labor market.

But the betterment of the African continent will not come without challenges; one of the most pressing is health care. It was a topic in which Kaberuka made international news early in the week when he announced the AfDB made close to $60 million immediately available to fight the worst Ebola outbreak in recent history.

“These countries need structural support to build up their health systems,” Kaberuka told Reuters.

Whether it was powering the continent, shoring up health care, securing nations or educating the next generation of African leaders, fruitful negotiations and bilateral commitments this week led to more than $14 billion in commercial investment deals. That is a marked shift in the U.S.-African relationship, moving it from aid focused to trade focused.

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