WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and dozens of African leaders opened talks Wednesday on two key issues that threaten to disrupt economic progress on the continent: security and government corruption.
The discussions cap an unprecedented three-day gathering of African leaders in Washington. Much of the conference has centred on boosting U.S. financial ties with Africa, a continent that is home to six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies and a rapidly expanding middle class.
As he has throughout the summit, Obama sought to highlight Africa’s potential, particularly as an untapped trading partner for U.S. businesses. During remarks at the State Department Wednesday morning, he said that even though the continent faces significant challenges, “A new Africa is emerging.”
Yet White House officials acknowledge that security issues and governance challenges continue to constrain the continent’s overall prosperity. There are particular concerns about Boko Haram, a ruthlessly violent Islamist group in Nigeria that was responsible for the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls earlier this year.
Obama said the security discussions would centre on ways to enable African governments to boost their own peacekeeping and counterterrorism capabilities while moving away from the need for costly outside intervention.
Leaders are also expected to discuss good governance and transparency, with U.S. officials arguing to their African counterparts that both are necessary conditions for economic growth.
The president also acknowledged the Ebola crisis gripping three African nations, saying the countries affected have overcome great challenges in the past and are “drawing on that same spirit” now. The leaders of Liberia and Sierra Leone cancelled plans to travel to Washington in order to deal with the crisis, while the president of Guinea is attending the talks.
Obama will close the summit with a late-afternoon news conference. First lady Michelle Obama is also hosting a spouses’ event with former first lady Laura Bush.
On Tuesday, Obama announced $33 billion in U.S. commitments aimed at boosting financial ties with the continent. More than half of the commitments came from the private sector, including Coca-Cola Company and General Electric.