On Wednesday, President Joe Biden (D) spoke before African leaders at the culmination of the U.S.-Africa Business Forum, a full day of events that laid the foundation for what participants on both sides described as a reset in U.S.-Africa business relations.
Even with the particular focus on economics, Biden touched on other aspects of African affairs, including but not limited to: strengthening democracy, climate change and global adaptation, food security and universal health coverage.
Doing so, he said, could open up a world of opportunity to African nations.
“Africa’s economic transition depends on good government, healthy populations and reliable and affordable energy,” Biden said.
“These [are] things businesses seek out when they’re looking to invest. They attract new opportunities, and they launch new partnerships,” he continued. “And the United States is committed to supporting every aspect — every aspect of Africa’s inclusive growth and creating the best possible environment for sustained commercial engagement between Africa companies and American companies.”
On day two of the U.S.- Africa Leaders Summit, the business forum focused mostly on how the U.S. could help African leaders leverage their countries’ natural resources to spur economic development.
Administration officials said they closed new deals totaling $15 billion.
Throughout much of Wednesday morning, African heads of state, along with public and private sector partners, announced these deals, each of which was intended to strengthen what many described as non-exploitative economic relations between the U.S. and African countries.
One such deal involves the upcoming launch of a manufacturing facility in the District.
This building, scheduled to open in Ward 7 in 2023, will facilitate a supply chain connecting the world with neem, moringa and other ingredients commonly found in plant-based products. This arrangement also opens up marketpeople in Ghana and other parts of Africa to a customer base extending well beyond their towns and villages.
Rahama Wright, former Peace Corps volunteer and CEO of Shea Yeleen Enterprises, forged this deal with the D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. This arrangement stands to benefit many Ghanaians, including Gladys Petey, a shea butter merchant from a rural community in Northern Ghana.
“We are hard-working women but many can’t go to school so we learn to make shea butter,” Petey said. “I’m happy that America can support hard-working African women to make our lives happier.”
Several African heads of state and mavens of industry gathered in the “Deal Room” of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest, where, for several hours, they announced deals that had been solidified during the summit.
Representatives of the U.S.-Africa Clean Tech Energy Network said they dedicated resources to increasing African countries’ access to clean energy, starting with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. ADB Group built upon more than two decades of development work with a deal to upgrade the infrastructure of the Ivory Coast.
Meanwhile, Cisco announced a $200 million deal through which African youth will receive technology training. Standard Bank and General Electric also announced a partnership to solve healthcare accessibility challenges across the African continent.
A common thread in these deals centered on Africans’ collective desire to enter equitable partnerships with the U.S. To that point, Okey Oramah said a memorandum of agreement (MOU) between the African Export-Import Bank and the Export–Import Bank of the United States further positions the private sector as a leader of development on the African continent.
Oramah, president and chairman of the African Export-Import Bank’s board of directors, said the MOU supports diasporic engagement in the areas of transportation, climate projects, and manufacturing. He added that the arrangement would better allow both parties to bolster African businesses often designated by banks as high-risk investments.
At a time when the Diaspora continues to embrace Nollywood, Afrobeats and other African exports, Orameh said that a reset in U.S.-Africa relations will eventually lead to an economic renaissance.
“We’re seeing more private sector growth,” Oramah said. “The creative and technology industries…have been allowed to lead unfettered. Even in manufacturing the lack of capital has been a problem, but the small and mid-sized enterprises are becoming more and more empowered.”
On Monday, Biden revealed plans for a 2023 visit to the African continent. National security advisor Jake Sullivan also said earlier this week that the U.S. will commit $55 billion to African nations over three years. This came not long after China announced that its government would forgive 23 interest-free loans issued to 17 African countries and divert $10 billion of its IMF resources to the African continent.
In response to an inquiry about the Biden administration’s intentions, Vedant Patel, the State Department’s principal deputy spokesperson said the U.S. government aspires to foster a relationship with African nations different from what China and Russia have facilitated.
“We have the ability to help guide, direct and incentivize private partner engagement in the region,” Patel said. “These aren’t commercial loans. They are investments. Obviously there will be U.S. partnership and engagement to make sure they reflect the interests of the U.S. and Africa.”
Moments after he announced a multi-million dollar deal between his country, DRC and the United States for the production of electric car batteries, Zambian President Haikinde Hichilema expressed his desire to receive more financial support from the west.
In his remarks, Hichilema called business the engine of growth in his country.
“I understand the days of socialism and independence and what that did to the country [as well as] the leaders who failed to take advantage of our resources,” Hichilema said.
“This is not about Zambia or cobalt. It’s about the rest of the world as we grapple with climate change. We want to indicate that as leadership, we are determined to make things happen.”
Later on in the morning, Sim Tshabalala, chief executive of Standard Bank Group, conveyed a similar message when he stressed the importance of health technology. In all the discussions about economics, Tshabalala said a healthy population drives economic development.
“One of our strategic value drivers is economics,” Tshabalala said.
“GDP growth and health of the people are two sides of the same coin and we must give effect to both. This is not pie in the sky. Nations need infrastructure and that means the health of the people.”