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General News of Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Source: Cameroon Tribune

Africa-US Summit Day 1: Biya talks business

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The U.S – Africa Summit formally opened in Washington, DC yesterday 5 August 2014, but not in the well-known manner of Heads of State summits we are used to in our continent.

A very clear American touch was perceivable as, rather than the usual opening sessions, full of speeches, there were rather a number of sessions depending on the centres of interest at which the participating Heads of State took part.

The President of the Republic, Paul Biya was very present at the Business Forum organised at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. The panel drew from the political and business elite from the two sides of the Pacific with such well-known business tycoons as Jeff Immelt, Chairman of General Electric; Andrew E. Liveris, President, Chairman and CEO of the Dow Chemical Company; Muktar Kent, Chairman of the Coca Cola Company; Virginia Rometty, Chairman, President and CEO of IBM; Doug McMilton, President and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc among other top industry leaders.

From Africa also came such great names as Ali Dangote, President and CEO of the Dangote Group, Tony Elumelu, Chairman, Heirs Holdings, Mo Ibrahim, Founder and Chair, Mo Ibrahim Foundation; James Mwangi, Chairman of Equity Bank; Sim Tsabalala, Joint Chief Executive, Standard Bank.

Other prominent sons and daughters in the likes of the African Union Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka also played frontline roles either by moderating discussions or making presentations.

On the political side were Vice President Joseph Biden of the US as well as other top U.S officials such as the former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry; Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew; National Security Adviser Susan Rice and the billionaire philanthropist and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Speakers on the political side from Africa who took the floor included Presidents Macky Sall of Senegal, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Mohamed Moncef Mazourki of Tunisia, representing West Africa, the enlarged Central African region, Southern Africa, East Africa and North Africa respectively.

U.S President Barak Obama came in at 2.45 PM (7.45 PM Yaounde time) to conclude the day’s discussion in the presence of his African peers including President Paul Biya.

The U.S president pledged further support for any initiatives that aim at empowering Africa in the economic domain and increasing trade with his country by exploiting all the new possibilities offered by the continent’s new-found prosperity.

What emerged from the various presentations was a clear recognition that Africa offers all the potential needed for economic growth. But it was also acknowledged that some obstacles, sometimes very easy to scale, still exist.

Ali Dangote of Nigeria, for example, said Africa’s growth rate which stands around five percent today, could easily reach two-digit figures with a simple increase in the supply of electricity.

The Nigerian business mogul also deplored the existence of obstacles to free movement as an element that does not promote business expansion. “How do you expect business to grow between African countries when, for instance, I need some 35 visas to travel around the continent”, he queried.

The World Bank President Dr Jim Yong Kim even strengthened the point with an anecdote. He said on a recent visit to Burkina Faso, he learned that a unit of electricity was sold there for about 75 cents while the same went for a mere 25 cents in the U.S.

The World Bank boss announced that his institution was going to make available Five Billion U.S Dollars to sustain “Power Africa”, an initiative aimed at taking up energy production in the continent to 10,000 megawatts in the coming years. The first beneficiary countries already on the line are Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia and Tanzania, he said.

The day’s events held at the Mandarin Oriental hotel provided a good occasion for the participating Heads of State to freely exchange between themselves, on the one hand and with U.S top-level officials and the President of the U.S Barak Obama, on the other.

Although the press could not access the hall reserved for Heads of State, it was learned from the President’s aides that he availed himself of the opportunity to make valuable contacts with his peers and the American business community.

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