An Africa that is prosperous and at peace is vital to the interests of the United States and the rest of the world, President Obama says, adding that Africa’s future is up to Africans. Obama, in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, made that observation during a September 22 luncheon he hosted for 25 sub-Saharan African leaders. African Union Commissioner Jean Ping and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also attended.
In a briefing for journalists following the luncheon, Michelle Gavin, special assistant to the president and senior director for African affairs at the National Security Council, described the event as an effort to foster dialogue and build on the themes that President Obama addressed in his speech in Accra, Ghana, in July.
In particular, Gavin said, Obama highlighted the importance of partnership and creating opportunity in Africa, through creating jobs, encouraging investment and strengthening the agricultural sector and agricultural productivity. The president also used his opening remarks to stress the importance of addressing corruption head-on to promote trade, investment and jobs creation, she said.
Obama kept his remarks brief, Gavin said, and used the lunch as an opportunity to listen to what African leaders had to say on these issues.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf addressed the challenges of creating jobs for young Africans. She said Africa’s demographic challenge — huge youth populations — adds pressure to labor markets, and she highlighted the need for education. She also stressed the importance of programs that create opportunities for African women and girls.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda talked about trade and investment in Africa. Rwanda was just named the world’s top reformer in the World Bank’s report Doing Business 2010: Reforming through Difficult Times, Kagame noted, and he described Rwanda’s experience in creating a favorable investment climate. Kagame stressed the importance of regional initiatives and infrastructure, and outlined how the United States could be more supportive of initiatives that will create long-term growth in Africa.
Kagame also talked about health issues in Africa, acknowledging the importance of existing global health initiatives and calling for more attention to be paid to broad health infrastructures.
Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikwete, led the discussion on agriculture and agriculture-led economic growth in Africa. According to Gavin, participants’ discussion of the new $20 billion international commitment on food security, announced at the Group of Eight Summit, was an opportunity to get African leaders’ insights on this issue.