President Obama and African leaders took part in three action-oriented sessions today as part of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. The summit is the largest event any U.S. president has held with African heads of state and government, and builds on President Obama's trip to Africa last summer.
In remarks at this morning's opening session, the President explained the purpose of the event and noted the progress across the African continent -- and what that means for America:
We come together this week because, even as the continent faces significant challenges, as I said last night, I believe a new Africa is emerging. With some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, a growing middle class, and the youngest and fastest-growing population on Earth, Africa will help shape the world as never before.
Moreover, Africa’s progress is being led by Africans, including leaders represented here today. More governments are embracing economic reforms, attracting record levels of investment. Gains in development, increasing agricultural production, declining rates in infectious diseases are being driven by African plans. African security forces and African peacekeepers are risking their lives to meet regional threats. A new generation of young Africans is making its voice heard.
Africa’s rise means opportunity for all of us -- including the opportunity to transform the relationship between the United States and Africa. As I said in Cape Town last year, it’s time for a new model of partnership between America and Africa -- a partnership of equals that focuses on African capacity to solve problems, and on Africa’s capacity to grow. And that’s why we’re here.
The President called the summit "an opportunity to focus on three broad areas" where the U.S. and Africa can make progress together: expanding trade that creates jobs; strengthening governance; and deepening our security cooperation against common threats.
"We are here not just to talk," he said. "We are here to take action -- concrete steps to build on Africa’s progress and forge the partnerships of equals that we seek; tangible steps to deliver more prosperity, more security, and more justice to our citizens."
Watch the President's full remarks below:
At a press conference this evening, President Obama thanked the African leaders for taking part in the summit, noting that today's sessions were "genuine discussions -- a chance to truly listen and to try to come together around some pragmatic steps that we can take together."
Here's what he covered at the press conference:
Yesterday, the President announced $33 billion in new trade and investment commitments that will help spur African development and support tens of thousands of U.S. jobs. And as a result of new commitments to the Power Africa initiative, the U.S. now aims to bring electricity to 60 million homes and businesses across the African continent.
At the press conference, the President emphasized that Africa's prosperity depends on the people of Africa:
Ultimately, Africa’s prosperity depends on Africa’s greatest resource -- its people. And I’ve been very encouraged by the desire of leaders here to partner with us in supporting young entrepreneurs, including through our Young African Leaders Initiative. I think there’s an increasing recognition that if countries are going to reach their full economic potential, then they have to invest in women -- their education, their skills, and protect them from gender-based violence. And that was a topic of conversation this afternoon. And this week the United States announced a range of initiatives to help empower women across Africa.
Our New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition continues to grow, aiming to lift 50 million Africans from poverty. In our fight against HIV/AIDS, we’ll work with 10 African countries to help them double the number of their children on lifesaving anti-retroviral drugs. And even as the United States is deploying some of our medical first responders to West Africa to help control the Ebola outbreak, we’re also working to strengthen public health systems, including joining with the African Union to pursue the creation of an African Centers for Disease Control.
I also want to note that the American people are renewing their commitment to Africa. Today, InterAction -- the leading alliance of American NGOs -- is announcing that over the next three years its members will invest $4 billion to promote maternal health, children’s health, and the delivery of vaccines and drugs. So this is not just a government effort, it is also an effort that's spurred on by the private sector. Combined with the investments we announced yesterday -- and the commitments made today at the symposium hosted by our spouses -- that means this summit has helped to mobilize some $37 billion for Africa’s progress on top of, obviously, the substantial efforts that have been made in the past.
President Obama went on to explain that good governance is "a foundation of economic growth and free societies," noting that while some African countries are making "impressive progress," there are also "troubling restrictions on universal rights."
Today was an opportunity to highlight the importance of rule of law, open and accountable institutions, strong civil societies, and protection of human rights for all citizens and all communities. And I made the point during our discussion that nations that uphold these rights and principles will ultimately be more prosperous and more economically successful.
In particular, we agreed to step up our collective efforts against the corruption that costs African economies tens of billions of dollars every year -- money that ought to be invested in the people of Africa. Several leaders raised the idea of a new partnership to combat illicit finance, and there was widespread agreement. So we decided to convene our experts and develop an action plan to promote the transparency that is essential to economic growth.
Deepening our security cooperation
The President also detailed how the U.S. and Africa will deepen security cooperation, in order to "meet common threats, from terrorism to human trafficking."
We’re launching a new Security Governance Initiative to help our African countries continue to build strong, professional security forces to provide for their own security. And we’re starting with Kenya, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Ghana and Tunisia.
During our discussions, our West African partners made it clear that they want to increase their capacity to respond to crises. So the United States will launch a new effort to bolster the regions early warning and response network and increase their ability to share information about emerging crises.
We also agreed to make significant new investments in African peacekeeping. The United States will provide additional equipment to African peacekeepers in Somalia and the Central African Republic. We will support the African Union’s efforts to strengthen its peacekeeping institutions. And most importantly, we’re launching a new African peacekeeping rapid response partnership with the goal of quickly deploying African peacekeepers in support of U.N. or AU missions. And we’ll join with six countries that in recent years have demonstrated a track record as peacekeepers -- Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda. And we’re going to invite countries beyond Africa to join us in supporting this effort, because the entire world has a stake in the success of peacekeeping in Africa.
President Obama then announced that, due to the success of this summit, U.S.-Africa Leaders Summits will now take place every four years "to hold ourselves accountable for our commitments and to sustain our momentum."
Meanwhile, at the Kennedy Center today, First Lady Michelle Obama partnered with former First Lady Laura Bush and the Bush Institute to host the day-long "Investing in Our Future" symposium on advancement for women and girls in Africa.
The symposium -- which focused on the impact of investments in education, health, and public-private partnerships -- brought the two First Ladies together with African first spouses from almost 30 countries, as well as leaders from nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations, private-sector partners, and other experts.
In her remarks kicking off the event, Mrs. Obama discussed the need to "lift up our young people," as well as the importance of "bringing these young people to the table" and listening to their voices and views:
The question is, can we and our governments learn from them and follow their lead? Can we embrace their ideas and incorporate them into policies and strategies? And in our work as First Ladies, First Spouses, can we find new ways to be more inclusive of these young people and show them that we truly value their voices?
And so many of you are already embracing the young leaders in your countries through your work –- whether it’s improving girls’ education, or fighting cervical cancer or HIV, or supporting microfinance. You all have the potential to inspire millions across the globe.
So it is my hope that today, we will rededicate ourselves to these efforts and commit to new efforts to lift up our young people. And I hope that you all will have a chance today to really connect with each other, and learn from each other, and hopefully be inspired by each other.
The symposium also included the announcement of more than $200 million in investments to support programs fostering improved education, health, and economic opportunity for more than 1 million Africans. Find out more about those investments here.