Citizens across East Africa are welcoming the outcome of the US-Africa Leaders Summit, which ended with billions of dollars of investment and financing pledges, and the establishment of a number of partnerships aimed at countering terrorism and creating favourable environments for trade.
The three-day summit in Washington, DC, held August 4th-6th, brought together more than 50 African political and business leaders and was seen by the public as positive step towards expanding business opportunities in Africa.
It was also seen as chance for African leaders to build strong and transparent institutions and governance structures conducive to supporting foreign investment.
To support this growth, US President Barack Obama announced $7 billion in new financing to promote US exports to and investments in Africa, while American companies announced $14 billion in new deals in clean energy, aviation, banking and construction.
In addition, Obama's Power Africa initiative received $12 billion in new commitments from private sector partners, the World Bank and the government of Sweden.
Kenyatta woos trade to East Africa:
For his part, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said the East African Community (EAC) wants American firms to get a stronger foothold in the region.
"We want you in East Africa and we will do everything to facilitate your entry into our market to benefit us and the United States," he said at a meeting he chaired Thursday (August 7th) with the presidents of EAC countries, the US Chamber of Commerce and business leaders.
"We want to take advantage of the vast economy of the US and we have made progress in improving our legal systems to make our region more business friendly," he said, adding that the EAC was turning into the most business-friendly region in Africa.
Nonetheless, Kenyatta's pronouncements come at a time when insecurity and rule of law continue to be a concern throughout the region.
"I now hope our African leaders will walk the talk and seize the opportunity to create an enabling environment which will help American companies invest here without bureaucratic hindrances," said David Gachuru, 53, general manager of Sarova Panafric Hotel in Nairobi.
He said he hopes the government addresses Kenya's insecurity issues without delay so that American investors can regain confidence in the country. "No one wants to invest his money in an insecure country that is politically instable," he said.
Investment focused on trade, not aid:
David Kinoti, 37, a mass communications lecturer at St. Paul's University in Nairobi, said he was excited by the interest shown by American leadership towards Africa, which is focused on mutual gains from trade and investment rather than donor aid.
"I see the summit as a big step towards global economic integration and poverty reduction in Kenya and the region," he told Sabahi. "With companies such as Chevron Corporation, Citigroup, Ford Motor Company, Lockheed Martin, Marriott International and Morgan Stanley attending the forum and promising to invest in Africa, this means more job opportunities and better lives for our people."
Fred Simiyu, 40, managing director of Kenyatta International Conference Centre, welcomed Kenya's thawed relations with the United States, which he said would help grow the country's Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) sector.
"The US has the largest associations of MICE buyers in Kenya in terms of visitors," he said, adding that the move may also increase the number of American tourists visiting Kenya.
With a greater American business presence in Kenya, Simiyu said, the US government's travel warnings for Kenya over terrorism and insecurity fears will decline.
"Terrorism is a global scourge and not a Kenyan problem," he said. "Therefore, by the Kenyan government working with the US, it will help Kenyan law enforcement agencies learn how the US has managed to counter terrorism on its soil since 9/11."
Support for AGOA and Power Africa:
The Obama administration also expressed its commitment to work with the US Congress to renew and update the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which is due to expire next year.
AGOA, which was signed into law in 2000 as part of the US Trade and Development Act, offers tangible incentives for African countries to open their economies and build free markets.
"Duty free access to the US market under AGOA over the last 14 years has contributed to Africa's economic success, as exports from sub-Saharan Africa to the United States more than doubled and non-oil / non-mineral exports have increased fourfold," the White House said.
Judy Karugabo, 49, a Ugandan businesswoman who runs a fabrics boutique called Woman Classique in Nairobi, said she hopes AGOA will be extended.
"By 2016, my company will have grown and be able to export fabrics direct to the US which will enable me to access its market under a duty free quota system," she said.
Maalim Juma, 43, a Ngara Girls Secondary School teacher in Nairobi who is originally from Tanzania, said he was very excited about the prospect of having electricity in his rural hometown for the first time thanks to the Power Africa initiative.
"It is very good news," he told Sabahi. "I read in a local newspaper that the Power Africa initiative received an additional $12 billion in pledges towards developing energy supplies. This means my dream of having electricity in my Tabora home and doing away with the expensive and health-damaging kerosene lamps is soon becoming a reality."
Juma, however, said he hopes African governments take Obama's challenge seriously and implement policies necessary for American companies to start investments in Africa, "so that the anticipated development actually happens and does not just end at the Washington negotiation tables".
Somalia's hope for the Security Governance Initiative:
Retired Somali Army Colonel Abdikarim Daud welcomed Obama's pledge to help build the capability of African armies, saying Somalia should take advantage of this opportunity.
The Somali government should lay out a clear plan to build its national military and communicate with partners like the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the United States who are willing to provide support to train and equip troops with the arms and technology that Somalia badly needs, he said.
In addition, he said, Somalia stands to gain the most from the Security Governance Initiative, which provides a much needed boost for the arduous fight against al-Shabaab.
"America is interested in the security of the Horn of Africa, and that [opportunity] must be maximised," Daud told Sabahi, suggesting that the government use the funds it receives for counter-terrorism initiatives and to provide education and job opportunities for at-risk youth.
Director of the Mogadishu-based Centre for Moderation and Dialogue Omar Dahir Sheikh Abdirahman said the most pressing issue facing Somalia, hindering it from unlocking its full potential, is al-Shabaab.
Fighting extremism from the ground up requires launching awareness campaigns and using media outlets and mosques to reach youths, he said, adding that financial and other support from the United States can go a long way in helping the Somali government win "the battle of ideas" against al-Shabaab.
Abdi Moalim contributed to this report from Mogadishu
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