President Obama Delivers Remarks at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum

President Obama Delivers Remarks at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum


President Obama: Well,
good morning, everybody! Let me begin by thanking
Mayor Bloomberg — not just for the introduction but for
the incredible work that Bloomberg Philanthropies is
doing, not just in helping this event but for all the
work that you’re doing in promoting entrepreneurship
and development throughout Africa. And I’d also like to
thank our co-host, and a tremendous champion of
investment and engagement in Africa — my great friend, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. I also want to welcome our
partners from across Africa, including the many heads of
state and government leaders who are with us. And I want to acknowledge
Senator Chris Coons and leaders from across my
administration, who share a profound commitment to
expanding opportunity and deepening relationships
between our countries. Most importantly, I want
to thank all of you — the business leaders,
entrepreneurs, on both sides of the Atlantic, who are
working very hard every single day to create jobs
and to grow economies and to lift up our people. Now, I gave a long
speech yesterday. Some of you had
to sit through it. I’m going to try to be a
little more concise today. I’m here because, as the
world gathers in New York City, we’re reminded that on
so many key challenges that we face — our security, our
prosperity, climate change, the struggle for human
rights and human dignity, the reduction of conflict —
Africa is essential to our progress. Africa’s rise is not just
important to Africa, it’s important to the
entire world. Yes, too many people across
the continent still face conflict and
hunger and disease. And, yes, recent years have
brought some stiff economic headwinds. And we have to be relentless
in our efforts to end conflicts, and improve
security and promote justice. At the same time, the
broader trajectory of Africa is unmistakable. Thanks to many of you,
Africa is on the move — home to some of the
fastest-growing economies in the world and a middle class
projected to grow to more than a billion customers. An Africa of telecom
companies and clean-tech startups and Silicon
savannahs, all powered by the youngest population
anywhere on the planet. As President, I’ve worked to
transform our relationship with Africa so that we’re
working together, as equal partners. I’m proud to be the first
American President to visit sub-Saharan Africa four
times; the first to visit Ethiopia and speak before
the African Union; the first to visit Kenya — which
I think was obligatory. I would have been in trouble
if I hadn’t done that. (laughter) I believe I’m also the first
American President to dance the Lipala in Nairobi — or
to try to dance the Lipala. And wherever I’ve gone, from
Senegal to South Africa, Africans insist they do not
just want aid, they want trade. They want partners,
not patrons. They want to do business and
grow businesses, and create value and companies that
will last and that will help to build a great future
for the continent. And the United States is
determined to be that partner — for the long term
— to accelerate the next era of African growth
for all Africans. And that’s why, over the
past eight years, we’ve dramatically expanded
our economic engagement. With your support, we
renewed the African Growth and Opportunity Act for
another decade, giving African nations
unprecedented access to American markets. We launched Trade Africa, so
that African countries can sell goods and services more
easily across borders — both within Africa and
with the United States. We created Doing Business
in Africa campaign to help American businesses —
including small businesses — pursue opportunities
across Africa. And under Penny’s
leadership, nearly 300 American companies have
taken trade missions to Africa, with more than 8,000
African buyers attending U.S. trade shows. If you are an African
entrepreneur or an American entrepreneur looking for
more support, more capital, more technical assistance,
there has never been a better time to partner
with the United States. Commitments from the
Export-Import Bank and the U.S. Trade and Development
Agency have doubled. OPIC investments
have tripled. Nearly 70 percent of
Millennium Challenge Corporation compacts are
now with African countries. And we’ve opened up and
expanded new trade and investment offices, from
Ghana to Mozambique. Through our landmark Power
Africa initiative, the United States is mobilizing
more than 130 public and private sector partners —
and over $52 billion — to double electricity access
across sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, our Global
Entrepreneurship Summits in Morocco and Kenya and our
Young African Leaders Initiative are giving nearly
300,000 talented, striving young Africans the tools
and networks to become the entrepreneurs and business
leaders of the future. We’ve got some of those
outstanding young people here today. And two years ago, I
welcomed many of you to our first ever U.S.-Africa
Business Forum, where we announced billions of
dollars in new trade and investment between
our countries. And you can see the results. American investment in
Africa is up 70 percent. U.S. exports to Africa
have surged. Iconic companies — FedEx,
Kellogg’s, Google — are growing their presence
on the continent. You can hail an Uber
in Lagos or Kampala. In the two years since our
last forum, American and African companies have
concluded deals worth nearly $15 billion, which will
support African development across the board, from
manufacturing to health care to renewable energy. Microsoft and Mawingu
Networks are partnering to provide low-cost broadband
to rural Kenyans. Procter & Gamble is
expanding a plant in South Africa. MasterCard will work with
Ethiopian banks so that more Ethiopians can send
home remittances. These are all
serious commitments. New relationships are being
forged, and I’m pleased that, altogether, the deals
and commitments being announced at this forum add
up to more than $9 billion in trade and
investment with Africa. So we are making progress,
but we’re just scratching the surface. We have so much more work
that can be done and will be done. The fact is that, despite
significant growth in much of the continent, Africa’s
entire GDP is still only about the GDP of France. Only a fraction of American
exports — about 2 percent — go to Africa. So there’s still so much
untapped potential. And I may only be in this
office for a few more months, but let me suggest a
few areas where we need to focus in the years ahead. We have to keep increasing
the trade that creates broad-based growth. In East Africa alone,
our new trade hubs have supported 29,000 jobs and
helped increase exports to the United States
by over a third. So we need to keep working
to integrate African economies, diversify African
exports, and bring down barriers at the borders. Since we’re approaching two
decades since AGOA was first passed, we’re releasing a
report today exploring the future beyond AGOA, with
trade agreements that are even more enduring
and reciprocal. We also have to keep making
it easier to do business in Africa. We know progress
is possible. A decade ago, if you wanted
to start a business in Kenya, it took, on
average, 54 days. Today, it takes
less than half that. And governments that make
additional reforms and cut red tape will have a partner
in the United States. At our last forum, I
announced the creation of our Presidential Advisory
Council to guide our work together. And today, I’m pleased to
welcome the newest members of our expanded council, so
that more industries and insights can shape
their recommendations. Feel free to find them
later, bend their ear. Don’t be shy. They are excited about their
work and excited to hear from you. We also need to invest more
in the infrastructure that is the foundation of
future prosperity. And, as I indicated earlier,
we’re especially focused on increasing access to
electricity for the two-thirds of sub-Saharan
Africans who lack it. Three years after launching
Power Africa, we’re seeing real progress — solar power
and natural gas in Nigeria; off-grid energy in Tanzania;
people in rural Rwanda gaining electricity. This means that students
can study at night and businesses can stay open. And we are not
going to let up. Partners like the World Bank
and the African Development Bank are mobilizing
billions. Last month, the government
of Japan made a major commitment to
support this work. And together with GE,
today we’re launching a public-private partnership
to support energy enterprises managed
by women in Africa. So we’re on our way, and by
2030, I believe we can bring electricity to more than 60
million African homes and businesses. And that will be
transformative. But even if we do the
infrastructure, even if we’re passing more
business-friendly laws, even if we’re increasing trade, I
think all of you know that we’re also going to have
to keep promoting the good governance that allows
for good business. Graft, cronyism, corruption
— it stifles growth, scares off investment. A business should begin
with a handshake and not a shakedown. (applause) So through our efforts
like our Open Government Partnership, and our
Partnership on Illicit Finance, we’re going to
keep working to encourage transparency, stamp out
corruption and uphold the rule of law. That’s what’s going to
ultimately attract trade and investment and opportunity. The truth is, is that
those governments that are above-board and transparent,
people want to do business there. People don’t want to do
business in places where the rules are constantly
changing depending on who’s up, who’s down,
whose cousin is who. It creates the kinds of
risks that scare investors away. And finally, we need to
invest more in Africa’s most precious resource, and that
is its people, especially young people. Men and women;
boys and girls. I’ve had the opportunity to
meet the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs —
in Soweto and Dar es Salaam and Dakar. I’ve welcomed many of
them to the White House. They are spectacular. They are itching to
make a difference. Their passion is inspiring. Their talent is unmatched. They are hungry for
knowledge and information, and are willing
to take risks. And many of them, because
they’ve come from tough circumstances, by definition
they’re entrepreneurial. They’ve had to make a way
out of no way, and are resilient and resourceful. So we got to continue to
empower these aspiring leaders — give them the
tools, the training and the support so that a few years
from now, they can be sitting in this room. Because if Africa’s young
people flourish, if they are getting education, if they
are getting opportunity, I’m absolutely convinced that
Africa will flourish as well. And they are the future
leaders that inspire me. I think of the Rwandan
entrepreneur I met earlier this year at one of our
entrepreneurship summits. His company is turning
biomass into energy. He started his business
when he was 19 years old. And a lot of folks didn’t
get what he was doing or why. He made an interesting
comment that sometimes in traditional cultures, in
African cultures, the working assumption is, is
that young people don’t know anything. And since we were in Silicon
Valley when he was telling this story, I wanted to
point out that folks in Africa may want to rethink
that — because if you’re over 30 there, you’re
basically over the hill. (laughter) But he kept at it. As he told me, “No matter
what you’re trying to do,” you need the “motive in your
mind that you want to help your society move forward.” He was doing well, but he
was also trying to do good. And that’s what
this is all about. That’s the work that
we’ve got to carry on. This is a U.S.-Africa
business forum. This is not charity. All of you should be wanting
to make money, and create great products and great
services, and be profitable, and do right by
your investors. But the good news is, in
Africa, right now, if you are doing well, you can also
be doing a lot of good. And if we keep that in mind,
if we do more to buy from each other and sell from
each other, if we do more to bring down barriers to doing
business, if we do more to strengthen infrastructure
and innovation and governance, I know we’re
going to be able to move our societies and
economies forward. And that will be good not
just for Africa, but it will be good for the United
States and good for the world. We want Africa as a booming,
growing, thriving market, where we can do business,
where you’ve got a young population that is surging. And although this will be
the last time I participate in the U.S-Africa Business
Forum as President, I think you should anticipate that I
will be continuing to work with all of you in the years
to come, and I know that Penny has done a great
job in working to institutionalize
these efforts. And when we’ve got great
partners like Mike Bloomberg and the Bloomberg Foundation
involved in this, I have no doubt that this is just
going to keep on growing, and we’re going to look
back and say, we were on to something. Thank you so
much, everybody. Appreciate it. Keep up the great work. (applause)

Danny Hutson

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