Barack Obama addressed the US-Africa Business Forum for the last time as US president © Press Association Images
Barack Obama addressed the US-Africa Business Forum for the last time as US president © Press Association Images

So much untapped potential in Africa, says Obama

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
27 September 2016

US exports to Africa have “surged” and investment in the continent has increased to billions of dollars, according to president Barack Obama.

Obama told the US-Africa Business Forum in New York that in East Africa new trade hubs had created 29,000 jobs and helped increase exports to the US by more than a third, while the US aimed to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.

“American investment in Africa is up 70%. US exports to Africa have surged. In the two years since our last forum, American and African companies have concluded deals worth nearly $15bn, which will support African development across the board, from manufacturing to health care to renewable energy,” he said in a speech.

“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 $9bn in trade and investment with Africa.”

Obama said he was the first US president to visit Africa four times and over the past eight years Trade Africa, an initiative to improve the flow of goods across borders, had been launched, along with Doing Business in Africa, a campaign to help US firms find opportunities on the continent.

The president said 10 years ago it took 54 days to start a business in Kenya, but “today it takes less than half that”. He said the Power Africa initiative had seen electricity brought to rural Rwanda, solar power and natural gas in Nigeria and off-grid energy in Tanzania. “By 2030 I believe we can bring electricity to more than 60m African homes and businesses,” Obama said.

“So we are making progress but we’re just scratching the surface,” he went on. “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% – go to Africa. So there’s still so much untapped potential.”

However, Obama warned against corruption. “Graft, cronyism, corruption – it stifles growth, scares off investment. A business should begin with a handshake and not a shakedown.

“The truth 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.”

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