3 Takeaways From Day 1 of the US-Africa Leaders Summit

On the first day of the largest gathering of African leaders in the U.S., the Obama administration aimed to shine a spotlight on economic opportunities and strengthening democracy on the continent.

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George Chaponda, Malawi’s minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, speaks with Rakesh Rajani, Tanzania’s civil society leader, during the Civil Society Forum Aug. 4, 2014, at the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. 

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit commenced Monday in Washington, D.C., with close to 50 African heads of state and other dignitaries in town to discuss a host of issues, including security, health, the environment and political corruption, Voice of America reports. Top U.S. officials were optimistic about the summit’s potential for deepening U.S.-Africa relations and economic growth on the continent.

“We’re on the cusp where the continent of Africa establishes itself as among the ranks of the world’s most prosperous economic and free nations,” Vice President Joe Biden said in an address to the summit’s attendees, VOA reports. “In your hands, with your help, Africa can and will go so much further. You’re the fastest-growing economies in the world, and quite frankly the success of the rest of the world depends in part on your success.”

Here were the main topics discussed on day 1 of the three-day event:

1. U.S. officials promise support in containing the Ebola outbreak.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and other U.S. officials spoke with Guinean President Alpha Condé and senior officials from Liberia and Sierra Leone, representatives of the three countries at the center of the Ebola outbreak that has claimed at least 887 lives, reports the Associated Press. Burwell and Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pledged continued support to help contain the outbreak, officials said, according to AP.

The World Bank Group announced Monday that it will donate as much as $200 million in emergency funding to help Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone pay for medical supplies and medical-staff salaries needed to improve the region’s ability to surveil and prevent the spread of Ebola infections and future outbreaks.

The leaders of Sierra Leone and Liberia skipped the summit to deal with the deadly virus that has stricken their countries.

2. African leaders seek renewal of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act.

At a panel focused on trade, South African President Jacob Zuma advocated for the U.S. to renew the 14-year-old Africa Growth and Opportunity Act—set to expire next year—for another 15 years with the inclusion of South Africa, reports VOA. Nearly 600 U.S. companies do business in South Africa, one of the strongest economies on the continent, but they have had difficulty navigating the country’s low growth, labor disruptions and high unemployment, according to AP.

Since 2000, AGOA has been central to U.S. efforts to shore up trade and investment in fast-growing Africa, reports AP. The U.S.’ biggest competitor on the continent is China, which exceeded the U.S. in imports in 2012, the Wall Street Journal reports. The aim, U.S. officials said, is to emphasize trade over foreign aid, according to the Journal.

3. U.S. officials call on African nations to put democracy into action.

At a panel on African civil society, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry encouraged summit participants to support democracy and individual rights within their respective home countries, VOA reports.

“It’s also why we’re determined to deepen our partnership and deliver on remarkable opportunities for peace, for security, for economic growth and perhaps for—most important in the context of what brings us here today—the empowerment of people through their government, through their civil society,” Kerry said, according to VOA.

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