The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit that took place in Washington August 4-6 may well be a turning point for the image makeover that many experts believe the region is ripe for . There are political and strategic reasons for the U.S. to welcome tens of African leaders at the White House. Africa is a global growth leader, with expanding manufacturing, retail and telecommunications industries. For the U.S., forging a closer economic cooperation with Africa makes sense on several fronts, from security to resources as well as new business opportunities.
During the meeting, President Obama announced $33 billion in investment commitments, heralding a new age of cooperation that marks a shift from the traditional aid packages the West has been channeling to the region for many decades. Now, most of the commitments are coming from the private sector. Coca-Cola is one of the main companies announcing hefty investments in Africa. During the event, the global brand announced it would make—along with its African bottling partners—a $5 billion investment over the next six years, bringing its total investment in the region for the period 2010-2020 to $17 billion.
Through the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, the company also announced an initiative to improve safe water and sanitation access for four million Africans by 2020. This project will be carried out by the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) whose main goal is to improve water access to two million Africans by 2015. Access to safe water brings health and hygiene benefits, besides empowering women and youth, among many other advantages. During the White House event, General Electric also announced that it expects to be investing $2 billion in Africa over the next four years. The company will be investing in areas that are in most need of development, such as supply chain, human resources, infrastructure and sustainability. Some of the projects involve using landfill biogas as a source of electricity, rail lines in Angola and gas turbines in Algeria and Nigeria.
GE is aware that Africa represents a massive business opportunity. The region’s economic growth has beaten the rest of the world by two percent over the last 15 years, but it suffers from lack of infrastructure, especially an adequate power supply. These shortcomings are rich opportunities for American companies to sell their services in that part of the world.
The African growth story is one that should get more global awareness among the general public and the business community. The Washington D.C. event will help build a new image for Africa, which hopefully, in the not-so-distant future, will no longer be associated with conflict and disease only—certainly serious issues the region has to tackle—but also progress and entrepreneurship.
Image credit: Coca Cola
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