Trade, entrepreneurship and peace tops Obama’s agenda for Africa

“We stand ready and eager to work with the African Union for the best engagement of the United States with Africa,” said U.S President Barack Obama when he pledged his support to the African Union (AU) during his tour of Southern Africa in 2013. He promised then to strengthen Africa-U.S relations, economically and politically. “If there is a strong African Union, any help that is provided by the U.S becomes more effective than us doing things on our own.” This weekend, he plans to reiterate that commitment when he addresses Africa from the Nelson Mandela Hall at the AU Conference Centre, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Top of his agenda will be forging a greater alliance with African countries to effectively combat terrorism—as al Shabaab continue to wreak havoc in East Africa and dampen investor confidence. The renewal of African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which offers tangible incentives for African countries to continue their efforts to open their economies and build free markets, just days before his three-day visit to Kenya and Ethiopia show President Obama is also keen to enhance trade relations with the Africa, which has dominated largely by China.

Strengthening Africa’s emerging entrepreneurial class will also dominate discussions in Ethiopia. On the eve of President Obama’s visit to Kenya for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, GeoPol, the Global Entrepreneurship Network and the U.S State Department released a survey of 1,000 business owners throughout sub-Saharan Africa on entrepreneurship in their countries.

GeoPoll surveyed 200 entrepreneurs per country in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, asking them what resources are most needed to encourage entrepreneurship, what programs they have participated in to improve their businesses, and what are the biggest challenges facing new businesses.


Findings showed that while scarce funding and poor government support had hampered the growth of entrepreneurship, there is a strong desire for more training resources, with training programs and entrepreneurship courses in school being the most popular responses to a question on how government could help people start businesses.

Programmes such as the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) and Ashish Thakkar’s mentorship programme (Mara Mentors) have moved to fill the void of funding, training, and guidance in recent years, but even their laudable causes have proven insufficient as most African youths are turning to entrepreneurship in the face of growing unemployment.


Africa’s priorities

Dr. Dlamini Zuma, the AU Commission Chairperson, said on the Thursday that President Obama’s visit was “historic”, adding that it was another concrete step towards broadening and deepening the relationship between the AU and the U.S.

During the visit, the AU Commission Chairperson will take the opportunity to present Africa’s priority areas as articulated in the Agenda 2063 framework document and the 10-year implementation plan, aimed at achieving Africa’s vision for prosperity, integration and peace.

The visit will offer Dr. Dlamini Zuma and President Obama the opportunity to further the discussions held in June 2013 in South Africa, and during the U.S-Africa Summit in August 2014 in Washington DC. Among the important issues will be skills revolution to provide the youth with employment opportunities; industrialization and infrastructural development and agro-processing.

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