On his first full day in New York, President Obama lunched with 25 Sub-Saharan African heads of state in an ongoing effort to forge stronger relationships, with the hope those partnerships lead to move opportunities for the continent.
President Obama, who visited Ghana in July, stressed to the gathered leaders two premises: that an Africa that's prosperous and at peace is vital to the interests of the United States and the rest of the world; and that Africa's future is up to Africans. With that, Mr Obama, who said he wanted to take the opportunity to listen, turned the conversation, which was behind closed doors, over to the heads of state.
The White House described the lunch as a free flowing dialogue which focused mainly on three topics: creating jobs, particularly for youth, increasing trade and investment, and strengthening agriculture productivity.
On job creation, Liberian President Sirleaf described the demographic challenge facing her country which has a booming young population. On trade investment, Rwandan President Kagame described his country's efforts in creating a favorable, secure investment climate, and encouraged the US to be more supportive of regional initiatives that would create long-term growth. On agriculture, Tanzanian President Kikwete led the discussion on productivity and the food security initiative which was a topic at this summers G8.
Somewhat surprising, Sudan did not come up in conversation, but as Michelle Gavin, White House Senior Director for African Affairs said in a briefing with reporters, today's lunch was more about looking forward, “The idea of looking beyond kind of immediate emergencies and crises, out into the future, how to sort of build more opportunity for future generations of Africans.” Nonetheless, the leaders did discuss the important of stability, especially when it comes to corruption and the adverse effect it has when promoting trade investment.
“Obviously, this is an issue that the President feels very strongly about and that he touched on very directly in Accra. In his opening remarks, as he was kind of laying out these themes and the sort of partnership that we want to move forward with where we have roles and responsibilities, the African leaders have roles and responsibilities, one of the things he stressed was the importance of addressing corruption head on; that you obviously can't promote trade and investment, attract investment, create jobs and move forward on these issues in a climate where investors are frightened off by an absence to the rule of law and a culture of corruption.”
As for when Mr Obama might return to the region, Gavin says there were many “very lovely invitations extended” to the President by the leaders around the table, and while none was accepted on the spot, Gavin assured the press President Obama “would be delighted to take them up on at some point.”