The US Africa Summit began its first day with the US Africa Business Forum bringing together leaders in the business sectors from both Africa and the United States to discuss opportunities for partnership.
Speaking on the panel titled “Game Plan: Shaping the Future of a Fast- Growing Continent” including President Paul Kagameof Rwanda, Macky Sall of Senegal, Marzouki of Tunisia, Zuma of South Africa and Kikwete of Tanzania, Kagame highlighted the potential to turn Africa’s challenges into opportunities.
“Through this partnership, imagine the kind of growth and development than can be unleashed. But there has to be grounds on which growth can translate into development. Each of the members in this partnership has responsibilities and a role to play.”
President Kagame emphasized the need for Africa to own up to its weaknesses and forge a way forward that ensures Africa becomes an equal partner.
“We need to build our capacities and strengthen our institutions to avoid the over dependency that has been there for too long. We need to own up to our mistakes and weaknesses and contribute to our solutions. We need to tell our own story.”
President Kagame concluded his remarks with an emphasis on the need for African nations to work together.
“There is not much time to waste in terms of building consensus and working together so that we partner with others rather than be dependent on them.”
The US Africa Business Forum was co hosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The day focused on key areas including infrastructure, power, agriculture, finance and capital investments and information and communication technologies.
Speakers throughout the day included African business leaders Aliko Dangote, Ashish Thakkar, Strive Masiyiwa as well as US policy makers including National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.
The investment of US businesses in Africa following this conference is expected to total $14 billion in business deals that will benefit both Africa and the US.
Among the issues advocated at the summit, the Obama administration announced efforts to extend the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act set to expire next year for another fifteen years.
The previous day, President Kagame held an interactive discussion at the Aspen Institute in Colorado, on Rwanda’s journey of transformation.
Speaking to a gathering of leaders and members of the Aspen Institute, President Kagame shared Rwanda’s progress and challenges.
President Kagame pointed to the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi as a lesson for all Rwandans:
“We came out determined and committed to reverse the situation. We looked each other in the eyes and asked one thing: who benefitted from Genocide? Not one single person or family benefitted from the Genocide. We could choose to work towards a common good or the common destruction that we had already experienced.”
Speaking on the reconstruction process that followed the Genocide, President Kagame emphasized the importance of resilience:
“For us, the question was what happens if we fail to achieve? There was no alternative. What Rwandans have achieved is because of the resilience of the people. Other people can help but no one will carry our burden for us.”
The interactive session brought together members of the Aspen Institute and was moderated by Elliot Gerson, the executive vice president of the Aspen Institute who defined Rwanda as “a country of progress born out of suffering.”
Elliot Gerson pointed to the 90% of children currently in school in Rwanda, the fastest growth rate in Africa and the growth in life expectancy by 20 years as some of Rwanda’s accomplishments.
On the issue of women empowerment, President Kagame explained that the choice of empowering women is “simply common sense.”
The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization with a mission to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The conversation was attended by policy makers and various leaders including Madeleine Albright, former United States Secretary of State and Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado.
President Kagame ended the day in Aspen with a dinner hosted by Marc Holtzman, Chairman of Meridian Capital and Samuel Robson Walton, Chairman of Walmart. The dinner brought together leader in the business community for an interactive discussion on Rwanda today and existing opportunities.