Is Obama's 'Billions' For Africa A Development Strategy?

By Michael igoe

What happens when almost 50 African heads-of-state, many of their ministers, hundreds of U.S. and African business leaders, donor officials, development professionals, civil society activists, artists, and entrepreneurs all gather together in one place to discuss the future of U.S.-African relations?

The short answer: we don’t really know yet.

As promised, the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. played host to plenty of big announcements. Among them: $1 billion from the Swedish government as it joins U.S. President Obama’s signature Power Africa initiative; an additional $7 billion from the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition’s private sector partners; a new $100 million “global resilience partnership” between the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Rockefeller Foundation; and $38 million from USAID and others to open leadership centers for young Africans.

If nothing else, Obama succeeded in placing the word “billion” next to the word “Africa” in the U.S. media as never before. That is no small feat since, as he pointed out in his remarks at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum, “Our entire trade with all of Africa is still only about equal to our trade with Brazil — one country.”

Indeed, when it comes to investing in Africa’s future, the U.S. has significant ground yet to gain on China. And for those who view strong economic ties as the cornerstone of development cooperation, this week’s summit was long overdue.