D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) joins Kojo, Tom Sherwood and Mike DeBonis in the studio.
Heads of state from 50 African nations have been invited to a summit hosted by the White House this week. The slate of events – official and unofficial – aims to strengthen ties between the administration and a host of nations. We talk about the focus on trade and investment, and consider the development and policy issues at play as the week gets under way.
- Ben Leo Senior Fellow and Director of Rethinking US Development Policy initiative, Center for Global Development
- Frank Forka Director, Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation Africa Trade Office
- Mwangi Kimenyi Senior Fellow and Director of the Africa Growth Initiative, Brookings Institution
Summit Road Closures
Those who live or work near downtown Washington, D.C. will encounter several road closures and metro changes as the week’s events continue.
A map from the Secret Service shows daily road closures through Aug. 6.
The Metropolitan Police Department has posted a full list of closures here.
For live updates, MPD recommends following these agencies on Twitter:
DC Department of Transportation: @ddotdc
Office of the DC Mayor: @MayorVinceGray
US Park Police: @usparkpolicepio
US Secret Service: @SecretService
US Department of Homeland Security: @DHSgov
National Terrorism Advisory System: @NTASAlerts
And if you don’t already follow WAMU’s own traffic reporter @JerryEdwards885, this might be a good week to start.
MS. JEN GOLBECKFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood to the world, I'm Jen Golbeck from the University of Maryland, sitting in for Kojo. This week, delegations including many heads of state from an invited list of 50 African nations, have touched down in the nation's capital. The significance of this goes beyond the extra motorcades on the road here in D.C. With many African leaders hoping to walk away with connections that will pay dividends in the form of investment.
MS. JEN GOLBECKAnd the Obama administration aiming to move into a new chapter in engagement on the continent with a focus on business investment. Seven of the 10 nations with the fastest growth in the last decade are located in Africa, but some say the U.S. is coming too late to the game. And others say we're prioritizing deals at the cost of human rights and other thornier issues. Here to bring us up to speed on the summit and what to watch for as the week unfolds are Mwangi Kimenyi. Did I say it right? Thank you. He's a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution where he serves as Director of the Africa Growth Initiative. Good to have you here.
MR. MWANGI KIMENYIThank you.
GOLBECKWe have Ben Leo, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development where he directs their Rethinking US Development Policy Initiative. Nice to have you in studio.
MR. BEN LEOThank you.
GOLBECKAnd Frank Forka is Director of the Prince George's County Economic Development Corporation Africa Trade Office. Great to have you joining us.
MR. FRANK FORKAThank you.
GOLBECKSo, Ben, let's start with you. Fifty African leaders and heads of state were invited to D.C. for this summit. Just how unusual and how significant is this event?
LEOWell, very, very, very clear that it's a historic gathering. Never happened in the past and it's a tremendous opportunity for really jumpstarting the relationships and basically a reboot of how the White House and the U.S. government is engaging with the continent. It started with President Obama's trip, last summer, to a number of different countries where he started to emphasize trade and investment and economic engagement in a significant way.
LEOThis week is a wonderful opportunity to really jumpstart that. Solidify the roots and have that be a part of all future engagement from the U.S. government as well as the private sector, as well.
GOLBECKMwangi, what are your thoughts on this?
KIMENYII agree with Ben here that it does ratchet up the relationship between the U.S. and Africa. It shows that at least that Africa is an important area in terms of, you know, growth. But, you know, the U.S./Africa relationship is quite important. And this raises the profile, or at least this shows that Africa matters.
GOLBECKMwangi, China, Japan and Europe have each hosted similar summits, and there's a sense that this U.S. event is an attempt at catching up. How does this event compare to those earlier summits?
KIMENYIOkay, so there is the Japan -- Japan has what is called a (unintelligible) , you know, and there is a summit for that. And there is also the E.U./Africa summit. But in most of these cases, you get, to get -- you have a ministerio (sp?) meetings where they discuss economic relations and they are regular. They're actually institutionalized, so they come every couple years.
KIMENYISo, I think the unique thing about this summit is the number of leaders that have been coming and, you know, they've all presentation. I think the difference is, is that it's fairly short in terms of, you know, what's going to happen. The real...
GOLBECKThree days, right?
KIMENYIYeah, but the real meeting with President Obama is actually one day.
KIMENYISo, there are a couple sessions on that. But, so it's unique in the sense that here you have a lot of African leaders coming together for this particular summit.
GOLBECKBut one feature of the Japan Summit that's not being replicated here is that President Obama is meeting with all of these leaders together in a session, where in Japan, there were actually one on one meetings.
KIMENYIIt was not practical for the time. I think there are a lot of complaints that there will not be bilateral meetings, but for this pretty much, very short time. It's been difficult -- I think it was not feasible for the President to meet, to have bilateral meetings with the leaders. One suggestion that we've been making was maybe he could meet with regional representatives. You know, like East Africa community (unintelligible) . That would have made it more practical, but I don't think it would have been really feasible to meet all the leaders -- have bilaterals with all the leaders.
GOLBECKBen, you're nodding your head. Do you agree with that?
LEOYeah, this has been a controversial issue. The White House has come under fire quite a bit on this issue. Mwangi's right. It's not exactly feasible. It is, I think, a bit of a missed opportunity, though, whether it's bilaterals with all of the leaders or these regional groupings, as Mwangi was talking about. 'Cause one of the key things is, and you actually mentioned this in the very beginning, in terms of the relationships that are either established or deepened coming out of this week.
LEOAnd having leaders face to face, even if it's only for a brief amount of time, talking about a very concrete agenda, is a very beneficial thing. So, I can understand where the White House came from this -- or, came down on this, but, you know, I think it was a challenge and a bit of a missed opportunity.
FORKAYes. I agree with the previous speakers. I think this is a renewed, you know, partnership between the U.S. and Africa and I think, you know, I published a paper last June called "The Compelling Washington Declaration." Where I noted, just like Mwangi just said, that in terms of protocol, it would be difficult to manage 50 African heads of state, in terms of protocol. And I think that it's good to invite. It's a good start, but I think that in the renewed spirit of America, we need to make sure that we're not just limiting this to speeches.
FORKABecause one of the things that we have to overcome, because we're talking about trade. U.S. trade on the continent, which is in a very competitive environment with China and other countries. And I think we need to make sure that this summit comes off with clear indication what I call, you know, a Washington declaration. Which is a commitment, a U.S. commitment on how to approach trade issues in Africa. It means that how much (unintelligible) are you going to commit in terms of promoting trade, in terms of regional (unintelligible) and all of that. If not, it will just be another form of, you know, Presidential meetings.
GOLBECKYou can also join our conversation. What priorities do you think the U.S. should focus on when it comes to our relationship with African nations? Do you think the U.S. is falling behind other world leaders, in terms of African investment? Join us by calling 1-800-433-8850 or you can send us an email to email@example.com. Mwangi, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is casting a shadow over the summit. Several leaders, including the presidents of Liberia and Sierra Leone are not attending because of the crisis. How much of an impact do you think this will have on planned events?
KIMENYIWell, first of all, it's very unfortunate what's going on with the Ebola outbreak. And I think it was right for -- it was the right thing for these presidents not to come. They have to deal with the crisis at home. They have to deal with the borders. I know that, you know, they have crossed the borders, and so they have a crisis at home. And it's a serious issue. So, they have to deal with that. But overall, I think, in terms of coverage, like media, I was looking at what's been covered on Africa.
KIMENYIAnd what I saw that, is that Ebola has dominating. The summit is actually not, you know, is really not appearing as much. So, in one sense, in terms of the media, I think we see Ebola being covered more. But in terms of the real discussions and in terms of what is already planned. In terms of the meetings, those are going on and I don't think there will be much impact. Although, you know, this issue comes, will keep coming.
LEOSo, I think the Ebola crisis, which is a very sad human tragedy, and everything should be thrown at it to respond and contain. But it does highlight one of the longstanding challenges with how America, and particularly the media, perceive and report on Africa. And there's a natural tension in terms of the Africa rising narrative and the Africa challenge narrative, as well. They coexist side by side. And unfortunately though, you know, one of the biggest objectives of this summit is highlighting the economic opportunities for American businesses to engage on the continent.
LEOAnd when 90 percent of media coverage is focused on the Ebola outbreak in a couple of West African countries, it undermines the more nuanced picture of optimism coexisting side by side with challenges. So, there will be some fallout from this, unfortunately.
GOLBECKFrank, you wanted...
FORKAYeah, I agree with the previous speakers. I think the Ebola epidemic is really sad, and in the minds, you know, one of the challenges we are having in Africa, that it (unintelligible) basic necessities. You know, because you look at war, you look at some businesses that are, you know, influencing the breakout of certain epidemics, is something that I think should be addressed. But, in terms of the summit, I would think that the focus should no more be on the head of state themselves. Because when you look at those coming here, the average is between 65 and 75 years old. And even 79.
FORKASo, we need to look at what are called (unintelligible) investment scheme, involving the U.S., the African diaspora because they're very active. If you look at remittances that is sent to Africa, it was over 60 billion U.S. dollars last year. They are a powerful force in the investment scheme that is coming up.
GOLBECKAnd we're gonna get to that in detail in just a minute. A programming note first. Tomorrow at one, Kojo will be talking about the Ebola outbreak with epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists stateside and in Liberia. So, be sure to tune in for that. Frank, let's get to this point that you were just raising. Your average American might not put business development growth and growth at the top of the list of issues they think about when they consider Africa. Yet, most Africans would. So, where does that disconnect come from, and what do you think this event might do to diminish that?
FORKAAs Ben just said, it's about, you know, the image of Africa. What it's been portrayed, for many years and centuries, is Africa has been looked as a hopeless continent. And I think that the absence of the media to really tell the success story of Africa has been one of the challenging, you know, impediments or setback. But I think that as some people highlight the trade as a focus, highlight the peace and security issues, it's going to highlight governance. Because governance is at the heart of a lot of challenges in Africa. You know, we are talking about how can we in the near future encourage, you know, good governance, term limits.
FORKABut I think that the American citizen, the American people would learn a lot by understanding that, you know, if the media reports clearly what I call a balanced journalism on Africa, then they will learn a lot about what is going on, on the continent. Because, you know, a lot is not being said on, you know, a lot of success stories.
GOLBECKAnd you raise an interesting point here in both of these discussions we've had in response to this question in Ebola. And we saw a tweet that actually none of the Sunday news shows talked about the summit at all. And I confess, here in D.C., other than the Ebola coverage we've talked about, the main coverage I've seen has been about the traffic that it's -- the problems that it will cause. I will give one note on that before we move on to more substantive issues. Which is, obviously, here we're talking about the summit beyond the internal D.C. impact.
GOLBECKAnd the traffic jams that come from that, but we know that that is a concern for many locals. We're not gonna take questions on that, but if you're interested, you can go to kojoshow.org. We have a map of likely street closures and suggestions on Twitter accounts to follow. So, that can keep you up to date on the related traffic issues. But, Ben, I wanted to turn to you. We've been looking at this issue of what we're going to talk about at this summit. And I'd like to get you to talk more specifically about that.
GOLBECKYou know, we try to avoid talking about Africa too broadly because it's a huge continent with diverse and different nations, each with unique issues. But can you give us an overview, following on what Frank just said, of the major themes that we're going to see discussed at the summit?
LEOYeah. I think there's a number of them. If you look at the economic issues, a lot of it is going to be very specific in terms of a formal trade agenda. So we have an existing U.S.-Africa trade program that's up for consideration. It will expire next September. So there will be discussions. And actually, those are happening right now about an extension or reforms of trade preferences with the continent.
LEOYou're going to have a lot of conversations around investment, but in specific sectors in particular, and to infrastructure, power, roads, ports, which provide tremendous opportunities for investors and, at the same time, are significant constraints to even greater growth in the future. And then also the consumer markets. So Frank was actually just talking about this. Very few people when -- they don't think of Nigeria being a $500 billion economy with, you know, we don't know exactly how many people, but 170, 180 million consumers that are there of different means, obviously.
LEOBut these are very -- there are some markets on this continent that provide extensive opportunities within the consumer sector and things like that. So those are all going to be on the agenda along with some of the issues that Frank talked about in terms of sub-regional issues like peace and security in some east African countries or health issues in a few sub-regions as well. But the heart of it is going to be on economic issues.
GOLBECKIf you've called in, please stay on the line. If you'd like to join us, you can call 1-800-433-8850. We'll continue our conversation after a short break. Stay tuned.
GOLBECKWelcome back. We're talking about the U.S.-Africa Summit with Mwangi Kimenyi, Ben Leo and Frank Forka. You can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850 or sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We've got a bunch of callers on the line and some emails and tweets. But a couple more questions for you guys before we jump in there. Ben, Congress concluded a session that left many Americans frustrated last week and some members grumbled about the timing of this event.
GOLBECKWhat role does that body have in moving the U.S. relationship forward in African nations? And what significance, if any, should we see in the fact that most members are out of town while this is underway?
LEOCongress is going to have a very important role in a number of the agenda items. So I already mentioned the trade program, African Growth and Opportunities Act, AGOA. And that's going to require congressional action to extend it, reform it, all of the above. So the ball is going to be in their court, obviously with input from the administration and others. But that's going to be very important over the coming months.
LEOThere's a second piece of legislation called the Energize Africa Act, which has been introduced in the Senate and it's come out of committee and that focuses on identifying ways that the U.S. government can support African governments and businesses to expand access to electricity and also on the industrial side. So access and drop cause. And it, in some ways, it goes significantly beyond what President Obama has done with one of his signature initiatives.
LEOSo it's going to be very important. So, in many ways, the president's Africa agenda and the ultimate success in certain areas of this summit will be in Congress' hands.
GOLBECKAnd, Frank, AGOA is central to your work. This morning, Secretary of State Kerry said it's working, calling it a catalyst for great trade and prosperity. To what extent do you agree and what challenges to that law or others would you like to see?
FORKAI think that's a great statement from the secretary of state. And one of the things that I think we need to see is, you know, is including what I called the institution not capacity building. If you look at a previous version of AGOA and in Prince Georges County, for example, were deemed a portion of the county executive Rushern Baker that has given a lot of push for the Africa Trade Office.
FORKAWe deal with (unintelligible) a greater number of SMEs and, you know, we deal as well with, you know, over 20 African countries. But the challenge is access to capital. So in revising the AGOA or the renewal that is coming in 2015 that Ben did talk about, we need to look at what company, what space that the Congress can actually legislate to make sure that SME, you know, on the table of decision making, because they always feel left out.
FORKAAnd only the big guys that, you know, are controlling the show. So it's very important for us as we look at increasing the U.S., you know, Africa trade to look at, you know, the impact of our SMEs.
GOLBECKIn the noon hour this Wednesday, Kojo will talking with Washingtonians who are seeking to strengthen bridges between Diaspora populations in their home countries, talking about what it's like to invest your own money in cities like Addis Ababa or Lagos. So we'll touch a little more on that issue this week. We're going to take some calls. But if you'd like to join us, we'd love to hear from you.
GOLBECKHave you worked in Africa as part of an NGO or aid organization? What are you watching for at the summit? You can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850. Let's start by taking a call from Mohammed in Washington, D.C. Mohammed, you're on the air, go ahead.
MOHAMMEDYes, I am commenting for -- about the U.S. investment to Africa, which is behind most of the countries like China. And the reason is because of the old mentality that Africa is always a place that is poverty and destruction and dictator (sic) . So the United States and the people of the United States, they don't have an idea or, you know, any opinion about what's going on in Africa. And that will take a while because of the, you know, the media and the disconnection, misinformation about Africa. That's all I'm commenting now.
GOLBECKThanks for your call, Mohammed. So he raises a point here that we did touch on before that sometimes investment in Africa is really seen as aid as opposed to actual investment. So I'd like to hear all of your thoughts on that. Mwangi, let's start with you.
KIMENYII think what we have seen recently is -- what has changed a lot is the number of new partners going to Africa, particularly China, you know, India has accelerated and we still have -- we also have Brazil. That's actually what we call the BRICs. But we have other countries like Turkey, Iran that are also investing in Africa. So in terms of new investments, you know, coming from different parts. But the U.S. has always been a good investor.
KIMENYII mean, an investor in Africa, in what we call foreign direct investment. But most of these federal direct -- foreign direct investment from U.S. has basically gone to what we call extractives. So you find a lot of oil investments. So that's why you find the U.S. investment concentrated in Nigeria and AGORA (unintelligible) and so on But that -- so, in general, we see that U.S. has not accelerated as much.
KIMENYIBut actually, this is also changing. We have many American companies now that are locating -- I know G.E. now has a big office, is investing a lot in Africa in different areas and helping diversification. So I think one of the focus of this summit is really to start changing that perception about the high risk of the continent and also to expose or at least to show the opportunities that exist in Africa.
KIMENYISo we think that this summit is important in at least that sense of showing that there are changes in the continent and there are opportunities for American funds.
GOLBECKWe have an email from Ingo who says, "According to U.S. polls, there's already some degree of confusion among many in the American public about whether Africa is a country or a continent. How is the summit addressing the tension between acting and appearing as a significant economic region defined as Africa and, therefore, achieving more attention and better publicity and the reality that every African nation has its own interest to represent, which are not all uniform and sometimes conflicting?"
GOLBECKSo we've talked a lot here about what the U.S. goal is with this. But is there -- this kind of issue where you have a lot of African countries who are maybe trying to get different things out of this summit and how are they going to do that? Ben.
LEOIt's a great question and, frankly, it's actually a bit of a difficult question to answer. The -- it's right and there is -- there continues to be a perception of Africa as one country. And this is actually one of the reasons why a little bit ago I specifically said the Nigeria as -- mentioned Nigeria as a $500-billion economy. So there are a number of African countries that have significant size, both in terms of their economy and their population, but there are a number that are smaller that are going to have a more difficult time differentiating themselves in terms of their brands and attracting investment.
LEOSo, but basically, you know, my simple response is that we need to do a better job of speaking publicly about specific countries and referencing the local market particulars of the opportunities because every investment is going to be dominated by unique, local attributes, challenges, opportunities. So it's getting a more nuanced conversation going. This week can actually help with that.
GOLBECKFrank Forka, you wanted to comment.
FORKAYes, I think this terminology and the perception of always trying to perceive Africa as one country is regrettable. You know, it's a huge, vast continent with 54 independent, sovereign, you know, states. And a thing that we need to do on, that's why we are saying that the absence of media constitute an African issue is really an impediment, you know, even for social studies because when students, even high school, they keep, you know, listening to these and this perception of Africa is one continent, one country is regrettable.
FORKABut I think that we can change that perception. I think the summit, as I said in my paper release last June, it's better to have a manageable agenda and go by regional blocks. It's difficult for 54 countries or maybe 52 coming in this summit and every country is trying to, you know, get something, which is good in terms of diplomacy. But I think that the success will more be perceived if we -- they come in, you know, as regional blocks. And I think the U.S. can easily manage that.
KIMENYIYeah. I agree with the points raised by my colleagues. But I would say that I think for this type of summit, it's possible to discuss issues that are very common and general to all countries. Like what Ben were talking about, the issues of infrastructure, power. They are actually common to all these countries. So it's possible to deal with, for this particular summit, to look at Africa and look at the common issues.
KIMENYIAnd I think that's probably the way the summit is organized is by looking at issues. Security, for example, looking at the security issues, looking at the governance issues, but then looking at more of the trade and investment from abroad approach.
GOLBECKLet's take one more call from Isaiah in Silver Spring. Isaiah, you're on the air, go ahead.
ISAIAHYes, good afternoon. And thank you all for a great program. My question is, you know, I'm here in local area, are there open to the public opportunities for small business entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders or faith-based leaders to attend public meetings where we might be able to get in on the action, because I've never heard anything about this, not even in the local area. And in fact, my fraternity just voted to, you know, spend thousands of dollars to build some wells in Ghana and we're looking for opportunities like this that's (word?) fraternity. And so, are there open public opportunities?
GOLBECKWell, Isaiah, you're in Silver Spring and one county over, in Prince Georges County, I think Frank Forka can speak exactly to your question. So, Frank, go ahead.
FORKAHey, Isaiah, thank you for your question. I think the Prince Georges County Africa Trade Off is devoted entirely on the continent promoting trade, U.S. trade, you know, businesses. And we launched our two weeks event in support of the summit on the 28th. And, in fact, tomorrow, August 5, we are hosting the East African entire delegation, about seven ministers, two governors, high-level, you know, profile people from that region.
FORKAThey're coming with a lot of investment opportunities, you know, to present to the American businesses. And I think you can join us. It's tomorrow at EDC, it's on 202, 1801 McCormick Drive, street 350. And you can stop by tomorrow and pitch your business.
GOLBECKIsaiah, does that help?
ISAIAHThat helps. Can you give a website and any other phone numbers so that people could, you know, attend it? That sounds great. Thank you.
GOLBECKSo, yeah, you can...
GOLBECKAnd we'll put your website and your phone number up on the "Kojo Show" website, so Isaiah you can come in after the show and get all that information.
ISAIAHThank you so much.
GOLBECKThanks very much for your call.
FORKAOkay, thank you.
GOLBECKSo let's get back to some questions from me. But, callers, please stay on the line, we'll take all of your calls. Mwangi, let's start with you. A busy official slate of events starts today running through Wednesday for heads of states and their delegations. There are also lots of side events taking place. In fact, Mwangi and Frank, you both kindly docked out of meetings to join us here today. What do these unofficial events present that official ones don't?
KIMENYISo the official -- based on official program, I think, that are between the U.S. government and the Africans. But the time spent on those is -- the issues are the same, but you have other meetings going on, like civil society meetings, other business meetings going on. And I would say that, first of all, you could not be able -- it was not possible, what you discuss with presidents and the level of discussion is very different from, for example, when you have businesses, you know, sitting together.
KIMENYIYou know, business people sitting together and discussing the opportunities. So, I think, I would say that the broad picture or the broad issues are pretty much the same, particularly in terms of what would be discussed at the main summit with President Obama. But the other -- I would say they are complimentary. So we have the civil society talking about the same issues, they are talking about governance issues.
KIMENYIThey are also talking about the (unintelligible) civil society meeting -- AGOA civil society meeting. There's an AGOA meeting going on, which is quite, again, important because that's an annual event. And this time, it's critical because it's for the renewal of the trade pact and there are also business-to-business discussions. So they are complimentary to the summit.
LEOYeah, I think -- we talked about a number of the different things that are important in the public space in terms of changing the conversation, building awareness of realities on the ground, along with some of the risk. I think some of the biggest outcomes or the most important aspects of this summit are these side events.
LEOIt's the unofficial stuff that's happening behind closed doors. Like over at the Center for Global Development, the think tank where I work, there's a lot of private conversations with African leaders and ministers about specific issues, how to address them, how to think through them. There's a lot of value in those kinds of conversations. And they're happening throughout the city.
LEOIn addition is the private business conversations that we've referred to and whether they're near the end of closing a deal or whether they're in the exploratory stage, I think there's going to be a significant impact that's going to come out of that. It's just a question of when those types of things hit. But I think that's a very significant piece for the summit.
GOLBECKFrank you wanted to comment.
FORKAYeah, I think the side events are very important. And, first of all, this is a presidential summit. And it has its place and these side events are very important. For example, a side event we have in Prince Georges County on the 28, July 28, a committee or a selection of experts and scholars came up with the suggestion called African Diaspora Investment Fund.
FORKAAnd they suggested that to the attention of President Obama, you know, to make sure that, you know, they create a fund to make sure that African Diaspora have some pull, a channel, whereby they can actually, you know, get engaged on the continent because the African Diaspora engagement on the continent issue is very important. And there's this issue of dual nationality.
FORKAIn order to really put in (unintelligible) the Diasporans, you know, we need development that is going on in Africa, we need to make sure and educate a lot of African government to open up to dual citizenship because a lot of Diasporan, you know, they have a setback, they cannot contribute to the -- grow to the economies. So it is very important to address that dual citizenship issue within governments.
GOLBECKTomorrow Kojo will be talking to Femi Kuti, the son of the pioneering Afrobeat musician and activist Fela Kuti. And he's participating in the U.S. Africa Summit as part of the One Campaign to promote agriculture and engage youth through music. So be sure to tune in for that. Right now we're going to take a short break. You're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Jen Golbeck, sitting in for Kojo. We'll continue our conversation about the U.S. Africa Summit in a moment. Stay with us.
GOLBECKWelcome back. I'm Jen Golbeck, from the University of Maryland, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. We're talking about the U.S. Africa Summit. If you'd like to join us you can call 1-800-433-8850. We have lots of calls and emails. Let's start with a couple of those. Patrick emails to ask, "Is consumerism, as we know it in the U.S., an appropriate focus when merely subsistence seems like an important issue for much of the population?" Anyone want to take that one? Ben?
LEOI'd be happy to. So where to start? I think -- well, first of all, the overwhelming majority of Africans are focused on economic opportunities. So when they've been polled -- there's a number of organizations that have done really credible, representative polls in terms of what ordinary people view as their most pressing problems. Economic related issues are at the very, very top of the list. I think everyone aspires to a more prosperous future, which then addresses a whole range of different issues, education, health, etcetera.
LEOSo, you know, that would lead you to not focus on a subsistence type of an approach to looking at these issues. Take power, for example. You have roughly 600 million people across the continent who don't have access to power, at all, any type of modern energy source. Which is a dramatic hindrance upon all aspects of their life. And a number of -- a significant portion that do have access to power, it's either unreliable or it's very expensive.
LEOSo when you think about approaches to address these kinds of issues, it's going to require an all-of-the-above strategy, focused on renewable issues, non-renewable sources of power to bring people the opportunities that they so direly crave for a better future and a more prosperous future.
GOLBECKAnd I'd like to take a call on exactly that point. We have Obi, from Landover, Md. Obi, you're on the air. Go ahead.
OBIYeah, hello. Good afternoon.
GOLBECKGood afternoon. What's your question?
OBIOkay. I just want to make a quick comment about the topic you guys are discussing. I want to talk -- I want to talk about (unintelligible) and electricity and education, and also the role France is playing in Africa. And I want to be quick about that. First of all, about electricity. Since 1999 up to today Nigeria has spent close to $25 billion to build electricity. And up to today, Nigerians -- the majority of Nigerians still don't have access to electricity.
OBIThe former president, Obasanjo, who was there from 1999 until 2003, he alone spent close to $16 billion to build electricity. And then he -- when he left the electricity station was actually worse than when he took over. You know, we can easily say it is due to corruption, but I kind of wonder because there are other kinds of projects that Nigeria government has taken up and delivered on, you know, on things like hospital, things like food, things like stadium.
OBIEven though they might be overpriced, but at the end of the day they still delivered. They delivered on paving road, bridges and things like that. So this electricity, I understand corruption is playing the middle road there, but I don't know why (unintelligible) like practically impossible for Nigerian government to be able to have a facility. And I can say this as someone who grew up in Nigeria.
OBIThe only thing that is holding Nigerian economy down today is that electricity. If Nigeria has adequate electricity today, I can assure that in five years Nigeria will be an economic power to be reckoned with.
GOLBECKSo, Obi, let me -- let me get the thoughts from our panel on this. Mwangi, you first, please.
KIMENYIOkay. Maybe I should also comment on the previous question…
KIMENYI…which was on consumerism. I think the context that we've been talking about -- consumerism in Africa -- is in the opportunities that a new group -- what we are calling an emerging middle class -- can present to businesses. And it -- subsistence -- most of the people are still living very low -- at the very low level, in terms of consumption. But we also have an imagined middle class in Africa that, you know, that is important in terms of driving the economy through consumption.
KIMENYISo -- and that also provides opportunities for investment to businesses and so on. So I think that's important to note. Well, I think the caller is quite right about Nigeria. Nigeria is an amazing country. You know, very bright people. A lot of resources, but there are a lot of problems there. I mean if you go to Nigeria -- I was there, you know, I've been doing some work in Nigeria. And, you know, every now and then, what you hear is just generators.
KIMENYIYou know, it's very noisy in the neighborhoods, in hotels because everybody has a, you know, in fact the main -- to many people the main power supply is a generator. And this is very high cost and is actually dragging the economy. It has been very difficult to reform the power sector. But I would say that from talking -- I remember I had a conversation with the current minister of finance who was at the bank. And they are trying -- they are really focusing on trying to reform the power sector.
KIMENYIAnd there seems to be some progress, you know, trying to get more investors, but, again, I would say that Nigeria's power sector really requires reform. And it will really be important in terms of driving the economy.
GOLBECKFrank, and then Ben.
FORKAYes. Thank you. I think, you know, the caller, you know, has a valid point. But I want to remind listeners that on that day transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan and, you know, there's this program called, (unintelligible) Program, you know. We were, you know, pleased to receive the delegation almost six months ago, in Prince George's County, on the (unintelligible) . And they came to present the new, you know, search for investors.
FORKAAnd actually the Prince George's County Africa Trade Office is working with one of our, you know, local businesses to provide, you know, a response to the U.S. energy. A project to the tune of about 350 million U.S. dollars. So there is a program already in the country. And if the caller goes on the, you know, the Minister of Energy, they will see the program listed. So they're actually -- they're trying to overturn the issue of generators.
FORKAAnd the generator is not only in Nigeria. They're all over Africa. So the necessity for power is very important. But I wanted to end this, you know, by saying that there is a good example. There's this governor from Akwa Ibom, Godswill Akpabio, he's part of the Gulag (sp?), President Gulag (unintelligible) delegation to this summit. And he has done a very wonderful transformation of (unintelligible). And that's another example I want African leaders to take a look at, as a success story in Nigeria.
FORKASo the issue of power is very important. And that's why power Africa, the concept is about partnership. How can we partner with local, you know, African investors, you know, in country, with U.S. investor to be able to provide, you know, power? Not only to the cities, but to rural Africa.
GOLBECKBen, you wanted to comment.
LEOYeah, just -- I think, the previous comments touched on a couple of the key things. One or two more points, though. The caller's views are shared by the overwhelming majority of Africans. Like, the last data I saw was over 80 percent of Nigerians think their government is doing a bad job of providing electricity. And as the previous comments mentioned, there is a very, very ambitious reform agenda that's underway right now. They're privatizing everything, from generation, transmission, distribution. And it's too early to tell whether that's going to be successful.
LEOThis isn't the first time that they've tried to reform the power sector. But there is a lot of interest. There's a lot of investment going in, in terms of refurbishing the plants. So I think a couple of the key questions are going to be are they going to be able to address some of the sustainability issues that are going to determine whether these are commercially viable ventures over the medium term. Like, are they able to do cost recovery? So can they charge tariffs that actually cover their costs?
LEOThose are the kinds of issues that have completely undermined power across the continent for decades. They're really critical. They're really technocratic, but they're also very political. So, you know, we'll see. It's a little early to tell, but there's a lot of effort right now going in Nigeria with support from the U.S. government and U.S. investors as well.
GOLBECKLet's take a call from Leslie, in Washington, D.C. Leslie, you're on the air. Go ahead.
LESLIEHi. Thank you very much. I would hope that the speakers would address the importance of investment in training to create sustainable change. I'm with an organization called Engineering World Health that works in hospitals with -- we train what are called biomedical engineering technicians, which who are the people who actually keep medical equipment running.
LESLIEAnd what we have seen over the years is that there are a number of well-meaning philanthropies and companies who donate equipment -- in this case, hospital equipment -- but donate it to an area that doesn't have the trained personnel to install or maintain the equipment. So that when we think about what is sustainable change, it's one thing to give money. It's a great thing to give money. It's a great thing to give equipment of various sorts.
LESLIEWe see in the medical field that too often there isn't the training to use that equipment. There are some forward-thinking companies. GE Foundation is one that actually is putting money into those trainings. But this would be true in sectors not only in health, but also in the energy sectors, we were just describing. And I wonder if the speakers could talk about maybe the differences among different countries. We've seen, for instance, Rwanda is a country where there is very forward thinking about training a skilled workforce to work with more advanced equipment and to build a better society.
GOLBECKThanks very much for your call, Leslie. I think everyone will have a comment on that, but, Mwangi, let's start with you.
KIMENYII think maybe it's good to look at capacity, general, and not just in one field. And it's important. I know that in this forums, like today we were talking about capacity building in terms of trade. You know, which many businesses do not know the standards that they are required to hold in exporting to the United States. There are many other issues of capacity, you know, whether from (unintelligible) from infrastructure and so on that have been important. So I would say that we have -- Africa has (unintelligible) a lot on technical expertise, which is not a sustainable policy.
KIMENYISo it's better to train people to be able to do those things. So I would agree with the caller, that generally it's important to invest in capacity building in all aspects. But more important, going (unintelligible) technical assistance, but more in terms of training the people who are going to remain in the continent to do that. That's not a debatable issue. I think I would agree with that.
GOLBECKWe have a couple minutes left and so I'd like to wrap up with a question that I'm going to throw to you first, Ben, but I'd like to hear from all of you on. One big issue that's been left off the official agenda, that's being picked up on some of these sideline events is human rights. And in fact we had a number of callers who couldn't stay on the line, some emails and some tweets on this issue as well. What message is the administration sending by this omission from the official agenda? Or is that maybe reading too much into it?
LEOI think if you ask them they would give you a nuanced response. Human rights factored into which countries were invited to the summit. So there's 50 who were invited, four were not.
GOLBECKDo you know which four?
LEOI'm going to try and…
GOLBECKI don't mean to put you on the spot.
LEOYeah, I'm going to try and remember. I think it was Eretria, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic and the fourth one, I can't remember. And it was related to democratic and human rights related issues. So they would argue, you know, it factored in at the very beginning. Secondly, there are a number of venues for these conversations. There was a civil society side event today, where a lot of these issues are going to come up.
LEONow, having said that, this is a challenging topic. And, you know, I think some of the criticisms are valid. It hasn't been a part of the core agenda. And the broader set of governance-related issues, property rights, protections of labor, people, those kinds of things, actually do factor in to a lot of the issues that we have been talking today, in terms of the economic potential of many of these countries, as well as the sustainability of that prosperity.
LEOAnd so it's a tough one. You can't do everything for everybody. The -- I think the administration has tried to make an effort to pull some of these issues in, but clearly not enough for many different actors around town.
GOLBECKMwangi, I'll give you the last word. You've got about 20 seconds.
KIMENYII -- okay. I agree. They also civil society forum discussing human right, but I would not be so critical because you can't do -- you can't actually discuss everything. However, in -- with the president's meeting on Wednesday includes governance as one of the topics. I am assuming that governance is broad enough to cover part of human rights and other issues.
GOLBECKI wish we could talk more about all this, but we're totally out of time. I'd like to thank my guests, Mwangi Kimenyi, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Thanks for being here.
GOLBECKBen Leo, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. Thanks for your comments.
LEOThank you for having me.
GOLBECKAnd Frank Forka, director of the Prince George's County Economic Development Corporation Africa Trade Office. It was great to have you here.
FORKAThank you for having me.
GOLBECKThanks to everyone. I'm Jen Golbeck, sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks for listening.
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