Africa is looking to the United States for help modernizing industry and combating terrorism, according to the deputy chairman of the African Union (AU).
Erastus Mwencha also said AU officials are negotiating with Washington at the U.S.-Africa summit to improve the trade framework in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to include investment opportunities for American businesses and investors as the U.S. Congress readies to begin discussions on re-authorizing the law next year.
He said the AU also seeks American investment that would empower the over 600 million African youth by sharpening their skills so they are ready for future employment opportunities.
“The key area we have been discussing is how to invest in the future. This is very cardinal because investing in the future would mean you are looking at the youth population in Africa,” Mwencha said.
Under AGOA, Africa exports increased from $6 billion to more $30 billion and exports from the U.S. to Africa also grew sharply, according to Mwencha.
“One of the things that we have been discussing is how to strengthen the trade framework - to look at some of its weaknesses, to strengthen its positive aspect - so that we can see a better trade, a trade that has also got an element of investment because AGOA should not just be seen as a trade pact, but also an investment,” said Mwencha.
He said partnering the United States - the global leader in technological advancement - will benefit member states of the AU.
“We are saying we cannot continue in the bottom rank of value addition or not joining the global supply chain. So we need investment that can translate African products into finished products,” said Mwencha.
Some member states, including Somalia, Kenya, Cameroon and Nigeria, are battling insecurity as well as terrorism. The countries face terrorist groups including the Islamist militant group Boko Haram and the Somali-based Islamic insurgent group, al-Shabab.
Mwencha said Africa needs America’s security expertise to help combat terrorism on the continent.
“It is a global challenge that we have things like terrorism, but also the security challenges that we have had in Africa. We have been working with the US in some of those areas like in Central African Republic [CAR], in the case of the Great Lakes, Somalia. We need to work with the international community on how to combat things like terrorism and the rest. This is one of the things we have been discussing at the summit,” said Mwencha.
The African Union has proposed a standby force as well as a rapid deployment force that could be quickly positioned in countries facing insecurity. Mwencha said the AU will need logistical support for the forces to enable them to be effective when the troops are deployed.
“We would need skills, equipment, training and we would need to exchange information,” said Mwencha. “We need to work with the international community on all these kinds of things. Africa has its agenda and we are seeking support or cooperation with the international community to be able to combat the menace of terrorism.”