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African, US Energy Leaders See Potential in Africa Oil

Energy experts say by the year 2020, about one-fourth of the oil the United States consumes could come from Africa. With this anticipation, African and U.S leaders are joining forces to help Africa reach its potential as a world energy leader.

Africa currently supplies the United States with 12 percent of all the oil it needs, but energy experts say that could jump by 25 percent over the next two decades. The Corporate Council on Africa, headed by Steven Hayes, organized an international oil and gas conference this week on exploring Africa.

Mr. Hayes says one of the goals of the forum was to give U.S. companies an opportunity to better understand a very rapidly-changing environment in Africa.

"We don't quite realize -- the broad population -- how strategically important Africa is to us, not simply on energy, but clearly more and more of our needs are going to come from Africa," said Mr. Hayes.

Mr. Hayes says he is urging the United States to recognize the importance of the U.S.-African energy partnership, especially as competition from China grows.

"I think if we don't take advantage of that, which sometimes I fear that we're going to miss those opportunities, then we're going to lose allies. And I think this country needs as many allies as it can get," he added.

The issues of transparency and accountability were among the key points of the conference, as speakers expressed hope that with good governance, developing oil-rich countries in Africa can reach economic stability.

Paul Brown of the U.S. State Department says it is important for the United States to promote good governance in developing countries, and one way it is doing so is through the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

"It is designed to encourage governments to be more transparent in the money that they're taking in from extractive industries, so that they publish the money that they earn," said Mr. Brown. "The expectation is that the citizens then will know what the government is earning and this will reduce opportunities for graft, corruption, for money disappearing overseas."

Mr. Brown says the initiative will empower citizens to know how much money is being earned and then hold their governments accountable.

"If empowered citizens know that this is how much money is coming in, the government says this is how much money is coming in, but yet the roads are still bad. Where's the expenditure going? This will put pressure on governments to treat their citizens better," he noted.

The conference also was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, which helped bring to Washington international finance officials, oil experts in the public and private sectors, and energy ministers from several countries including Angola, Botswana and Equatorial Guinea.