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Africa Wants to Strengthen Security, Economic Ties with US

FILE - President Obama with African leaders.

An African Union (AU) official said President Barack Obama’s visit to Kenya and Ethiopia is good news for the continent, and East Africa in particular.

AU Commission deputy chairperson Erastus Mwencha said in addition to Obama coming to see his extended family, the president is also coming on a business trip - he’s being accompanied by over a thousand business executives who will take part in a global business summit.

He said Africa is looking for ways to strengthen economic ties with the United States in the form of investment and technology transfer, particularly with the signing last month by President Obama of a 10-year extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

Mwencha says Africa also hopes Obama’s visit will further strengthen security cooperation between the continent and the United States.

“It’s a great day, as you say, for President Obama coming to Africa. The significance of that is that in addition to him having his whole extended family in Africa, he’s also coming on a business trip because he’s coming with over a thousand business people to hold a global business summit, and that is what Africa is looking for at the moment,” he said.

Mwencha said Africa is looking for a way to strengthen economic ties with the United States, particularly with Obama’s signing last month of a 10-year extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the U.S.' main trading authority with Africa.

Under AGOA, U.S.-Africa trade rose to $73 billion last year, with U.S. exports accounting for slightly more than half of that total

More than 40 Africa countries are eligible for trade benefits under the law, through which most imports from Africa enter the United States duty free. Two of the main beneficiaries are oil exporters Angola and Nigeria.

Mwencha said Africa looks forward to having more countries added to the list of AGOA eligible countries.

“If you look at AGOA at the moment, just a few countries have made significant benefit out of it and very few products are still trading. There is potential to expand the product but also countries that can benefit from AGOA,” Mwencha said.

Mwencha said Africa also hopes President Obama’s visit will further strengthen security cooperation between the continent and the United States, especially capitalizing on the areas identified during last year’s U.S.-Africa leaders’ summit, hosted by President Obama in Washington.

“We have Al-Shabab; we have issues in South Sudan; the U.S. was quite instrumental in Mali and conflict areas. And so this is also an opportunity for us to agree on how to manage or confront the challenges that now face us, particularly on radicalization and extremism but also terrorism that is a menace not only in the region but globally,” Mwencha said.

Mwencha said the highlight of President Obama’s trip to Kenya and Ethiopia will come July 28, when the U.S. president will address the continent from the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“It’s the first time a U.S. president is coming, although I must say that under President Bush he did of course elevate the relationship between the African Union and the U.S. by appointing a special ambassador to the African Union. And of course, President Obama is taking that much higher,” Mwencha said.

Butty interview with Erastus Mwencha
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