WHITE HOUSE - One goal of the African leaders' summit in Washington is to build on a strategic relationship that the United States has established in Africa as the continent faces a range of security threats.
From establishing drone bases to training African troops, the U.S. has expanded its security relationship with Africa in recent years. The aim is to help African governments combat extremist groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabab in East Africa and militants in the Sahel.
This week’s summit focuses on trade and investment, as President Barack Obama aims to forge a new U.S. relationship with Africa.
In announcing U.S. companies' pledges to invest $14 billion in Africa, Obama said security is essential to prosperity.
“We're going to have to talk about security and peace because the future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy," Obama said. "It's very hard to attract business investment and it's very hard to build infrastructure and it's very hard to sustain entrepreneurship in the midst of conflict."
The U.S. military established its Africa Command in 2007, but based it at a distance - in Germany. The command has overseen operations to assist African militaries in transporting troops, sharing intelligence and reconnaissance.
There are big reasons why the U.S. needs to speed up efforts to engage more with the continent, beyond providing low-key military cooperation and aid.
"Certainly the small-footprint strategy has worked," said Michael Rubin, an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. "That said, we need to remember while China does $200 billion of trade with Africa each year, the United States does only half of that. So as the United States becomes much more involved in the region, more African countries are going to look for American backing, which isn’t simply diplomatic but goes into the economic and military as well."
For decades, U.S. administrations have spoken of the need to help lift Africa's people out of poverty and talked about the continent's importance. Now that Africa is home to more emerging democracies and six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world, Obama hopes to show that the United States is serious about partnering with the region.
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