President Barack Obama called on African leaders to embrace women and youth entrepreneurs as well as anti-corruption initiatives, and asked U.S. investors to reward those efforts, as he announced more than $1 billion in new private and U.S. government commitments for startups.
“Entrepreneurship means ownership and self determination as opposed to being simply dependent on somebody else,” the U.S. president said Saturday in an address to the sixth Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
“I wanted to be here because Africa is on the move,” Obama said. “This continent needs to be a future hub of global growth not just African growth.” He praised Kenya as the largest economy in East Africa and a technology hub.
He urged African governments to crack down on graft and foster transparency and rule of law, which would help create “a platform for people to succeed.”
The U.S. president arrived Friday in Kenya as part of an East African visit that includes a stop in Ethiopia. He’s being accompanied by a delegation of 20 U.S. lawmakers. The selection of Kenya to host the summit highlights the nation’s status as a technology and entrepreneurship hub in Africa, White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice said in advance of the event.
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation announced plans to support as much as $200 million for Equity Bank Group foreign currency lending of $450 million over five years, focusing on projects by young people and women.
OPIC also agreed to explore financing of $100 million for a Goldman Sachs women’s entrepreneurs program, the White House said in a statement coinciding with the summit. A two-year, $50 million pilot project by OPIC will also back small companies that have a positive social impact
Obama also announced the opening of a third U.S.-backed African women’s entrepreneurial center, in Mali, later this year. The other two centers are in Zambia and Kenya.
In an interview with the BBC before the trip, Obama said that he sees a link between the summit and anti-terror efforts in the region because “when people see opportunity, when they have a sense of control of their own destiny, then they’re less vulnerable to the propaganda and twisted ideologies that have been attracting young people.”
“The more we can encourage entrepreneurship, particularly for young people, the more they have hope.”
Obama’s participation seeks to advance trade and investment in Africa. U.S. programs to expand African access to electricity, food and healthcare, empower young leaders and reduce corruption are aimed at emphasizing development above aid, and fostering African economic growth that can increase demand for U.S. exports and increase investment by U.S. businesses.
Aly-Khan Satchu, chief executive officer of Nairobi-based Rich Management, said he expects a “positive economic spillover effect” from Obama’s visit. “This is a major geopolitical power play by the U.S. to take a leadership position in this region,” he said by e-mail.