President Barack Obama said on Wednesday the United States wants to help Africa fight extremist unrest and international terrorism, as a high-level summit turned to security challenges on the continent.
A day after announcing $33 billion in investment and finance for the continent, Obama told 45 African heads of state and government at the Washington talks that they need more than foreign business.
"The new trade deals and investments I announced yesterday are an important step. And today we can focus on what we can do, as governments, to accelerate that investment," he said.
"We have the opportunity to deepen our security cooperation against common threats," he promised, as the summit with 50 African national delegations entered its third and final day.
"We can focus on how we can continue to strengthen Africa`s capacity to meet transitional threats — transnational threats and, in doing so, make all of our nations more secure."
Obama also said African governments, despite receiving a flood of investment and trade from around the world, should strengthen the rule of law and respect civil rights to underpin economic progress.
- Armed insurrection -
In his opening remarks, Obama was not specific about the security threats he perceives in Africa.
But Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, chairman of the African Union, recited a litany of problems, including terrorism, drug and human smuggling, disease and armed insurrection.
"We are facing major challenges," he said, and urged Washington to get more involved in African peacekeeping in the way armies from the continent`s former European colonial rulers have.
European troops, principally the French, are deeply involved in the fight against the extreme Islamist groups in the Sahel region and have deployed as peacekeepers in the Central African Republic.
US special forces deployed in small numbers in the Great Lakes region to help Uganda hunt for the rebel army led by Joseph Kony, but Washington is loathe to get drawn into ground combat in Africa.
And, according to a senior US official Tuesday, the US believes Africa`s security challenges require more regional solutions.
Closed-door summit discussions were to focus on how to build African countries` own peacekeeping and counter-terrorism capacities to move away from dependence on foreign intervention.
- `Fight for our girls` -
Meanwhile, US first lady Michelle told the wives of the visiting leaders and senior officials to push for greater rights and education for women and children as a key to development.
They all needed to "fight for our girls," she said, making an indirect allusion to the scores of Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist rebels and immortalized under the Twitter tag #bringbackourgirls.
On Tuesday, a day entirely focused on fostering US-Africa business relations, Obama heralded billions of dollars for new investment, especially in the continent`s power sector, and funds for bolstering trade, up to now mainly focused on African oil exports.
Washington wants US business to fight back against the historic European and growing Chinese presence in Africa, taking advantage of the region`s swift five percent plus growth rate.
"The United States is determined to be a partner in Africa`s success, a good partner, an equal partner and a partner for the long term," Obama declared.
"We don`t look to Africa simply for its natural resources. We recognize Africa for its greatest resource, which is its people and its talent and their potential."
African leaders and businessmen, however, warned that US companies are bound to outdated views of a backwards continent, and were more afraid of risk than their rivals from Europe and Asia.
US firms still think "about Africa a decade ago... whereas things have really changed dramatically," said Nigerian commodities and telecommunications tycoon Aliko Dangote, Africa`s richest man.