- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2014

President Obama on Tuesday announced $14 billion in new private-sector commitments to Africa and additional billions of dollars in U.S. government support, but critics fear parts of the new initiative may actually hurt, not help, life on the continent.

Speaking at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, Mr. Obama called investment in Africa an “extraordinary opportunity,” touting deals with companies such as Coca-Cola, Marriott, General Electric and others to pour billions of dollars into Africa to promote food security, aid development, create jobs and foster greater economic ties between African nations and the U.S.

The money, he added, will not only benefit Africans but also represents good business for major American firms.

“The bottom line is, the United States is making a major and long-term investment in Africa’s progress. And taken together, the new commitments I’ve described today across our government and by our many partners total some $33 billion,” the president said. “And that will support development across Africa and jobs here in the United States, including up to tens of thousands of American jobs are supported every time we expand trade with Africa.”

Driving investment in Africa is a central focus of this week’s summit, which has brought more than 40 African leaders to Washington. In addition to economic growth in Africa, the summit also has focused on sex equality on the continent, addressing HIV/AIDS, combating climate change, fighting corruption in governments and other challenges.

As part of the commitments announced Tuesday, Coca-Cola said it will spend $5 billion to create new facilities in Africa and increase access to clean water in countries across the continent.

“Even as we see tremendous growth potential in Africa, we know that the strength and sustainability of our business are tied directly to the strength and sustainability of the African communities we proudly serve,” Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent said in a statement.

Hotel giant Marriott, Mr. Obama said, has vowed to ramp up hotel construction in Africa. Other companies will invest in African energy production, among other initiatives, the president said.

In concert with those steps, the U.S. government will spend billions of dollars to connect more Africans to the Internet, build new roads, bridges and other pieces of infrastructure, increase access to reliable electricity and tackle other challenges.

A key piece of the effort is food security. About $7 billion in private investment will expand the administration’s “New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition,” a government-private sector program designed to push more major multinational agricultural companies into the African market to grow food and, in Coca-Cola’s case, produce more soft drinks.

But some organizations fear the efforts could backfire as far as the well-being of Africa’s poor people are concerned.

American and international businesses could simply use the continent as another base to produce food and other goods to be shipped around the world, not to address hunger and poverty in Africa or sustain small African farms, said leaders of ActionAid, an international anti-poverty agency operating in more than 50 countries.

“Western companies are already taking land that’s being used to produce food from African farmers, pushing them further into poverty. Under the New Alliance, this will only get worse. The U.S. and African governments must invest in the farmers producing food for the continent, not big businesses growing crops for export,” said Buba Khan, the organization’s international Africa advocacy officer.

“The New Alliance will put more money into the pockets of a few wealthy businessmen who are clearly not concerned with the food security of Africa’s most vulnerable people,” Mr. Khan said.