10 key quotes from the US-Africa Leaders Summit

This week US President Barack Obama hosted close to 50 African leaders at the first US-Africa Leaders Summit held in Washington DC.

Aliko Dangote

Aliko Dangote

Also in attendance were a number of African and US business leaders, who discussed doing business on the continent, and opportunities for US companies in Africa. How we made it in Africa looks at some of the key quotes and points that came out of the various speeches and discussions at the summit.

US-Africa relations and aid versus trade

Barack Obama, US President

“Last year in South Africa, in Soweto, I held a town hall with young men and women from across the continent, including some that joined us by video from Uganda. And one young women spoke for many Africans when she said to me, ‘We are looking to the world for equal business partners and commitments, and not necessarily aid. We want to do business at home and be the ones to own our own markets.’ That is a sentiment we hear over and over again.

“When I was travelling through Africa last year what I heard was the desire of Africans not just for aid, but for trade and development that actually helps nations grow and empowers Africans for the long term. As president I have made it clear that 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. We don’t look to Africa simply for its natural resources. We recognise Africa for its greatest resource, which is its people and its talents and their potential.”

Markets don’t lie

James Mwangi, CEO of Equity Bank Group

“I think that over the last 20 years, Africa has gone through very substantial reforms, whether its economic, political, legal… and it is important that, while we may appreciate what the media talks about Africa, to look and gauge where Africa is, [we should look at] its markets… what is happening in Nigeria’s stock exchange, Nairobi, South Africa, again tells the whole story because markets are never wrong.”

Africa the new Asia

Ajay Banga, president and CEO of MasterCard

“I actually believe that Africa is at the stage that Asia was 15 odd years ago. Where a number of companies, many of whom are in this room, viewed Asia as a real opportunity to plant flags and grow, aggressively. And I think Africa is at that stage… Those of us that can go local, and plant ourselves properly, with the right investment, the right quality of people locally, and the right technology transfer, we can win a lot in Africa.”

US business in Africa: better late than never

Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric

“Get local. I think too many of us conceded this earlier in our careers to Europeans, mainly because the US market was so good. If you are an American of my age, really for a long period of time you didn’t have to travel much. So we kind of gave Africa to the Europeans first and to the Chinese later but today its wide open for us. But you have to get local, so that is step number one.”

Regional integration is key

Aliko Dangote, president and CEO of Dangote Group

“Some people when they talk about Africa, people believe that Africa is like one state. Someone like me, I need about 37 visas to move around in Africa… There must be this integration within us. It’s a big market and obviously I don’t expect GE today to go open up factories all over the place but if they go to West Africa and they open in Nigeria, then there should be free movement of goods and services not even within the region, but within the continent itself.

US needs Africa as much as Africa needs US

Bill Clinton, former US President

“I think the United States and its business community need this relationship as much, or more, as Africa and its business community. This is a very important part of our future. And I would just like to say one final thing… Intelligence, dreams and the willingness to work are evenly distributed throughout the world. Investment, opportunities and systems that reward smart behaviour are not. That is really what this is about.”

Private equity potential on the continent

David Rubenstein, CEO of The Carlyle Group

“The great explosion in private equity, if it is going to occur anywhere around the world in the next couple of years, is probably going to be in Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, where the penetration rate is about one-twelfth or so of what it is in the United States.”

Dealing with perception versus reality

Mo Ibrahim, telecoms billionaire / founder and chair of Mo Ibrahim Foundation

“We need to address the gap between perception and reality. We all grew up on a diet of Tarzan movies, etc, and our perception is actually far from reality about Africa. Four or five African countries dominate the news: Somalia, Libya, Sudan, etc. There are problems in these countries but there are 54 countries. Please check on the other 50 countries.”

The role of the private sector in development

Tony Elumelu, chairman of Heirs Holdings Limited

“The Nigerian government had a massive reform of the power sector, and that gave us the opportunity to acquire a major power asset… The day that we took over – 1 November last year – the output was 150MW of electricity… I get a daily report of output, and this morning we generated 453MW of electricity. So in just over six/seven months, we have tripled the output. This is what the private sector can do. So learning from this… We [the private sector] have a role to play in helping to reform the power space.”

African businesses should look global

Ashish J. Thakkar, founder and MD of Mara Group

“I think we need to change the narrative. People are talking about bringing Silicon Valley to Africa. I’m a believer that rather than trying to bring Silicon Valley to Africa, let’s bring Africa to Silicon Valley. I think it’s time we, as Africa, become innovative; create solutions that we can take global rather than trying to reinvent what has already been done.”