Krista Hughes and Lesley Wroughton
WASHINGTON, Aug 5 (Reuters) – U.S. and African companies and the World Bank on Tuesday pledged more than $17 billion in investments in construction, energy and information technology projects in Africa to showcase U.S. economic interest in the fast-growing region.
Business leaders told the U.S.-Africa Business Forum they wanted to seize opportunities in Africa, home to six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies, although some said they may be late to the party.
“We gave it to the Europeans first and to the Chinese later, but today it’s wide open for us,” said General Electric Co Chief Executive Jeff Immelt, who on Monday announced $2 billion to boost infrastructure, worker skills and access to energy.
The forum, part of a three-day summit in Washington, has allowed dozens of African heads of state to hobnob with U.S. and African executives and spotlighted projects to improve infrastructure, finance, supply chains and energy security as U.S. companies look for new markets and sources of profit.
Dangote Group President Aliko Dangote signed an agreement to jointly invest $5 billion in energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa with Blackstone Group funds, saying nothing works if there is no power.
The group counts cement making, flour milling and sugar refining among its activities. Dangote also called for the U.S. Export-Import Bank to remain open, praising its support for African companies buying U.S. goods.
The World Bank, which committed $5 billion to support electricity generation, estimates one in three Africans, or 600 million people, lack access to electricity despite rapid economic growth expected to top 5 percent in 2015 and 2016.
More than 90 U.S. companies are slated to participate including Chevron Corp
Africa is expected to have a larger work force than China or India by 2040 and boasts the world’s fastest-growing middle class, supporting demand for consumable goods.
The Coca-Cola Company said it would invest $5 billion with African bottling partners in new manufacturing lines over six years and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said the IT giant would plow more than $2 billion into the region over seven years.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc CEO Doug McMillon said the retailer had faith that regional governments would work to ensure a secure business environment and the rule of law.
The firm’s $2.6 billion investment in the region in 2011, when it bought a majority stake in local Massmart Holdings Ltd , was “just the beginning,” he said.
Wal-Mart believes “the whole region, not just South Africa, but sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria and Kenya and so many countries around the continent, are going to do the right things to create the right rules, create transparency, some of those infrastructure investments so that the whole thing works.”
U.S. President Barack Obama will take part in a discussion with corporate chief executives and government leaders at the event, also attended by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker as well as former President Bill Clinton and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“These deals and investments demonstrate that the time is ripe to work together as partners, in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect – to raise living standards in all of our nations and to address the challenges that impede our ability to develop closer economic bonds,” Pritzker said.
African telecoms billionaire Mo Ibrahim encouraged U.S. businesses to invest in Africa and make money, but also said they should “pay their taxes.”
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Elvina Nawaguna; editing by G Crosse and David Gregorio)