Secretary Kerry Urges U.S. Firms To Invest In Africa

Secretary Of State John Kerry made a stop in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa over the weekend. Kerry was in Africa several weeks ahead of a trip to the region by President Obama.

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Secretary of State John Kerry spent most of his Memorial Day weekend in Ethiopia. He was attending a summit marking the 50th anniversary of the African Union. Kerry's political agenda was packed. He addressed the war on terror in Nigeria, the teetering economy in Egypt and also border tension in the Sudans. But Kerry also wanted to turn some attention away from Africa's political problems to focus instead on economic opportunity on the continent.

NPR's East Africa correspondent Gregory Warner sent this report.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: John Kerry seemed to be wearing two hats this weekend. One was as a mediator in African hotspots, but the other was a message aimed at American investors and entrepreneurs.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: Our private sector businesses need to recognize the opportunities that are here. And hopefully we can encourage more companies to come here and be engaged and help to take part in this.

WARNER: Fifty years ago, the United States was the first non-African nation to join the African Union. Kerry said today the U.S. is lagging behind when it comes to investing in the continent.

KERRY: Russia, Brazil, China, Japan, others are investing and moving to take advantage of the economic possibilities of growth and development in Africa. The United States has been behind on that and we need to change that.

WARNER: Part of the reason Americans might still be reluctant to invest in Africa is the stability and the security issues. And that's the other hat Kerry was wearing, addressing the latest issues in Nigeria and Sudan. In Nigeria, government soldiers fighting Islamist militants in the north have themselves been accused of human rights violations. Kerry spoke with the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. He says he urged him to temper his troops' behavior.

KERRY: We have talked directly about the imperative of Nigerian troops adhering to the highest standards, and not themselves engaging in atrocities or in human rights violations. That is critical.

WARNER: The State Department warned that Nigeria could risk alienating its own Muslim population, the second largest in Africa.

Also on the Secretary's checklist were lingering conflicts between Sudan and South Sudan over contested regions along the border. South Sudan's Foreign Minister Nhial Deng Nhial admitted negotiations were slow going.

NHIAL DENG NHIAL: I mean, there are issues where we are making good progress. And there are issues that are still marking time. And that's where we probably need a more concerted push from the international community led, of course, by the United States and even Russia.

WARNER: And thirdly, in a schedule that State Department officials referred to as, quote, "chockablock jam-packed," Kerry also met with the president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi. He urged him to accept a loan from the IMF to shore up the country's finances. Egyptian experts have warned that austerity measures from the IMF would raise the price of food and could spark more political unrest on the streets of Cairo.

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WARNER: Meanwhile, here on the streets of Addis Ababa there was no sign of a flailing economy. Mostly what you see are new buildings under construction.

That's new?

ADDISU: This is the Dreamliner Hotel.

WARNER: Wow.

My taxi driver, Addisu, became an impromptu tour guide to all the new hotels and apartments and office towers under construction here. Even the road itself we're driving on is new.

ADDISU: That's AU Road?

WARNER: Yeah.

ADDISU: Yeah, is new.

WARNER: Addisu says he welcomes Kerry and the visiting heads of state, but he was counting down the minutes till they leave. With no more diplomatic motorcades stalling traffic, he can go back to earning a living.

Gregory Warner, NPR News, Addis Ababa.

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