Obama visit to Kenya highlights Africa’s immense potential

OPIC President and CEO signs commitment to provide financing for a major wind power project in Kenya.

“Kenya may well be on its way to becoming a ‘silicon savannah,’ a hub of excellence and innovation in technology,” OPIC President and CEO Elizabeth Littlefield wrote in a piece published in All Africa, as she joined President Barack Obama on a historic trip to Africa.

“The goal, of course, is to ensure that Africa can do more than catch up with others. The goal is to give Africa a chance to lead,” Littlefield wrote.

Africa is increasingly gaining recognition not only for the challenges it faces but for the promise it holds and the President’s visit has helped highlight both the continent’s potential and the ways that OPIC has partnered with business to support development and local job creation.

Littlefield traveled to Nairobi last week for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, an event President Obama launched in 2010 to encourage innovation by bringing together governments, investors and entrepreneurs. As she met with local entrepreneurs, OPIC also announced several new commitments to support small businesses as well as large development projects that will help address some of Africa’s biggest challenges such as energy poverty:

These latest announcements build on OPIC’s long track record of supporting development throughout Sub-Saharan Africa across a range of sectors from power generation to healthcare, education and access to finance. Last year, Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for more than a quarter of OPIC’s new commitments.

And while the continent faces extensive poverty, energy shortages, insufficient infrastructure and access to healthcare, education and finance, it is increasingly being recognized for the potential of its large youth population, extensive natural resources, and its ability to embrace “leapfrog technologies” such as mobile banking and off-grid electricity.

President Obama’s trip to Africa comes one year after the U.S. Africa Leaders’ Summit, which also focused on the continent’s large and growing consumer market, reforms that are removing some of the hurdles to doing business in Africa and the ways businesses could play a key role in supporting development.

Littlefield wrote about many of these issues, both in her piece in All Africa, as well as this piece in The Huffington Post, where she described many of the projects, including microfinance and small business lending, that OPIC is supporting to help create jobs. Job creation, she wrote, “is essential to the ability of developing nations – indeed, all nations – to reduce poverty and improve lives.” And this piece Littlefield co-authored with the International Finance Corporation and Goldman Sachs speaks to the acute needs of women entrepreneurs in the developing world, who often face additional challenges obtaining loans to start or grow a business.

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