Sun, Nov 18, 2007 - Page 11 News List

Ugandan president takes West to task at US-Africa meet


A US-Africa business summit has ended with a rebuke from the Ugandan president, who said the West was more interested in exploiting than nurturing the resources of the world's poorest continent.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said industrialized countries were wrong to place a higher value on Africa's raw materials than on its 900 million people, who should no longer be considered aid recipients but potential consumers.

"The greatest enemy of business in the world is under-consumption," Museveni told a gathering of hundreds of senior executives from companies like Coca-Cola and Chevron on Friday. "If they were consuming enough you would be much richer than you are now," he said.

Africa was long synonymous with famine, war and corruption; dependent on aid rather than investment. But that is changing. It is experiencing its highest rates of growth and lowest levels of inflation in 30 years and stable democracies have become the norm rather than the exception.

China and India have led the rush for influence and investment in the continent that is both rich in natural resources and offers huge untapped potential in consumer demand, leaving the US scrambling behind.

US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said the US-Africa business summit, organized by the Corporate Council on Africa, was proof that international companies realize that Africa is becoming an active player in the global economy.

"Investors see attractive direct, portfolio and equity investment opportunities all across the continent," he said at the closing dinner.

"These results demonstrate the immediate impact of good leadership," he said, adding that African leaders still needed to do more to fight corruption and mismanagement, to increase respect for human rights, and to spread economic progress more widely.

"Africa needs properly regulated and well-functioning financial markets," he said.

This includes legal structures to protect property and investors' rights, he said.

He said research showed that lack of access to finance was one of the biggest constraints on private sector growth in Africa -- less than 20 percent of Africans have a bank account.

He said the telecommunications industry showed Africa's potential. It is the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world, and the penetration level has grown from practically nothing to more than 20 percent in the space of a few years, with more than 200 million cell phones, he said.

A World Bank report on Wednesday said that African economic growth averaged 5.4 percent over the past decade thanks to high commodity and oil prices, which have created booms in oil-producing countries like Nigeria and Angola. About 25 African countries have growth rates of more than 3 percent.

Despite the economic progress and the spread of stable democracies, Africa receives less than 3 percent of global foreign direct investment, and most of this is linked to oil.

Uganda's Museveni said lack of infrastructure remained one of the biggest obstacles to investment. But in a tone symbolic of Africa's growing self-confidence, he said that if Western governments and private companies would not invest in the construction of dams for hydroelectric power, for instance, then Africa would do it alone.

Museveni's economic policies have made Uganda one of the darlings of the West. He has also won acclaim for his insistence on education and training as the key to future prosperity.

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