About the Author: William Strassberger serves as Public Affairs Officer in the Bureau of African Affairs.
September 22 was an historic day in New York City when President Obama hosted 25 African Heads-of-State for a working luncheon. The working luncheon took place at the Waldorf Astoria the day before the world leaders begin discussions at the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting.
President Obama led a discussion with the African leaders on the issues of job creation, trade and investment in Africa, and agriculture and food security.
At the New York City Foreign Press Center, National Security Council Senior Director for African Affairs Michelle Gavin said that the idea behind the lunch was to try to foster a dialogue and build on some of the themes that President Obama articulated when he was in Accra, “particularly ideas about the importance of partnership and creating opportunity, which was one of the big themes in his speech to parliamentarians in Ghana.”
Although President Obama led the discussion, many African leaders contributed to the conversation. As Gavin noted of the topic of job creation at the briefing, “Liberian President Sirleaf described very compellingly the challenge, the demographic challenge many African leaders confront with very large youth populations, and the kind of pressure that puts on labor markets as more and more young people are entering the labor market every year, and the need for job creation efforts to catch up with that, in addition to education efforts so people are ready to take on those jobs.”
President Kagame of Rwanda introduced the topic of trade investment to the group. Gavin noted that Rwanda had just been named the world's top reformer in the World Bank's "Doing Business" report – and Kagame talked about the Rwandan experience and what they're trying to do to create a favorable investment climate, and how the United States could be more supportive of initiatives that will create long-term growth.
President Kikwete of Tanzania led the discussion on agriculture and went through a very specific set of interventions that could lead to greater agricultural productivity and more agriculture-led economic growth.
Gavin noted that this was not intended to be a one-of-a-kind discussion. “I would just say is that President Obama really did stress that this is not kind of a one-off situation, but it's a start of a dialogue between his administration and African leaders.”