Bringing the US and Africa closer together

This week, the first and largest U.S.-Africa summit is underway in Washington D.C.

Building on President Barack Obama's 2013 trip to Africa, the summit reaffirms what is becoming increasingly apparent to more business and policy leaders every day: that the African continent is a fundamental part of our interconnected world and global economy - Africa matters.

In today's global world, what happens in one place can have an immediate impact on the opposite corner of the globe.

Now, more than ever, we need public health, economic and development policies that embrace that reality.

As a former longtime member of the Foreign Affairs Committee's subcommittee on Africa and now as an appropriator on the subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, I have pushed for greater cooperation and engagement with Africa.

Unfortunately, in the past, theory did not always meet practice. Often, the only time policymakers hear from African leaders is over dinner or in the halls of international meetings.

The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit aims to change that dynamic.

For the first time, senior U.S. policymakers are hearing directly from their African counterparts about their challenges, successes and opportunities for future cooperation.

We will need more venues like this summit as we work to address global issues like development, gender equality and HIV/AIDS. If we are to achieve success, there needs to be more frank and open conversations at the top levels of policymaking.

On the second day of the summit, I ran into former President Bill Clinton. Between his photo ops with summit attendees, we had a few minutes to discuss how successful the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has been and how much further we still have to go to fully address the impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa.

In 2011, it was estimated that 23.5 million people were living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Addressing this global pandemic requires bold and coordinated action in Africa.

The work to address this effort started many years ago. In 2003, I worked closely with Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush and my congressional colleagues, from both parties, to craft the framework for the Global Fund and PEPFAR. Since its inception, PEPFAR has supported more than 6 million people with life-saving treatment and nearly 60 million with testing and counseling.

PEPFAR has been an unqualified success but the rate of new infection still remains too high and millions still lack access to life-saving treatment, testing and education.

PEPFAR's successes should serve as a model for building long-term, sustainable local capacity to address public health issues as well as promote development and public-private partnerships.

While in the California legislature, I served as the Chair of the Select Committee on California-Africa Affairs. During this time, I helped establish California's first trade office in Africa and led several trade delegations to the continent.

Even then, it was clear that Africa would be an important and valuable trading partner in the years to come.

Strong and fair trade policies open Africa's markets to U.S. exports and create opportunities to promote development and create jobs.

In Congress, I have worked to ensure that everyone - not just the powerful �_benefit from the growing U.S. trade relationship with the African continent. In particular, emphasizing linkages between Africa and local, especially minority and woman-owned, U.S. businesses.

Large corporations are often the first to benefit from these emerging markets, yet I have found that, U.S. small businesses allow have much to contribute.

Despite a vast wealth of natural resources, development in many parts of Africa remains stalled, unfinished or yet to be started. Civil society's involvement is key to the development process.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 589 million lack access to electricity, despite significant opportunities to leverage Africa's natural resource wealth into sustainable solutions for energy generation.

Electricity is just one example of the potential for a more developed Africa.

As the U.S. and Africa create strong trade ties, we need to ensure those ties support development, preserve our delicate and global environment and create good paying jobs adhering to international labor standards.

Summit attendees will tackle all these issues this week and many, many more.

Only hours into the summit, its value is clear. I am certain it will not be the last of its kind and these summits will become more and more important as trade and shared concerns brings Africa and the U.S. closer and closer.

To read this article in its original format, go here.