It has not been lost on U.S. Sen. Chris Coons that most of the press coverage of Africa has tended to focus on starving children in Mali or Ethiopia, wildlife being massacred or national security concerns.
Those are compelling stories to cover, to be sure, with the recent hostage situation in Algeria suggesting America has legitimate national security concerns in Africa, said Coons, a Delaware Democrat.
But, too often, the immense economic potential of Africa has often been lost in the shuffle, Coons told the Dover Post Wednesday.
Across this vast continent there are countries with growing middle classes eager to buy American products, Coons said. He credited the work done by the former Bush administration in its nation building efforts for this 21st Century phenomenon.
For the past two years, Coons has worked hard to make sure this opportunity for the U.S.A. does not pass by.
As such, Coons will host the second annual Opportunity: Africa, a conference on sustainable development and trade with Africa at Delaware State University in Dover on Monday. He hopes the daylong conference, complete with talks from experts on Africa, is comparable to the turnout of last year's inaugural event, which drew 500 to the University of Delaware's Wilmington campus.
Coons is chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs. He traveled to Africa last year.
Opportunity: Africa is free and open to all, he said. Coons' message is simple for Delawareans and Americans in general wondering why they should care about Africa. An increased American economic presence in Africa could lead to more American jobs, he said.
"Africa is a continent of economic opportunity," Coons said. "Yet, we're letting the Chinese, Brazilian and Russians pass us by as Africa's leading trading partners. Opportunity: Africa is a chance for us to focus on the expanding opportunity to grow American exports and thus create American jobs.
"From DuPont to Procter & Gamble, there are dozens of companies large and small looking to export their products to Africa," he said. "For instance, on my recent trip to Africa I stopped in Zanzibar at the import plant of Perdue, which has chicken farms in Delaware."
The U.S. already imports more oil combined from Africa, including Nigeria, Angola and Libya, than the Persian Gulf, Coons said. Then, the U.S. exports a variety of finished goods to Africa.
However, China surpassed the U.S. in 2009 as the lead trading partner for Africa, Coons said.
"And the Chinese are concocting a strategy to lock down access to African lands and resources for decades to come," Coons said. "I'm concerned that we as a country will face this competition too late."
Page 2 of 2 - At Opportunity: Africa, Elkanah Odembo, Kenyan ambassador to the United States, and Michael Gerson, author, nationally syndicated columnist and policy fellow with the ONE Campaign, are scheduled to be the keynote speakers.
Coons is also scheduled to speak.
It is not too late to register for the event, Coons spokeswoman Meredith Rosenthal said. The conference can host about 500 people.
IF YOU GO
WHO U.S. Senator Chris Coons, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs
WHAT The Opportunity: Africa conference will give Delawareans a seat at the table with some of the nation's leading voices on sustainable development and trade with Africa, looking closely at how Delaware's businesses, faith communities, and individuals can engage with Africa.
WHEN 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday, Feb. 11 (includes continental breakfast at outset and lunch at 12:30 p.m.)
WHERE Delaware State University in Dover.
CONTACT To register, go to http://www.coons.senate.gov/opportunityafrica/