WASHINGTON — The Obama administration sought Monday to strengthen ties with Africa at an unprecedented summit with dozens of African leaders, grappling with issues such as investment, poverty, terrorism, corruption and deadly diseases.
Nearly 50 African heads of state attended the gathering focused on how to build democracy and raise investment in the continent, which is home to some of the world's fastest-growing economies and an expanding middle class.
Yet an outbreak of deadly Ebola virus, which has killed nearly 900 people in West Africa, cast a pall over the opening of the summit. Leaders from Sierra Leone and Liberia canceled their plans to attend.
Those who did attend crowded hotel lobbies and buses. Pickup trucks carrying signs with messages like "End Dictatorship in Ethiopia" cruised downtown streets.
Inside the summit venues, top U.S. officials spoke positively about U.S.-Africa relations and progress on the continent.
"I think something like 10 of the 15 fastest-growing countries in the world are in Africa," Secretary of State John Kerry said. "Africa will have a larger workforce than India or China by 2040."
The Obama administration says it is committed to renewing the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which is set to expire next year. Since 2000, AGOA has been at the center of the U.S. efforts to promote trade and investment in Africa while opening new sources of material for U.S. producers.
"AGOA has made it possible for Ford Motor Co. to export engines duty-free from South Africa, where Ford has invested over $300 million so they can supply engines worldwide," Kerry said. "And the efficiencies of that operation have allowed Ford to create 800 new jobs at their Kansas City plant as part of the global production line."
Vice President Joe Biden warned that corruption was a red light to progress. He called on African nations to improve rule of law with better court systems, independent oversight of government departments and vetting of security officials.