Six African presidents are among 2,000 people drawn to trade conclave in Inner Harbor East.

Africa summit is under way

June 23, 2005|By Rhasheema A. Sweeting | Rhasheema A. Sweeting,SUN STAFF

More than 2,000 people, including six African presidents, gathered in Baltimore yesterday in the second day of a four-day summit on trade with the struggling continent.

The Marriott Waterfront Hotel in Baltimore's Inner Harbor East was host to the fifth U.S.-Africa Business Summit, sponsored by the Corporate Council on Africa. The gathering also included other high-ranking government officials and representatives from U.S. companies already investing in or interested in doing business in Africa.

Armando Emilio Guebuza, president of Mozambique, one of the African nations leading the promotion of trade with the United States, described the event as "a significant achievement."

The summit comes at a time of increasing focus on the problems of poverty and the need for economic development in Africa.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with President Bush in Washington this month to urge a doubling of aid from industrial nations to Africa.

Some of the world's most famous rock stars are joining in a Live 8 series of concerts next month to turn a spotlight on the need for aid to the continent. And Bono, of the Irish rock group U2, is spearheading a campaign called One to fight poverty and AIDS in Africa and elsewhere. Assistance for the continent also will be discussed at the Group of Eight summit in Scotland next month.

The council chose Baltimore for the event because of the city and state's pursuit of economic opportunities in Africa, including last year's visit to Ghana and South Africa by a contingent led by Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

"There's been a unique level of involvement with the state and the city," said Stephen Hayes, president and chief executive officer of the Corporate Council on Africa.

"This is the first time a city has been so heavily involved" in the goals of the organization, said Hayes, who noted increased attendance this year at the biennial summit.

The summit continues through tomorrow with workshops on business, agriculture and tourism. It also provided an opportunity for African artists to showcase colorful handmade blankets, clothes, jewelry and candles.

Outside the host hotel, about 100 people holding bright neon green and yellow signs and American flags protested the presence of the president of the Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, who spoke during the conference. He faces an election Oct. 30 in a nation torn by ethnic violence.

Inside, the German automaker DaimlerChrysler AG presented a $500,000 check to President Guebuza of Mozambique. The money was donated by DaimlerChrysler as sponsor of Club 21 USA, an organization that pushes for park preservation, tourism and employment opportunities in Africa.

The initiative is meant to spur tourism, because studies have concluded that for every eight visitors to Mozambique and surrounding countries one job is created. DaimlerChrysler is the first sponsor of the organization, which aims to find 20 additional sponsors next year.

Guebuza also announced the launch of a partnership between a Mozambican cashew company and SunTree, a California-Arizona company. SunTree will package and distribute a new brand of cashews, Zambique, in major grocery chains in the United States, including Safeway, Costco and Trader Joe's.

"It gives substance to the goals to promote trade and agribusiness," Guebuza said.

Other presidents of African countries attending the summit were from Zambia, Madagascar, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and the lieutenant governor yesterday also announced the establishment of a sister ports' agreement between Maryland and the port of Banjul in Gambia and the port of Takoradi in Ghana to promote transcontinental trade.

Also at the summit, Marathon Oil Corp. presented results from the first phase of an $8.3 million investment to eradicate malaria and disease-carrying mosquitoes in Equatorial Guinea. The Houston energy company's initiative, called the Bioko Island Malaria Control Project, is part of a five-year plan to benefit the country and also serve as a model for other organizations.

The Corporate Council on Africa was founded in 1993 and represents about 200 companies that make up 85 percent of U.S. investment in Africa. The last biennial summit took place in Washington in 2003.

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