The US government, keen to aid investment flows to Africa, has devised a strategy, utilising the resources of several of its federal agencies to help African countries make themselves more attractive to US investors and to facilitate business between companies on both continents.

US president Barack Obama launched the new 'doing business in Africa' campaign in Washington, DC in August 2014, hosting a summit that brought together African heads of state and officials from major US corporations. The result was the announcement of more than $14bn-worth of new deals in Africa, in sectors as diverse as clean energy, aviation, banking and construction. Mr Obama also announced $7bn in new financing to promote US exports to and investments in Africa.

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A forum focused on opportunities for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on both continents organised by the US Department of Commerce and held in Atlanta, Georgia, followed in November. There are now 20 trade missions to Africa planned before 2020, along with increased support for US companies seeking to trade or invest there.

Another initiative, 'power Africa', aims to double the number of people with access to power in sub-Saharan Africa, working with African governments, the private sector and other partners, such as the World Bank and African Development Bank, to add more than 30,000 megawatts of electricity generation capacity.

Talking at the forum in Atlanta, Florizelle Liser, assistant US trade representative for Africa, outlined the US's goal of improving the investment climate in Africa through capacity building and sustainable investments, which promote the skills of African partners. The strategy, she said, puts an emphasis on building human capital and creating new business opportunities. “Every company should have its own Africa strategy,” she advised.

Lazarus Angbazo, who heads US multinational General Electric's operations in east, west and central Africa said: “A big part of any offering in Africa by a company, such as GE, has to be around capacity building. SME development is the new CSR [corporate social responsibility].” Capacity building can be a way for US companies to differentiate themselves and have a niche where they operate in Africa, he added. “Africa is tough but worth it. You have to do your homework, be smart, be humble and you have to live up to your commitments.”

Africa is also an attractive target for consumer products companies, according to Shannon Penberthy, associate director for global government relations at US consumer goods company Procter & Gamble, which has been operating in Africa for 50 years. 

“Growth in the market is real,” Ms Penberthy said, speaking in Atlanta. She noted an increasingly educated population, predictions that half of the population would be at or above middle class status by 2020, widespread use of internet searches and mobile banking. “Consumers are very aspirational and they tend to favour American brands,” she added.