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Dozens of African leaders are here in Washington this week for an unprecedented summit. The Obama administration hopes to drum up opportunities for business and investment in Africa and is expected to announce deals worth up to a billion dollars. Diplomats are also hoping to use these next few days to push ahead policy priorities. NPR's Michele Kelemen tells us more.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The president of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, likes the theme of this summit, investing in Africa's future. He says Somalia's young people could use it.
PRESIDENT HASSAN SHEIKH MOHAMOUD: We've just put 24 years of fierce civil wars behind us right now. Even now, we are fighting one of the world's most formidable terrorist groups who are intending to destroy Somalia and use Somalia as a platform for destroying the world stability and world democracy.
KELEMEN: His dire warnings about al-Shabaab militants come at the start of the summit that's meant to focus on boosting business ties. But his government has come here to hold meetings on much more basic needs, rebuilding a country that has had no real government for two decades, with the young population threatened by jihadist militants.
MOHAMOUD: Al-Shabaab did not believe in protecting the innocence of childhood. They have replaced toys with a gun.
KELEMEN: While the Somalia president's team goes to the State Department, the Pentagon and Treasury Department to talk about security, U.S. diplomats will also focus on other regional concerns including South Sudan. The U.S. played a key role in that country's independence, only to see it devolve into political and ethnic strife. U.S. envoy Donald Booth is hoping to use his meetings this week to nudge the government of Salva Kiir to really negotiate with its opponents.
DONALD BOOTH: We will clearly be delivering messages that it is time to take these negotiations seriously and to move forward on establishing transitional government and on respecting the commitments that have been made to date, particularly in regard to the cessation of hostilities and access for humanitarian assistance.
KELEMEN: The people of South Sudan really need these negotiations to succeed, Booth says, to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.
BOOTH: So many people have been displaced, have been unable to plant, have been unable to migrate with their cattle as they usually do. And so we do have, as I say, the worst food security situation in the world in South Sudan.
KELEMEN: There are high-level meetings on food security, the outbreak of Ebola, and many other topics at this summit. Secretary of State, John Kerry, spent his day in back-to-back meetings with the leaders of Burundi, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others. U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, joked at one panel about this hectic pace.
SAMANTHA POWER: I overheard one colleague describing what was happening here over the next few days, in terms of the number bi-lats, as speed dating.
KELEMEN: That speed dating is causing some traffic headaches with all the motorcades zipping around D.C. streets. There are also scattered protests, including this one outside the State Department.
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KELEMEN: One of the organizers is Obang Metho, who runs the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia. He's furious that Washington is rolling out the red carpet for Ethiopian leaders, who he says, have jailed journalists and opposition figures. Metho says President Obama seems to have forgotten what he told Africans in his speech in Ghana in 2009 that the continent doesn't need strong men, but rather strong institutions.
OBANG METHO: President Obama said what Africa needs, when he went to Ghana, is a strong institution. In Africa, strong institution is not there - why? - because of the men that are sitting on a table with Obama. Simple society should be given an equal representation like everybody else.
KELEMEN: Obang Metho and his fellow protesters want to see more investment in Africa but not if it simply emboldens the continent's strong men. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.