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Obama speaks at Africa summit in Washington

Barack Obama has told the leaders of more than 50 African nations that they have control of their countries' financial futures. Obama also announced billions of dollars in private investments in Africa.

Addressing 50-plus African leaders in Washington on Tuesday, Obama said US companies were at the ready to invest.

"It is the youngest and fastest-growing continent, with young people that are full of dreams and ambition," Obama said in his speech, making reference to the "desire of Africans not just for aid but for trade," and announcing new resources for entrepreneurs. "We don't look to Africa simply for its natural resources," Obama added. "We look to Africa for its people and its talents and its potential."

Earlier in the day, officials said Obama would announce $14 billion (10.5 billion euros) in private investments in Africa by companies spanning industries from construction to energy and banking to information technology. By Tuesday afternoon, that number had reached $17 billion and appeared to be growing. Questions of sustainable growth were also said to be on the agenda.

The US-Africa Leaders Summit, which opened on Monday, was established with an aim to boost trade opportunities and forge stronger economic ties between Africa and the United States, with some 90 US corporations on hand to grab a stake in the continent - or increase their existing claims. Obama helped facilitate the negotiations between private companies and national governments.

'Amazing opportunity'

Speaking to delegates at the opening of the three-day event on Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Africa could be "the marketplace of the future." He said the continent was currently facing an "amazing opportunity."

The International Monetary Fund predicts that Africa will see economic expansion of 5.8 percent in 2014. It's also home to an expanding middle class and six of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies.

In 2009, China surpassed the US as Africa's biggest trading partner and the United States is hoping to do some catching up. Though the United States remains the largest source of investment in Africa, those funds have largely gone into the petroleum sector.

"We gave it to the Europeans first and to the Chinese later, but today it's wide open for us," said General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, who on Monday had announced a $2 billion investment in infrastructure and worker skills - just one of the latest ways in which private US companies have tried to cash in on Africa.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. CEO Doug McMillon said the retailer, often under fire for its labor practices at home in the United States, had faith that regional governments would work to ensure a secure business environment and the rule of law. McMillon called Wal-Mart's $2.6 billion investment in Africa in 2011, when it bought a majority stake in the South Africa-based retailer Massmart, "just the beginning."

The private investment in industry comes as Africa, faced with a spreading Ebola epidemic, urgently needs money for health care and public infrastructure.

mkg/tj (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)