U.S.-Africa Business Summit

By George L. Kirkland, President
ChevronTexaco Overseas Petroleum Inc.

Corporate Council on Africa Gala Dinner

Washington, D.C., June 24, 2003

It is a privilege to be with you this evening of what has become one of the largest African business conferences of its kind in the United States.

Perhaps conference is not the right word for this gathering. It's really more like a reunion, isn't it, where we have opportunities to reconnect with friends we may not have seen since the last summit and where strong relationships are made even stronger.

For us at ChevronTexaco, it's been gratifying to be a part of these biennial summits as they have grown in value and gained in stature over the last few years.

ChevronTexaco's chairman and CEO Dave O'Reilly took part in the 1999 conference in Houston. And Peter Robertson, vice chairman of our board of directors, addressed the 2001 Summit in Philadelphia, which was held less than two months after the tragedy of September 11.

In his remarks, Peter noted that the menace of international terrorism had made the world an even more uncertain place. But he emphasized that the commitment to bring economic prosperity to Africa — exemplified by that summit — remained unchanged.

Now, nearly two years later, I believe that commitment is stronger than ever. The threat of global terrorism and its destabilizing effect on the world economy have underscored the need for cooperation among all who embrace open market principles, good governance and stable democracies.

If the global economy is to flourish, all must have the opportunity to participate. That's why we are here: to explore, develop and follow through on the economic opportunities Africa has to offer. What we accomplish in the next three days is in all of our best interests.

The Changing Perception of Africa

For seven years, I lived and worked in Nigeria. It was a transforming experience for me. Wherever I went in Africa, I was continually impressed by the optimistic determination of its people — often in the face of great obstacles. Wherever I went, I found hope and hard work.

My experience in Africa definitely changed my perception.

Here in the United States, I believe the public's perception of Africa's importance in the world economy also is changing and becoming increasing enlightened. Although the headlines still too often paint a pessimistic portrait of the Continent, the view of the American people appears much more hopeful and positive.

The results of a poll released early this year by the Program on International Policy Attitudes showed that a majority of Americans believe that Africa is important to the United State and support increased levels of engagement with African nations.

  • Nearly three-quarter of those polled believe that the United States has vital interests in the future of Africa.
  • On the question of trade, a clear majority supported the objectives of the African Growth and Opportunity Act and the principle of removing trade barriers.
  • Regarding political progress in Africa, a solid majority supported the expansion of democratic institutions, which have increased rapidly over the past decade.

For those of us who already feel strongly about the continued growth of Africa, this is good news. But more still needs to be done to change the perception of Africa.

Someone once told me that capital has no courage. In other words, investors want to know that their money has a solid chance at gaining an appropriate return. The more we can do to change the perception of Africa, the greater the likelihood that capital will find its courage. For its part, over the next five years, ChevronTexaco and its partners will invest over $20 billion.

Continuing to Reshape the Perception

This summit, combined with follow-up contacts, visits and ultimately ongoing relationships, can continue to reshape the perception of Africa. Together, we can move Africa toward realizing its significant potential in the world's economy.

'Eyes Can See Widely'

There is a proverb from Botswana, the home of our keynote speaker tonight, that suggests the approach I think we all can embrace if Africa is to take its rightful place in the world economic community.

'Eyes can see widely. They can cross a river in full flood,' says the proverb. Like the eyes that see widely, we cannot ignore the river of current challenges that face not just Africa but many countries in the world, including the United States. But we can also look beyond to the 'other side of the river' — to the potential of a continent and its people.

Few African nations epitomize that potential better than Botswana, which in its 36 years as an independent republic has become an internationally recognized example of economic development, social improvement and political stability.

In the three decades following its independence in 1966, Botswana's gross domestic product grew at an average of more than 8 percent a year. It is recognized as one of the fastest growing economies among the developing nations of the world.

Most impressive of all is what the people of Botswana have accomplished with their economy. Income from Botswana's natural resources — in particular, its world-renowned diamonds — goes toward education, health care, clean water, roads and housing. Every child is entitled to 10 years of free basic education, and no citizen lives farther than 18 miles from a health-care facility.

In terms of business opportunities, it should be noted that Botswana has one of the best credit ratings among the world's developing nations.

Botswana also has adopted one of the most aggressive responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, encompassing public awareness programs, vigorous prevention efforts and improved medical care and counseling. Public and private entities around the world have lauded Botswana's determination to turn back the AIDS crisis.

These advances are the product of the strong, enlightened direction of Botswana's elected leadership. And it is my honor tonight to introduce that leadership to you as our keynote speaker.

Introduction of President Mogae

His Excellency Festus G. Mogae has been president of the Republic of Botswana since 1998.

He was trained as an economist at the universities of Oxford and Sussex, and early in his career, served four years here in Washington, D.C., as executive director of the International Monetary Fund for Anglophone Africa.

President Mogae went on to serve in numerous key positions in his government, including minister of finance and then vice president in 1992. He is Botswana's third president since it became an independent nation.

Among his several roles in African regional and international affairs, President Mogae is one of the 15 African heads of state serving on the New Partnership for African Development.

It is leaders like President Mogae who help us all, as the proverb suggests, to 'see widely' — to view his country and all the nations of Africa — from a broader and increasingly promising perspective.

Please join me in welcoming President Mogae.

Updated: June 2003