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The Obama administration sought Monday to strengthen ties with Africa at an unprecedented summit with dozens of African leaders, grappling with issues such as investment, poverty, terrorism, corruption and deadly diseases.
Nearly 50 African heads of state attended the gathering focused on how to build democracy and raise investment in the continent, which is home to some of the world's fastest growing economies and an expanding middle class.
Yet an outbreak of deadly Ebola virus, which has killed at least 887 people in West Africa, cast a pall over the summit. Leaders from Sierra Leone and Liberia canceled their plans to attend and the U.S. set up medical screenings for other officials traveling from those nations.
Those who did attend, including women dressed in brightly colored African wear, crowded hotel lobbies and buses. Pickup trucks carrying signs with messages like ''End Dictatorship in Ethiopia'' cruised downtown streets. Traffic was snarled and streets were closed around event sites.
Inside the summit venues, top U.S. officials spoke positively about U.S.-Africa relations and progress on the continent.
''I think something like 10 of the 15 fastest-growing countries in the world are in Africa,'' Secretary of State John Kerry said. ''Africa will have a larger workforce than India or China by 2040.''
The Obama administration says it is committed to renewing the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which is set to expire next year. Since 2000, AGOA has been at the center of the U.S. efforts to promote trade and investment in Africa while opening new sources of material for U.S. producers.
''AGOA has made it possible for Ford Motor Co. to export engines duty-free from South Africa, where Ford has invested over $300 million so they can supply engines worldwide,'' Kerry said. ''And the efficiencies of that operation have allowed Ford to create 800 new jobs at their Kansas City plant as part of the global production line.''
South Africa President Jacob Zuma said he wants to see AGOA renewed for another 15 years, with the inclusion of South Africa. South African exports to the United States were worth $3.6 billion in 2013, according to the American Chamber of Commerce. It said the United States was the biggest destination for South African exports of passenger cars, receiving 42 percent of the total.
About 600 U.S. companies do business in South Africa, which has one of the biggest economies on the continent, but struggles