Hundreds of business people, political leaders and government officials from Africa and beyond are descending on Washington D.C. this week for President Obama’s inaugural U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. They will bring with them a broad array of hopes and aspirations for the summit. WSJ Frontiers asked a handful of key figures in the African business world to share their own hopes and fears for the summit. Readers can also weigh in on the debate about the summit in our online survey.WSJ Frontiers: What do you hope the summit will achieve? Sim Tshabalala, joint chief executive of Standard Bank Group, Africa’s largest bank by assets: I’d like to see US businesses leaders coming away from the summit with a good understanding of the opportunities offered by Africa’s rapid and sustainable economic growth. The continent offers abundant natural resources, a young, increasingly well-educated and healthy population, a growing consumer base, increasing macroeconomic stability, an improved regulatory environment for business, and impressive investment in infrastructure development. There is the potential for excellent returns but it’s crucial that US investors understand local markets. I hope that the summit will [help them] achieve these insights and build these relationships. Tony O. Elumelu, chairman of Nigeria-based pan-African investment group Heirs Holdings: I want to see greater insight and understanding of the opportunities on the African continent by U.S. businesses. I hope we will see a greater sense of partnership—that is mutually beneficial—develop. Also I would like to see a collective commitment from American businesses to invest in Africa to create greater opportunities and prosperity. And I hope we get greater clarity on what America would like to see in relation to Africa. Paul Hinks, chief executive of Symbion Power and chairman of the Corporate Council on Africa, a group whose aim is to promote business between the U.S. and Africa: My hope is that the governments of Africa will see for themselves that the U.S. has become serious about investing in Africa. The summit is extremely significant, it’s very symbolic. Of course the real deals will happen on the fringes of what the White House is organizing, but that’s why they are doing it. It sends a message to the rest of the world that America has woken up. WSJ Frontiers: What factors will determine whether the summit is a success? Tshabalala: The forging of stronger relationships between US firms and their African counterparts; a growing recognition among US firms of the lucrative opportunities offered by Africa’s diverse markets; and a [recognition of] Africa as a valued trade and investment partner rather than as a recipient of development aid. Jendayi Frazer, chairman of the East African Exchange, a new regional commodities exchange that intends to ensure East African farmers achieve fairer prices for their crops and have access to financial services that will help them better manage their businesses: The summit is already a success insofar as it has unleashed the energy of Africa-focused think tanks, the private sector, and NGOs and civic associations to hold parallel events addressing Africa’s opportunities and challenges. The non-official side-events that African heads of state and officials will participate in will have as much impact on US-Africa policy as the leaders’ meeting with President Obama. Continued success will depend on the Obama administration following up and especially whether the President remains engaged through the end of his term. Elumelu: Years afterward we will see how successful this summit is. In the short term, however, the quality and level of participation on the American side will be key. Jonathan Berman, author of Success in Africa and a fellow at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment: Some will measure the summit’s success by the deal announcements, but deals are the icing on the cake. It’s about the relationships that are formed. The most important aspect of the summit is the commercial interaction. The most valuable meetings will be the side meetings and dinners. That’s where the real action will be happening. WSJ Frontiers: Will African people see any benefit from the summit? Elumelu: They would if President Obama were to encourage the African presidents to sign a declaration committing to economic reform and to stress the point that there is a correlation between economic development and empowerment and security. Bob Diamond, co-founder of Atlas Mara Co-Nvest, which has been raising hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new financial services provider in sub-Saharan Africa: I am hopeful African people will see concrete evidence of America’s commitment to Africa in the form of financial investment and operational know-how. I think there will be a lot of focus on investment and trade, particularly relating to finance and technology, infrastructure, developing leadership skills and long-term sustainable governance structures. But, I don’t see this as a one way street. Both Africans and Americans should benefit from this event. The main objective of the summit is to figure out how we can help each other. Berman: I do see Africans benefitting over time but not immediately. Not only African people should benefit but Americans should benefit because we are putting a lot of skin in the game. Americans will see investment opportunities, job opportunities, innovation. The learning and skills that we bring back from Africa are important. There will also be clear geostrategic and security benefits for Americans. Hinks: Africans are not going to benefit immediately from this summit and it is not sensible to think they will. But this signifies a new way of working, with the government backing the private sector. It makes me very confident that we are going to see big changes. WSJ Frontiers: Do you believe it will generate new, meaningful investment in Africa from the US? Diamond: I certainly hope it will lead to new investment in Africa and not just financial investment. We need to invest time understanding the region. All too often it is referred to in the singular, but there are more than 50 countries on the continent, with many more than 50 different cultures, governments, societies and customs. If we are going to invest in the next generation, we need to understand them first. Elumelu: If the summit succeeds in making the American private sector see Africa in a more positive light, that will have an impact in the boardrooms, and it is in the boardrooms that the decisions will be made. These changes won’t happen in just three or four days, but those three or four days could open some minds about what opportunities there are in Africa. Tshabalala: Part of the purpose of the summit is to make US businesses aware of the opportunities that already exist and to provide them with the practical support they need to take advantage of them. So yes, I think the summit will absolutely support new partnerships, and on that basis, new investment. WSJ Frontiers: What could go wrong? Frazer: Already the decision to not do bilateral meetings with key countries or even with leaders of the sub-regional blocs is being widely criticized. To counter this, the President needs to listen and engage meaningfully, especially if there are no new major initiatives or funding announced. Tshabalala: There will quite possibly be those who dismiss the summit as a talk shop but Africa is looking for investors who will get to know the region and take a long-term view. The summit is a valuable step in this journey. Additional reporting by Jessica Eaton.