WASHINGTON — 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.
The three-day conference, called by President Obama, is the largest gathering of African leaders ever organized by the United States. At the summit venues Monday, top American officials spoke positively about US-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, the act has been at the center of US efforts to promote trade and investment in Africa while opening sources of material for US producers.
The United States is competing in Africa with China, which surpassed the United States in 2009 as Africa’s largest trading partner. China has been increasingly investing in natural resources projects in Africa, and Chinese leaders make frequent trips to the continent.
In Kenya, Aly-Khan Satchu, owner of a financial management company and a prominent social commentator, said he believes the United States is ‘‘a bit late’’ to what has been a global reengagement with Africa. That movement in Kenya has been led by China, which is helping build roads and overpasses and skyscrapers rising above Nairobi, the capital.
Vice President Joe Biden warned that corruption was a red light to progress in Africa. He called on African nations to improve the rule of law with better court systems, independent oversight of government departments, and vetting of police and security officials.
‘‘Corruption . . . not only undermines but prevents the establishment of genuine democratic systems. It stifles economic growth and scares away investment,’’ Biden said. “It siphons off resources that should be used to lift people out of poverty, and it weakens your military readiness.’’
The outbreak of the Ebola virus, which has killed at least 887 people in West Africa, has cast a pall over the summit. Leaders from Sierra Leone and Liberia canceled their plans to attend.