“Africa is a continent full of promise, and talent, and opportunity, and the United States will do our part to help the people of Africa realize the brighter future they deserve,” President Bush said.

The US leader heard from Presidents Festus Mogae of Botswana, John Kufuor of Ghana, Armando Guebuza of Mozambique, Hifikpunye Pohamba of Namibia, and Mamadou Tandja of Niger.

President Mogae said they had ‘complained bitterly’ about bureaucratic hurdles holding up aid programmes.

America’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) was singled out for particular criticism.

Unveiled in 2002, the MCA proposed US$5b (A$6.5b) in aid to go to eligible countries able to show a commitment to democratic, economic and human rights reforms.

In the three years since, only Madagascar has been provided with funding under the MCA and a total of four countries have met approval for assistance.

“I assured the leaders we will work harder and faster to certify countries from MCA, so that MCA countries and the people in the MCA countries can see the benefit of this really important piece of legislation and funding,” Mr Bush said.

But setbacks in Congress have caused delays, allowing only $2.5b of a requested $3.8b in funding to be released over the past two years.

While the US is the single largest donor to Africa, as a proportion of gross domestic product, the country falls behind other leading industrialised nations.

Last week, the president announced an additional $674m will be set aside “to help alleviate humanitarian emergencies in African nations, especially the growing famine” in some parts.

He has also hailed an agreement reached by the world’s richest economies, the G8, to cancel $40b in debt owed by the 18 poorest countries, 14 of them in Africa.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), passed in the US last year, was also mentioned as a key strategy for boosting African trade.

The AGOA offers duty-free access to some US markets, notably in textiles, for 37 sub-Saharan nations.