Africa-USA Summit: Highlights and Lowlights

By Desire Assogbavi – 12th August 2014

I have spent 3 days last week in Washington DC to observe and engage the first Africa – USA Leaders’ Summit was held from 4 – 6 August 2014 in Washington DC, where over 50 African countries representatives including 37 Heads of state had direct interactions with their American counterparts. Several civil society events were also organized prior and during the Summit. The summit was set around 3 major thematic: Investing in Africa’s Future, Peace & Regional Stability and Governing for the Next Generation. Here are a summary of the outcomes as well as some personal reflexions….

Highlights

A total of 37 Billion mobilized as a commitment from public and private sector to enhance trade, investment, essential services and security across Africa. These include the following:

$14 billion to be invested in aviation, banking, infrastructure and clean, renewable energy development

$12 billion in new funding to the Power Africa Initiative, bringing the total funding for the program to $26 billion. Power Africa Initiative will electrify an estimated 60 million households and businesses, nearly tripling its original target

$7 billion to facilitate U.S.-Africa trade and investment under the Doing Business in Africa (DBIA) Campaign

$4 billion to promote maternal health, children’s health, and the delivery of vaccines and drugs. More support to nutrition and HIV: Pledged to work with 10 countries to help double the number of children with access to ARVs and assist the African Union efforts to create an African Centre for Disease Control.

Lowlights: Governance and Human Rights

With the presence of some of the most brutal and long serving African autocrats having troubling records on human rights and civil liberties, the Summit could have had in-depth discussions agree on strong and concrete actions on issues of governance, human rights and civic space as fundamental prerequisites for business success. President Obama drew the diplomatic line by not inviting Omar Bashir and Robert Mugabe to the Summit but, rolling out the red carpet for leaders like Obiang Nguema, Yahya Jammey or Blaise Compaore  – some of those being in power for 20-35 years – simply showed that business and security interests can easily surpass the need to uphold universal human and civil rights and accountable institutions.

Human Rights Scandals in Washington: During the Summit in Washington, a Congolese demonstrator has been  attacked and severely beaten by  President Joseph Kabila’s guards while him and other Congolese were peacefully demonstrating on the street when Kabila was passing.  The US asked DR Congo to waive immunity for the guards so they could face prosecution in the US, but the guards instead left the country  and were unlikely to face charges. State Department said they have also asked the delegation of Gambia to waive immunity for a guard after President Yahya Jammeh’s security detail similarly cracked down on protesters outside his hotel.

Specific Commitments and other issues

Peace and Security: The United States will build a new security governance initiative to help African countries of Kenya, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Ghana and Tunisia to build strong professional security forces to build their own security especially in response to terrorism and human trafficking.  It will invest $110 million per year for 3-5 years to help Africa Union’s efforts to strengthen its peacekeeping institutions – launching a new African peacekeeping rapid response partnership that will enable states to quickly deploy African peacekeepers in support of UN or AU Missions. This partnership will begin with 6 countries: Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. The U.S. also pledged to provide additional equipment to African peacekeepers in Somalia and the Central African Republic

Illicit Capital Flow and Corruption: New partnership agreed upon to combat illicit finance. An experts group will develop an action plan to promote the transparency.

Promoting Next Generation African Leaders: Commitment for a partnership in supporting young entrepreneurs, including through Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative was made. Summit also announced new initiatives for promoting economic and leadership opportunities among the youth. Prior to the Summit, President Obama met with 500 young Africans leaders taking part in his Young Africa Leaders Initiatives (YALI) and has promised to double the number of participants from the coming year.

Just a Competition to China? President Obama called Africa “a good partner, an equal partner, and a partner for the long term”, was this initiative, just a hidden competition to China’s presence in Africa? China’s trade with Africa passed 200 Billion in 2013 with over 2000 Chinese firms present in 50 African countries and China said it would extend $1 trillion of loans to Africa by 2015, most of it via its own Export-Import Bank. In any case this competition is likely to be profitable for Africa if the continent manages it well.

AGOA and Intra-Africa Trade: The African Growth Opportunity Act launched 14 years ago gives duty-free incentives for African countries to open their market in order to boost their trade with the US. In Washington last week, African leaders praised AGOA and requested its renewal next year.   There was a general agreement for a long-term renewal of AGOA on due course but the Washington Summit was not set for that. But, while enjoying AGOA, African country must accelerate to move toward an Africa Free Trade Area to enable trades within African Countries. Despite a timid start, intra-African trade links are very weak. The bulk of the continent’s trade is with Europe and America: only 12% or less is with other African countries, according to research by Ecobank, a Togo-based bank. By comparison 60% of Europe’s trade is with its own continent. The same is true in Asia. In North America the figure is 40%. Some commentators argue that countries in Africa have nothing to trade with each other… I do not agree with that. The continent has so many to trade within while developing home grown industry,

Continued Dialogue: US-Africa Leaders agreed that the Summit will be a recurring event to ensure accountability to commitments and to sustain its momentum, with Obama pledging to encourage his successor to carry on this work.