US-Africa Leaders’ Summit: What is at Stake?

French version here.

The United States President, Joe Biden, is hosting a Summit with African heads of State and government in Washington DC from the 13th to 15th of December 2022. This will be the second US Summit with African Leaders; the first was hosted by President Obama in August 2014.  I have had the opportunity to participate in the Obama Summit as the then Resident Representative of Oxfam International to the African Union, and I have posted my reflections here.

As I am preparing to participate in the upcoming Biden Summit as part of the ONE Campaign delegation, I would like to share a few personal thoughts on what is at stake in this gathering.  

According to the White House, the Summit will demonstrate the United States enduring commitment to Africa and will underscore the importance of U.S.- Africa relations and increased cooperation on shared global priorities. The U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit aims to advance U.S.- African collaboration on the current most pressing global and regional priorities.

Agenda

From the White House’s perspective, the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit will build on the values shared with the African Continents values to better:

1-        Foster new economic engagement

2-        Advance peace, security, and good governance

3-        Reinforce commitment to democracy, human rights, and civil society

4-        Work collaboratively to strengthen regional and global health security

5-        Promote food security

6-        Respond to the climate crisis

7-        Amplify diaspora ties

Africa’s Geopolitical and Economic Importance

Obviously, the summit will mirror and will be a test for the new US strategy towards Africa, which emphasizes the critical importance of the continent in meeting today’s global challenges. Africa is a key geopolitical player, one that is shaping the present and will shape the future of the world.

With one of the world’s fastest-growing populations, the largest free trade area, the most diverse ecosystems, and one of the largest regional voting groups in the United Nations, Africa is a vast continent organized in five geographic regions (Northern, Southern, Western, Eastern, and Central Africa). The continent’s current aspirations are captured in the AU Agenda 2063 – The Africa We Want, a business plan aiming to realize an integrated, peaceful, and prosperous continent with its rightful place in the global arena.

The continent’s strategic importance to regional and global security and prosperity and the growing and influential role it has been playing in shaping the global system of governance have made Africa a critical political actor in global discussions. This importance can clearly be seen in the various types of diplomatic engagements and the range of partnerships established with different political blocs and countries over the last three decades.

In addition, Africa is highly attractive with its abundant natural endowments and rich human resources, its youthful, dynamic, and resilient population, and its enormous development, trade, and investment opportunities are some of the great assets and competitive advantages of the continent.

Summit Diplomacy Catching up?

Since President Obama hosted the first Summit with the continent in 2014, with the aim of helping to launch a new chapter in American – African relations, the United States has lost ground to its “competitors” in Africa. In between, President Trump had chosen to denigrate African countries and barred many of their citizens from visiting the United States, and President Biden has not done much so far to show commitment toward Africa.

In the last two years only, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Turkey, India, and Japan, held their Summits with the continent. China hosted its fourth triennial Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Senegal, and Russia will hold its second African Summit in 2023. China has deepened its relationship with Africa, with bilateral trade jumping 35% in 2021 to a peak of $254 billion. So far, Russia has inroads, with the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group mercenaries now operating in no less than 18 African countries, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The recent votes of African countries at the UN General Assembly are clear messages that the continent can no more be taken for granted, so President Biden surely understands that America needs to catch up on its relationship with Africa and, most importantly, to adopt a new approach and new languages that is different from initiatives by the previous U.S. Administration.

Who is invited to the Summit, and who is not?

49 Leaders of the 55 African Union member States have been invited.  Leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan, and Guinea, who have been suspended from the African Union, have not received invitations. The other criterion for an invitation is that President Biden invited only countries with whom the US has full diplomatic relations. Currently, the US does not exchange ambassadors with Eritrea and has not recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as a country, so though these two nations are regular members of the African Union, they have not been invited. Curiously Chad has been invited even though the current leader of the country, Mahamat Déby, recently snatched power by a coup, violating the national constitution when his father, Idriss Deby, was killed. The African Union failed to suspend Chad following the coup in what is seen as an unfortunate political double standard.

Beyond the Heads of States Meeting

The Washington Summit will also officially involve the business community, civil society, the youth, and the African Diaspora.

A Civil Society Forum on the 13th of December 2022 is to be hosted by USAID with the participation of civil society representatives and some leaders from Africa and the United States. The Forum will table the following topics for discussion: Inclusive Participation in Politics and Public Life, Anticorruption Accountability, and Workers/Labor Participation.

A Diaspora & Youth Forum on the the13th of December 2022: the African and Diaspora Young Leaders Forum aims to elevate diaspora engagement to strengthen dialogue between U.S. officials and the diaspora in the United States and provide a platform for young African and diaspora leaders to fashion innovative solutions to pressing challenges. African Union has identified the African diaspora as the sixth region of the continent. The diaspora is an important resource and opportunity for engagement in the development of the continent. The Forum will feature breakout sessions on higher education, the creative industries, and environmental equity, utilizing the theme ‘‘Amplifying Voices: Building Partnerships that Last”.

A Business Forum on the 14th of December 2022 will be hosted by the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Corporate Council on Africa, in partnership with the Prosper Africa initiative. The Forum will focus on advancing two-way trade and investment partnerships that bolster Africa’s role in the global economy, scale innovation and entrepreneurship, and drive advancements in key sectors. Under the theme “Partnering for a Prosperous and Resilient Future,” the Forum will bring together African Heads of State and U.S. and African business and government leaders to advance mutually beneficial partnerships that create jobs and drive inclusive and sustainable growth on both sides of the Atlantic.

Peace and Security: There will be a Peace, Security, and Governance forum, with representatives of development, defense, and diplomacy arms will talk about the linkages between democratic institutions and governance and long-term peace and prosperity.

Trade, Health, etc: An African Growth and Opportunity Act ministerial will also be convened by United States Trade Representative, as well as a health ministerial to look at how both parties could partner to build more resilient and equitable health systems to address both current and future health challenges. It will be important for African leaders to discuss the form that African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) will take after its expiration in 2025 and how its successor will fit into the new African Continental Free Trade Area.

Climate: A session with foreign ministers will also be held on supporting conservation, climate adaptation, and a just energy transition, as well as a U.S.- Africa civil and commercial space forum to discuss shared objectives on the climate crisis, promoting responsible behavior and strengthening cooperation on science and commercial space activities.

Food Security: A special session of the summit will be focused on addressing food security and food systems, one of the most crucial issues that Africa needs to invest in as a matter of urgency but also with a long-term perspective and on which the United States can be a great partner.  

Other Side Events: Several nonstate actors are planning different thematic meetings alongside the official gathering to influence the outcomes of the Summit. Learn more about those meetings here.

Which Priorities for Africa?

The upcoming US-Africa leaders’ Summit should focus on a comprehensive long-term vision for a strong and strategic US – Africa relationship to achieve the collective prosperity of American and African people. Such a relationship should be built on absolute mutual respect and shared values.

In the framework of the ongoing Summit Diplomacy around Africa involving various political blocs, the Continent should always ensure that the 7 Aspirations of its Agenda 2063 are being taken care of. Our leaders must clearly articulate these in the upcoming Washington discussions.

Here are 4 of the most crucial issues that the Summit should prioritize

1/ Food Security: The embarrassing paradox on this matter is that despite having more than 60% of the world’s fertile land, Africa remains a major importer of food, spending $35 billion annually on food imports. The war in Ukraine is cutting off some supplies to the continent, so if nothing is done, millions more Africans are in danger of falling into extreme poverty and malnutrition. The direct implication of higher food prices will be that fewer African households will be able to afford decent daily meals. Food-insecure households in the continent will be left much further behind. Consumption rates will fall, savings will be depleted, debt will increase, and assets will be liquidated, and all these have the risk of increasing instability in the continent. We have plenty of land in Africa, but most farmers still use rudimentary instruments for Agriculture. The agri-food industry is poorly developed in Africa and is mainly characterized by small-scale processing of agricultural products, which is provided by small units with very limited capacity.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has a Strategy for Agriculture Transformation in Africa as part of its High5. During its recent annual meeting in Accra, Ghana, the AfDB launched a 1.5 billion USD facility to finance food purchases for cash-strapped governments as prices rise quickly. It is urgent to prioritize investment in agriculture now at national and regional levels. It is time for Africa to feed itself. The continent needs resources to do so, and the US can assist both financially and technically.

2/ Development Finance:  Stopping the Illicit Financial Flows to boost industrialization: Every year, $89 billion leaves the African continent as Illicit Financial Flows, according to the UNCTAD. These are movements of money and assets across borders that are illegal in source, transfer, or use. It includes illicit capital getting out of the continent, tax and commercial practices like wrong invoicing of trade shipments, and criminal activities such as illegal markets, corruption, or theft.

ODA vs. IFFs: The shocking fact is that the billions lost annually to IFFs are almost equal to the Official Development Assistance (ODA) and Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) altogether. These are missed development opportunities. So, Africa loses significantly more cash to capital flight than it obtains from development aid, external borrowing, or foreign direct investment. Stopping illicit financial flows requires international cooperation and actions both within the continent and outside. Every dollar that leaves the continent is a missed opportunity to invest in areas like agriculture, food security, health and education services, and infrastructure.

Commissioned by the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, a High-Level Panel led by President Thabo Mbeki made practical recommendations to tackle the IFFs.  We need to go back to those recommendations, implement them fully and pull out substantial resources to finance our development plans.

The United States Government has strong leverage to support this process, so, the upcoming Summit should address capital flight from Africa as a critical issue for the future of the continent and the global community.

3/ Youth: Job and skill development: The age structure of our population has an important impact on our economic development. The “demographic dividend” refers to economic benefits arising from a significant increase of working-aged adults vis-a-vis those who are dependents. These working-age adults must be healthy, educated, trained, skilled, and have decent jobs, and other economic opportunities should be created to meet their demands. Having a youthful population is not enough to catalyze development and prosperity.  All African countries should effectively implement the AU Roadmap on harnessing the demographic dividend in Africa.

4/ Conflicts: Beyond Military Solutions: The AU itself has identified more than 20 current conflicts in the countries that make up the Union. 113 million people in Africa are currently in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. The root causes of most conflicts in Africa are to be found essentially in extreme poverty, deep structural inequalities, inefficient management of natural resources, and climate change, among others. Military operations alone will not bring peace to Africa. We need to prioritize addressing the governance crisis, promote inclusive participation in politics, provide social services and boost development. Military interventions should only be at the service of this approach.

An accountability Mechanism to ensure implementation of the commitments of the US – African Summit

Unlike some of the other Summits (TICAD, FOCAC, EU-AU, etc.) The US-Africa Summit does not have a structured follow-up, implementation, and accountability process. The upcoming gathering should look at this closely and come up with a mechanism for mutual accountability that is inclusive and involves civil society organizations.  

Today it is difficult to track precisely what has been done with the commitments adopted at the Obama Summit in 2014. Having 50 heads of state and governments with big delegations flying individual jets to Washington has an important cost for the continent and the world. This Summit should lead to concrete and traceable actions that will have real impacts on the populations of both the US and Africa.

Watch this space for more updates on the upcoming Leaders’ Summit.

Your comments and suggestions are also welcome on this site or directly to my email address: Desire.Assogbavi@assodesire.com or Assogbavi@me.com.

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