The US-Africa Leaders Summit

Screenshot of the summit website.

The US-Africa Leaders Summit website.

From 4-6 August, Washington and President Obama himself host the first US-Africa Leaders summit. The US is late in doing so. Although the Corporate Council on Africa started US-Africa business summits already in 1993 (the ninth one was in Chicago in 2013), the USA never used its cultural capital of having the first-ever Afro-American President by inviting most African heads of State and the AU Chairlady (‘most’ because they wanted to avoid that the Presidents of Eritrea, Zimbabwe, Sudan and the CAR would join as well). Now it was seen as ‘high time’ to do so. The USA is very late in doing what others have done before: Japan organized a Tokyo International Conference on African Development already in 1993 (five so far), in 2000 China joined with the Forum on China-African Cooperation (five as well) and the European Union did the same in 2000 (the fourth one was in Brussels in April 2014). In 2006 both Korea and South America organized Africa Fora (South America had three so far), Turkey followed in 2008 (two until now) and Brazil started its own Brazil-Africa Leaders Forum in 2012 (two so far). African leaders seem to be welcome everywhere now, and everyone wants to talk business! That the USA decided to follow suit can partly be explained by all those ‘emerging powers’ highlighting South-South solidarity, but partly also by what is happening in Europe. After many years of difficult negotiations suddenly the European Union seems to succeed to get a new round of ‘economic partnership agreements’ (EPAs) signed: in May Southern Africa agreed to do so; in July all West- African states did and Cameroon followed as the first one of Central African States. The USA is losing ground.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice

National Security Advisor Susan Rice previews the summit (still from a Youtube film).

A new partnership
On the website for the US-Africa Leaders Summit ( National Security Advisor Susan Rice informs the world that the USA wants a new partnership with Africa based on “mutual responsibility and mutual respect”, using the word ‘mutual’ that is also a keyword in the Chinese way to talk to Africa. She goes on to say that the USA wants to build on President Obama’s trip to Africa (Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania) in the summer of 2013, but no word about the fact that Obama never ever came to Africa after his trip to Egypt and to Ghana in 2009; not in 2010, not in 2011 and not in 2012. Many Africans and many Afro-Americans will have felt frustrated after the high expectations of 2008/2009.

President Obama holds a Town Hall with Young African Leaders, Washington D.C., 28 July 2014

President Obama holds a Town Hall with Young African Leaders, Washington D.C., 28 July 2014 (still from a Youtube film)

Social issues, business, investments
The programme for the three days is interesting if we look at the agenda and the order in which things are being planned: the first day is about big social issues (civil society, investing in women, peace and prosperity, health, resilience and food security in a changing climate, and combating wildlife trafficking) and about the renewal of the US ‘African Growth and Opportunity Act’, followed by a reception at Capitol Hill, meeting Congress! The second day is the business forum (I find it ironic that it will be held at Mandarin Oriental Hotel; more than 100 African business leaders will participate), followed by a Dinner at the White House. The third day comes to the heart of the intentions: African leaders meet Obama in discussion rounds about ‘investments in Africa’, ‘peace and stability’ and ‘governing the next generation’. The USA has started a ‘Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders’ (500 each year from 2014 onwards) and 500 of these young African leaders are in Washington now as well! On that third days there is also a ‘spousal programme’, hosted by both Michele Obama and Laura Bush , while the Congressional Black Caucus Africa Task Force continues the dialogue with the African business CEOs. It looks very well organized and very wide-ranging.

It would be interesting to see how Europe does it the next time (with the Fifth EU-Africa Summit probably in 2017), and I think we will discuss comparable issues at our own Africa Works! Conference, October 16 and 17 (see, where we hope to see many African, Dutch (and other European) people from business, science, NGO, media and diplomacy circles. And hopefully a few Americans too!