US president Joe Biden will be hosting African leaders at this week’s summit, as a group. This has its advantages. The 50 African leaders have the opportunity to articulate their common interests and adopt common positions at the gathering in Washington, DC.
The priorities they should be focusing on are the following.
African Union membership of the G20 group of the world’s largest economies. It is important for Africa to be represented in international conversations that concern the global economy, democracy and governance, climate change, health and security.
Secondly, African leaders must continue to press for two permanent seats on the UN Security Council. The transnational challenges of cross-border conflict, terrorism, transnational crime, poverty and pandemics necessitate transformation of the UN through the equitable distribution of decision-making power. The UN itself recommended this in 2005. So did the Ezulwini consensus, the official common African position on how to reform the Security Council, adopted in 2005.
Thirdly, they must press for membership of the Indo-Pacific region for African countries bordering the Indian Ocean. This is an issue for the summit because the US is a pivotal player in the region. It can help address Africa’s exclusion from this important multilateral decision-making organ, an emerging locale of global economic growth.
Fourth, they need to extract support for common African positions already taken on climate change, energy transition, asset recovery from illicit financial flows from the continent, and integration of gender equality in climate change action.
The leaders also need to build on the first summit, which was held under Barack Obama’s presidency in 2014.
These are lofty priorities that can benefit Africa in the short and long term. But, for these to accrue from the summit, African leaders must have a common purpose and present a united front. They must also be forthright in their commitment to good governance.
What does the 2022 summit promise?
the summit will demonstrate the United States’ enduring commitment to Africa, and will underscore the importance of US-Africa relations and increased cooperation on shared global priorities.
It is intended to build on US-Africa shared values to better:
- foster new economic engagement
- advance peace, security, and good governance
- reinforce commitment to democracy, human rights and civil society
- work collaboratively to strengthen regional and global health security
- promote food security
- respond to the climate crisis
- amplify diaspora ties
- promote education and youth leadership.
Seen in this light, this summit should be assessed as an ongoing engagement.
What was achieved in 2014
At the 2014 summit, President Obama proposed $20 billion investments in electricity, US$7 billion in government financing to encourage US exports and investments in Africa, and an annual expenditure of US$110 million to help African countries develop peacekeeping forces.
A number of technical agreements were also signed. These include the Investment Framework Agreement with the Economic Community of West African States. It provides a coordination mechanism for trade and investment issues.
President Obama also called on the US Congress to extend and improve the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which provides duty-free access to goods of designated African countries into the US. He also announced a new investment of US$110 million a year for three to five years to train African soldiers to battle terrorism and insurgency through the Rapid Response Partnership programme.
Africa indeed benefited from a number of these initiatives, although many remain unfulfilled. For example, in energy generation and distribution, the “Power Africa” project became an enhanced platform for lighting up Africa. Its original mandate was to add 30,000 megawatts of cleaner and more reliable electricity generation to connect 590 million people in Africa. So far, 6,501 megawatts has been generated, providing power to 165.4 million people for the first time.
Prior to the first African summit in 2014, Agoa, which was meant to end in 2015, was extended to 2025. Since then, it has enabled African countries to export (duty free) non-oil products worth US$33 billion between 2014 and 2021. Also, $267 million was budgeted for 2015-2017 for capacity building support for African militaries.
The 2022 summit is expected to produce some concrete outcomes too.
For example, the US will continue to push the “infrastructure card” in Africa. This is generally believed to be a challenge to China’s “Belt and Road” initiative, the massive infrastructure project intended to stretch from East Asia to Europe.
It includes the ambitious $600 billion US-led G7 Partnership for Global Infrastructure Initiative. As indicated in its Africa strategy launched in August 2022, the US proposes to
leverage and streamline financing and co-invest to deliver game-changing projects to strengthen economies, diversify supply chains, and advance US and African national security.
The initiative will also complement new and existing efforts, including Prosper Africa, Power Africa, Feed the Future, and a new initiative for digital transformation, to help close the global infrastructure gap in the continent.
Most of the “model projects” are already in place. These include the solar energy project supported by the US in Angola and the vaccine production facility in Senegal. Another is the submarine telecommunications cables connecting Singapore and France, passing through Egypt and the Horn of Africa.
However, the continent needs to be ready to use these and other opportunities offered by superpower competition in Africa between the US, China and Russia. This is likely going to last for decades, given Africa’s global geo-strategic value.
What African leaders need to deliver
African leaders also need to step up.
Firstly, they need to answer whether the state in Africa is still fit for purpose as it was designed to be extractive and exploitative. That also produced a notion of parasitic governance which continues. This partly explains why, decades after political independence, many African states struggle to fulfil the basic functions of a state – protecting citizens from internal and external aggression, good governance and service delivery.
They also need to explore and make more concrete the idea of providing cooperative regional leadership shared between sub-regional leaders in the continent such as Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Rwanda.
Last, Africa must invest in more research centres that study the superpowers and use the knowledge to develop both national and regional policies towards them. That way we will someday talk of Africa-US policy and Africa-China policy, instead of always the other way round.
These are ways to avoid Africa being cherry-picked by superpowers. Hopefully, in future, superpower leaders will visit Addis Ababa instead of 50-plus African leaders visiting one leader elsewhere.