Africa.com will be on the ground next week in Washington D.C. to cover the historic US-Africa Leaders Summit. President Biden has invited the presidents of 49 African countries + the African Union to the White House to “uplift African institutions, citizens and nations.” In addition to the Summit, the Commerce Department is hosting a high level Business Forum among global CEOs and heads of state to 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.
An important aspect of the Business Forum is the Deal Room on December 14, hosted by Prosper Africa, a US government agency, where deals made during the Forum will be announced. Africa.com will be at the Business Forum reporting these announcements in real time in our Virtual Deal Room. Please visit Africa.com on December 14 to get comprehensive coverage of the deals being announced.
A spokesperson for the National Security Council said that all 50 invited delegations – from 49 countries plus the African Union – “have confirmed their participation” but did not say at what level of government. Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea and Sudan were excluded because the African Union has suspended them over unconstitutional changes of government; and the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with the pariah state of Eritrea.
South Sudan’s president will send his foreign minister. Ethiopia’s prime minister, whose nation is immersed in an ethnically driven conflict, is likely to be represented by that nation’s ceremonial president, who will be a rare female figure on a stage dominated by men. The president of South Africa, among the most advanced nations on the continent, is staring down challenges from within the ruling African National Congress, which meets next week for a high-stakes leadership conference. And Zimbabwe’s president remains under U.S. visa restrictions while accused of undermining democracy and abusing human rights.
The African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki and the presidents of African oil giants Angola and Nigeria will attend. The new president of Kenya has signaled that he will be there, as will the leader of Uganda, who has held that role for 36 years.
The summit will also look at how the U.S. can work with African governments on security challenges, which are especially acute in the Sahel region and in Somalia. Speaking to the Defense Writers Group on Tuesday, Chidi Blyden, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African Affairs, said that Somalia’s militant Islamist al-Shabab group remains the “No. 1” threat.
Briefing reporters Thursday, a senior defense official said the Pentagon is taking a three-pronged approach – blending defense, development and diplomacy – to address African security challenges.
On the topic of money, however, most African nations agree: the world’s richest nation has a large role to play in promoting prosperity and development on the continent. “More needs to be done by the United States as regards U.S.-Africa trade, as regards U.S. investments in Africa, as regards U.S. lending to Africa and indeed, U.S. aid to Africa,” said Aloysius Uche Ordu, director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution. He added that he was “delighted” to note that the U.S. very recently announced an increased, $600 million commitment to the African Development Fund, which works on financing in low-income countries. “Now we’re hoping that this momentum could be maintained in terms of the push of U.S. support to Africa,” he said.
White House officials said they plan to confront issues, like African nations’ reluctance to condemn Russia over its February invasion of Ukraine and China’s ambitious Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.
“While we do not wish to make our African partners choose sides, the U.S. strives to be the partner of choice by offering relationships based on mutual respect and values,” the defense official said, echoing similar U.S. diplomatic pronouncements. “By providing higher quality products and services and by working together with our partners on issues that are important to them,” the defense official said. “We are confident that our relationship will bring about long-term stability and prosperity.”
And then there is the awkward issue of the leaders themselves. Currently, five African leaders have ruled for more than 30 years each, and a half dozen more have been in power for longer than a decade. And many face credible, serious allegations: The U.S. State Department, in an annual report, described corruption under Nigeria’s president as being “massive, widespread, and pervasive.”
Uganda’s president, who has ruled since 1986, has been accused of using security forces to commit politically related abuses, secure election victories and silence dissent. Kenya’s incoming president faced murder, deportation and persecution charges at the International Criminal Court over his role in 2007 post-election violence that killed about 1,200 people. His case was dismissed, but the court did not acquit him.
Human Rights Watch has urged the White House to make human rights a focus at this summit.
“Hosting these leaders at the White House will further legitimize these regimes, sending a clear message that the U.S. government values security considerations over human rights,” wrote Nicole Widdersheim, deputy Washington director, and Carine Kaneza Nantulya, deputy Africa director.
When asked how President Joe Biden would approach these sensitive topics, and if he was concerned about being seen with leaders with such reputations, the response was “The president’s foreign policy is rooted in values – values like promoting human rights,” the official responded. “Human rights will always be on the agenda, and the president will not shy away from raising these issues with any foreign leader anywhere in the world.”