From the 13th to the 15th December, President Biden invited African leaders to Washington, D.C., for the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit. 49 African nations reportedly attended the three-day event, including the African Union Commission, civil society and commercial sector members, young leaders, and the African diaspora in the United States (U.S.). The summit showcased the United States’ renewed commitment to Africa. It allowed President Biden’s administration to explore issues of mutual interest and strengthen collaboration on shared global concerns.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian conflict threaten to undermine decades of regional financial, socioeconomic, and governance advancements.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has impeded Africa’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic by aggravating food and energy insecurity, generating inflation and significant disruptions to commerce and supply chains. Before 2020, Africa has among the world’s fastest-growing economies. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian conflict threaten to undermine decades of regional financial, socioeconomic, and governance advancements.
Recognising the necessity of a revitalised partnership
For quite some time, there has been an agreement among policymakers that the United States must revive, revitalise, and prioritise its relationship with Africa. U.S. participation in Africa has traditionally centred on supporting democratic principles, providing foreign aid, decreasing poverty, and tackling violence and insecurity. Although these goals are significant, they need to account for the rapid changes across the continent. Africa has become one of the world’s most desirable digital innovation and entrepreneurship locations. New and developing technologies connected with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) present opportunities and hazards in crucial areas. Due to demographic and relational trends, the United States has lost ground in Africa over the past decade, while trade and investment flows have declined.
Given the infrequency of US-Africa summits, another important worry is the long-term viability of US-Africa relations. The previous summit occurred in 2014. This eight-year gap between 2014 and 2022 is disappointing, given that Africa’s major development partners, such as the European Union (E.U.), India, China, Japan, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Turkey, have all conducted regular summits with their African counterparts. Today, unlike in previous years, African nations have lessened their reliance on western help. They have diversified their external partners, and their leaders and governments actively express their national interests and concerns and participate in defining the agenda.
Africa has become one of the most desired digital innovation and entrepreneurship locations. New and developing technologies connected with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) present opportunities and hazards in crucial areas.
Despite these obstacles, U.S. diplomacy in Africa has recently increased. The introduction of a new U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa in August 2022 and the holding of a second US-Africa Leaders Summit are symptomatic of this shift. The new approach recognises Africa’s importance to U.S. national interests and the region’s economic value as a partner. It emphasises “African agency” and aims to diminish notions of Africa as a battleground between superpowers. Previous attempts by the United States to portray its engagement with Africa as a zero-sum competition geared solely at combating Chinese and Russian influence have failed to create benefits or the desired effects. Therefore, it is in the United States’ best interest to redouble its efforts in areas where it has a comparative advantage, such as governance, climate adaptation, a just energy transition, and improving commercial relations, particularly by placing a greater emphasis on trade and investment.
Thus, the US-Africa Leaders Summit allowed President Biden to advocate for Washington’s revised strategy for Africa personally. It presented an opportunity to implement some of the well-intentioned commitments the Biden administration has made thus far.
Results of the summit
Over the next three years, the Biden-Harris administration plans to invest at least US$55 billion across various African sectors. This is a substantial sum, and it is in the United States’ best interest to honour its obligation. Ambassador Johnnie Carson, the former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, will become the new Special Presidential Representative for implementing the US-Africa Leaders Summit to coordinate and monitor these efforts.
The new approach recognises Africa’s importance to U.S. national interests and the region’s economic value as a partner.
African Diaspora Engagement
The United States decided to form a President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement in the United States. Its mission will be to strengthen economic, cultural, political, and social ties between African communities, the global African diaspora, and the United States by deepening dialogue between U.S. officials and the African diaspora in the U.S. and promoting equity and opportunity for the African diaspora.
Support in UNSC and G20
In his presentation to the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), President Biden expressed his support for adding African members to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Once African countries have a seat and vote at the decision-making table, it will be challenging to confront today’s defining issues and represent inclusivity and equitable global order. Although most of the UNSC’s agenda pertains to Africa and most Africans are directly affected by the body’s decisions, Africa has no representative.
President Biden reaffirmed U.S. support for the African Union’s permanent membership in the G20 at the conference.
COVID Support for Africa
The United States wants to finance up to US$21 billion through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to low- and middle-income nations, the majority of which are in Africa, to support their resilience and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Diverse U.S. departments and agencies have announced new efforts and investments to encourage bilateral commerce and investment. For instance, the U.S. Trade Representative signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat to aid institutions in accelerating Africa’s sustainable economic growth. Once implemented, the AfCFTA is expected to be the largest free trade area in the world, based on the number of member nations, and to create a combined continent-wide market of 1.3 billion people and a $3.4 trillion GDP.
The First Regional Multisectoral Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Agreements
The MCC was signed with the governments of Benin and Niger for a total of $504 million to enhance regional economic integration, commerce, and cross-border engagement. The MCC has inked comparable climate adaptation agreements with the Gambia, Lesotho, and Malawi governments, totalling about US$675 million.
Initiative for Digital Transformation in Africa
President Biden inaugurated the Internet Transformation with Africa programme, which aims to increase digital access and literacy in Africa. Under the Digital Transformation Strategy of the African Union, the United States proposes to invest over US$350 million and facilitate over US$450 million in funding for the continent under this programme.
The United States intends to invest in Africa’s healthcare workers to construct more robust health systems. Under the Global Health Worker Initiative, the United States plans to invest at least $4 billion in health workers in the African region between 2022 and 2024, totalling at least $4 billion by the fiscal year 2025.
Collaboration in Space
During the conference, Nigeria and Rwanda became the first African nations to sign the Artemis Accords, enabling collaboration and defining standards based on the 1967 Outer Space Treaty for the safe exploration and use of outer space.
21st Century Partnership for African Security (21PAS)
The United States aims to contribute $100 million to incentivise and support African efforts to create and maintain security sector capacities and structures. Under the auspices of this three-year pilot programme, U.S. and African partners and civil society organisations will investigate ways to synchronise, share, and support solutions to Africa’s security concerns.
The U.S. Trade Representative signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to assist institutions in accelerating Africa’s sustainable economic progress.
The US-Africa Leaders Summit was organised at a crucial juncture when it became apparent that a substantive and strategic push was required in US-Africa ties. President Biden has yet to visit Africa, although his top diplomat, Secretary Blinken, has been there three times in the past year. Symbolism through personal visits is significant to African nations and their leaders. Following the summit, the United States’ priority should be to make the conference a recurring occurrence instead of an ad hoc gathering.
It is crucial to recognise that the United States and China are essential development partners for African nations, albeit at different levels. In several industries, including road and bridge construction, Chinese enterprises surpass their American counterparts due to China’s lower cost structures. However, there are industries in which U.S. firms are competitive, including healthcare, renewable energy, and financial technology. The United States must capitalise on its comparative advantages and co-opt and involve its enormous and dynamic diaspora, the majority of which retains trade ties with Africa. Now is the time for the United States to demonstrate its commitment to Africa and Africans.