At the prelude of the US – Africa Leaders Summit, recently, the following high points were quite circumspect.
- The U.S. throws $55b, G20 membership, business deals at Africa
- China dismisses Biden’s $55b giveaway to Africa as ‘laughable’
- Nigeria made little impact, modest gains at Summit
- We surpassed our expectations, now have a blueprint to handover to next administration, says Shehu
- Dabiri-Erewa: We should be forging partnerships not collecting handouts.
Interestingly, therefore, the just concluded United States-Africa Leaders Summit (USALS), which held in Washington DC, last week, is a catch up attempt, as America lags behind China in terms of engagement with Africa. The first US-Africa Leaders Summit in eight years with its advertised gains still cannot make up for or leapfrog America to be at par with the Asian tiger.
Significantly It was long in coming, but eventually it came on December 12 to 15, as the world’s superpower rose to court the beautiful bride – Africa – amid a stiff challenge and advances from rival emerging power blocs – China and Russia.
The continent’s geopolitical profile has grown over the last decade to place Africa as a vital region that cannot be ignored. Also, it has the fastest growing population in the world, with a quarter of the Earth’s projected nine billion people in Africa, up from 10 per cent of the global population in 1950.
With this in mind, China, Russia, the European Union (EU), Japan and Turkey have in the past held similar summits with African leaders, diplomats, businessmen and civil society groups, while the forum on China’s engagement with African leaders has been consistent every three years in the last decade.
On the other hand, in the intervening period, American policy and engagement on the continent was drifting and relations got strained under the last administration when former President Donald Trump infamously referred to the continent as ‘shithole countries.’
But with the second edition of USALS, which was inaugurated in 2014 by former President Barack Obama, there has been a change in foreign policy, favouring renewed engagement and partnerships with Africa.
Apart from successfully hosting 45 African heads of state and four others who were represented by their Foreign Ministers, President Joe Biden committed to spend $55 billion in next three years on various projects in Africa to surpass China’s $40 billion investment.
Biden also announced his country’s support for the African Union (AU) to join the G20, while China is pushing for Africa to be represented in the United Nations (UN) Security Council.
In another sign of American engagement efforts with Africa, the White House announced veteran diplomat, Ambassador Johnnie Carson as Special Presidential Representative for US-Africa Leaders Summit Implementation.
*What the Summit was able to achieve*
USALS fact sheet listed gains of the summit as, advancing American infrastructure solutions in Africa; promoting two-way trade and investment in Africa; elevating Diaspora engagement and Supporting conservation, climate adaptation and a just energy transition.
On advancing the U.S. infrastructure solutions in Africa, the American Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) said it is placing emphasis on vital economic sectors including clean energy, transportation, digital, and healthcare infrastructure. USTDA’s current Africa portfolio consists of 80 ongoing infrastructure development activities in 26 countries.
These have the potential to help unlock more than $15 billion in financing and create more than $7 billion in the U.S. export opportunities.
The agency announced the following new commitments to advance Nigeria’s priority infrastructure projects: Lily Urban Hospital Resuscitation, which is a USTDA funded a feasibility study for the Nigerian private healthcare network Lily Hospitals Limited. The fund is to support the acquisition, refurbishment, and operation of 10 healthcare facilities. The study will recommend the most suitable facilities, business model, and financing for these facilities, which will serve up to 25,000 patients yearly.
The Cedarcrest Comprehensive Cancer Treatment Centre: I is heartening to note that the USTDA funded a feasibility study for Cedarcrest Hospitals Limited, a Nigerian private health operator, to develop a comprehensive cancer treatment centre in Abuja that will provide diagnosis and treatment services for up to 1,000 patients per year.
The centre will offer full-range oncology services to include prevention and screening, diagnostics, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, surgical oncology, and radiotherapy.
Mobihealth Multi-Country Telehealth Expansion: USTDA funded a feasibility study for Nigeria’s Mobihealthcare Limited (Mobihealth) to support the expansion of its telehealth services from Nigeria to Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, and Egypt. USTDA’s study will include a detailed market assessment, financial analysis, and legal and regulatory assessment for each of the four countries. The Africa Investment Forum is collaborating with USTDA to facilitate the development and financing of Mobihealth’s project. This effort will help expand healthcare access for 100,000 individuals per year across Africa.
Global Procurement Initiative: Virtual Procurement Training Series for the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN): In early 2023, USTDA’s Global Procurement Initiative will provide four virtual training sessions on procurement best practices for TCN and other officials from Nigeria.
On U.S.-Africa Partnership in promoting two-way trade and investment, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), on behalf of the American Government, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat to support institutions to accelerate sustainable economic growth across the continent.
Once fully implemented, the Agreement Establishing the AfCFTA will create a combined continent-wide market of 1.3 billion people and $3.4 trillion, which would be the fifth-largest economy in the world.
The Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) currently has over $7 billion in exposure throughout Africa, including new authorisations such as, $7.4 million in financing to Sapele Power Plc (Sapele) in Nigeria for the purchase of American-manufactured energy storage systems from ESS Tech, Inc (ESS)
At the just concluded US-Africa Forum, EXIM signed several new Memorandums of Understanding (MoU), including: $500 million MoU with the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) to support diaspora engagement and strengthen EXIM’s commercial ties to the continent by increasing access to and awareness of EXIM financial products; a $300 million MoU with Africa 50 to facilitate up to $300 million in EXIM financing for the export of the U.S. goods and services to buyers throughout Africa, particularly in support of infrastructure, transportation, digital technology and renewable energy projects; and a $500 million MoU with the Africa Finance Corporation to facilitate goods and services exports, promote U.S.-Africa trade, and support financing of trade-enabling projects.
Power Africa, which has helped close 145 power generation investments valued at more than $24 billion, in collaboration with Prosper Africa, announced the launch of the Clean Tech Energy Network (CTEN). CTEN is a collaboration between the American Government, its clean tech energy companies, and African energy stakeholders that are expected to mobilise $350 million in deals. In addition, Power Africa operationalised a $150 million public-private partnership to electrify 10,000 health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa, bolstering sector resources to advance pandemic resilience and digital connectivity and decarbonise the health sector footprint.
Prosper Africa, working with Congress, has invested and plans to provide at least $170 million to increase two-way trade and investment between America and African countries. Through catalytic investments and partnerships, Prosper Africa expects to boost African exports to America by $1 billion and mobilise an additional $1 billion in U.S. investment in Africa.
For example, Prosper Africa is launching five new partnerships with African investors that will leverage $200 million in private investment and generate millions of dollars in revenue for businesses, all while advancing African solutions to global challenges like climate change, food insecurity, and women’s empowerment. It is also establishing a new Prosper Africa Coordinator position, which will streamline efforts across the U.S. Government and private sector to advance the Administration’s economic engagement with Africa.
President of the United States of America, Joe Biden (right); President Muhammadu Buhari and US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken at a meeting with six African leaders conducting elections in 2023
There could have been more gains for Nigeria at the summit, but there were fewer engagements with Nigeria and Nigerian companies, owing partly to the lethargy from the country’s delegation and the sense that the current administration is transiting, to vacate office in May 2023. As, such, many would-be investors are waiting to see the shape and form of the next government before committing to any deals.
Though Biden didn’t have any one-on-one engagement with any African leader, the head of the Summit secretariat and Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, had many meetings with African leaders on the sidelines. None was held with the Nigerian delegation, led by President Buhari. The president was also absent at most of the plenary sessions as his Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari, sat in most of the sessions.
President Buhari was, however, present during the session on climate change, where he restated the country’s determination to achieve the energy target of 30 Gigawatts by 2030 and a sideline meeting of President Biden with six African leaders holding crucial elections in 2023. Much of the president’s engagement was after the Summit with Nigerians in Diaspora, business and investment forum organised by the U.S. Corporate Council on Africa and a conversation with Buhari by the American Institute of Peace on state of democracy in Nigeria.
But in a chat with reporters, Senior Special Adviser on Media to the President, Garba Shehu, said the country has achieved a lot with its participation at the Summit.
He said: “I cannot hide my excitement over this significant development. The American government’s priority is being aligned with the Nigerian energy transition plan and these projects when delivered will provide affordable and sustainable electricity up to 5,000MW. It is significant for Nigeria as it will also create jobs for Nigerians as well as transfer education and technology to us. 5,000MW of electricity is big for our country when you consider the current availability and the prospects for the manufacturing sector.”
Asked if the country’s expectations for USALS have been met or surpassed, he said: “The reports are still coming in but I assure you that at the rate things are going, this is exceeding our expectations. I will suggest that we allow a few more time when all of these things come together. Nigerians would certainly be proud of the fact that President Buhari has participated and we are returning home from this summit with a blueprint that whoever wins the next election cannot ignore. It will make things easier for them if the idea is to move the country forward.”
Commenting on the overall impact of USALS, Chairman/CEO of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM), Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said the bigger picture should be on forging partnerships, rather than looking up to receiving handouts.
“I think we should be looking at partnerships. Looking at the Diaspora in particular, how do we get better engagements between the Diasporans on the continent and the Diasporans in America? The Biden administration has said they are going to have Diaspora Council because it’s obvious that whether you are on the African continent or in America, it’s a huge untapped resource.
“So, how do we make the partnership work? How do we ensure that we change the narrative? As long as our continent is not developed, as it should be, the world will continue to look down on every black person. Leadership is therefore key for the continent and we have to ensure we tackle corruption. For me really, the outcome of the Summit is about people coming together, particularly the Diasporans to forge partnerships that is enduring. I am happy to meet many Africans who have left home decades ago happy to come back home and they say they want the Nigerian passport, while another gentleman was advocating dual citizenship.
“On the question of trust and commitments to the agreements made and signed, I can’t answer that, it is at the ministerial level, even at the level of president to president to ensure that this is not just a talk-shop. This is not the first US-Africa summit, so there must be actual outcomes. And it is not a looking down on the other party kind of situation. It is about partnerships, we all need each other, no matter how you look at it.
“Importantly, we as a people, what stories do we tell about ourselves. Are we promoting the negative stories more than the positives? That shouldn’t happen. We all must be proud about our country no matter the challenges. America won’t solve our problems for us; we will have to do it ourselves.
“Which is what we are projecting with NiDCOM. For the Diasporans coming into the country, NiDCOM is like their embassy in Nigeria and we work with both Nigerians in Diaspora and Diasporans visiting the country. Again, Nigeria has set the pace in terms of Diaspora engagement. Now, America wants to have Diaspora Policy Council. The Organisation of African and Pacific States nominated us as their Diaspora champion. For the first time, they have it as an agenda of the heads of government and they agreed that Nigeria should be the first to be the centre of excellence for the Diasporans. Really, we are glad this issue is on the front burner.”
On the specifics of U.S.-Africa partnership in elevating Diaspora engagement, the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) noted that the African Diaspora in America is a source of strength. It encompasses African Americans, including descendants of enslaved Africans, and nearly two million African immigrants who have close familial, social, and economic connections to the continent. The African immigrant community makes significant contributions to America’s growth and prosperity. The African Diaspora—i.e., people of native African origin living outside the continent—has been described as the sixth region of African Union.
The African and Diaspora Young Leaders Forum, held on December 13 in Washington, DC as part of the USALS, reflected the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to strengthening the dialogue between American officials and the Diaspora in that country.
During the Forum, Vice President Kamala Harris announced the creation of the President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement in the US (PAC-ADE). She said: “Today, President Biden issued an executive order (EO) directing the Secretary of State to establish PAC-ADE, which will enhance the dialogue between American officials and the African Diaspora. The EO encourages efforts to advance equity and opportunity for the African Diaspora in the U.S. and strengthen cultural, social, political, and economic ties between African communities, the global African Diaspora, and America.”
PAC-ADE will consist of diverse representatives from African-American and African immigrant communities who have distinguished themselves in government, sports, creative industries, business, academia, social work, and faith-based activities. PAC-ADE will provide information, analysis, and recommendations to the President regarding: Strategies to advance equity and opportunity for African Diaspora communities; ways to support the United Nations’ Permanent Forum on People of African Descent; programmes and initiatives to strengthen cultural, social, political, and economic ties among the African communities, the global African Diaspora, and the United States and address challenges and opportunities to advance inclusion, belonging, and public awareness of the diversity, accomplishments, culture, and history of the African Diaspora; initiatives, such as the International Visitor Leadership Programme aimed to expand educational exchange programmes between Africa and America. It includes initiatives to increase public- and private-sector collaboration and community involvement in improving the socioeconomic well‑being of African Diaspora communities; and initiatives, such as Prosper Africa, aimed to increase the participation of members of the African Diaspora in the United States with regard to trade, investment, economic growth and development programmes relating to Africa.
Since the beginning of the Biden-Harris Administration, the United States has invested over $385 million in education and youth leadership programming. We intend to invest more than $690 million over the next two years, for a total of nearly $1.1 billion.
Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Expansion: The Vice President announced plans to work with Congress to provide over $100 million toward YALI in multiple years to scale and sustain leadership development, increase access to skills training among women and other underrepresented groups, and enhance alumni networking, including connections with the Diaspora. This will include a new Young African Leaders Exchange, which will be the first pan-African virtual platform allowing the Diaspora and other key stakeholders to directly connect with YALI alumni. The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, the flagship YALI programme, will also hold an Alumni Symposium in March 2023, in South Africa, for up to 500 alumni from the 2021 cohort.
African Women’s Entrepreneurship Programme (AWEP): The Vice President announced plans to provide, working with Congress, $1 million for AWEP, which will fund small grants to train women entrepreneurs and support women-owned businesses in sub-Saharan Africa.
University Partnerships Initiative (UPI): The Vice President announced the Department of Education would provide $1.5 million to facilitate U.S.-Africa university exchanges, joint research, collaboration on academic administration, and public-private partnerships.
U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) Partnerships: The USADF will partner with philanthropic foundations to leverage
Diaspora ties and support African entrepreneurship: USADF and the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) Partnership to Encourage African Entrepreneurship: The Vice President announced that USADF, working with Congress, and TEF plan to contribute up to $4 million to provide investment toolkits in the form of non-repayable capital of up to $5,000 to African entrepreneurs and micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). The programme aims to: increase job creation and income opportunities for young entrepreneurs and their employees, and increase the revenue, profitability, and competitiveness of MSMEs.
While USALS is a big win for both America and Africa, the Summit didn’t come without some drawbacks. The Summit came with a slew of announcements meant to show African leaders that Biden is turning the page on U.S.-Africa engagement, with new economic investment plans to expand business ties and diplomatic initiatives to empower African countries on the world stage.
China got no mention in the president’s speech at the summit or in its agenda, but U.S.-China competition was still bubbling just beneath the surface.
China’s Ambassador to Washington, Qin Gang, said at a conference on the sidelines of the Summit that China-Africa relations are the bedrock of China’s foreign policy. He noted that for the past two decades, China’s foreign minister has made a tradition of visiting African countries at the beginning of each year—a tradition the U.S. can’t claim to compete with.
China’s investment in Africa is about four times that of America. The Biden team headlined the summit with an announcement that America would commit $55 billion to Africa over the next three years, but a lot of those funds appear to come from projects that have already been announced, including programmes on health security, climate change and trade.
Biden has yet to visit Africa as president but plans to make a multi-country visit to the continent next year. (The White House is yet to announce the countries he will visit.) Unlike his Chinese counterpart, however, Biden didn’t schedule formal bilateral meetings with each African leader during the summit, which made it seem like the African leaders flew all the way across the Atlantic for a rare chance of a meeting and photo-op with the U.S. president.
Also, the positive messages that the Biden administration was trying to put forward during the summit were somewhat overshadowed by those who made the invite list, namely a lot of autocrats and leaders of governments who are accused of crimes against humanity.
Human rights advocates decried Biden’s decision to invite autocratic African leaders, including the world’s longest-serving leader, Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, as well as Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, whose government’s forces stand accused of widespread war crimes in the deadly conflict in the Tigray region.
Equatorial Guinea was invited despite the American State Department stating ‘serious doubts’ about last month’s election in the tiny Central African nation. Opposition parties ‘made credible allegations of significant election-related irregularities, including documented instances of fraud, intimidation, and coercion,’ according to the department. Election officials reported that President Obiang´s ruling party won nearly 95 per cent of the vote.
Zimbabwe, which has faced years of America and Western sanctions, also was invited. Tunisian President Kais Saied, who has been criticised by the U.S. for democratic backsliding, used an appearance before reporters with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on Wednesday to offer a stout defence of actions he has taken, including suspending the parliament and firing judges.
“The country was on the brink of civil war all over the country, so I had no other alternative but to save the Tunisian nation from undertaking any nasty action,” Saied said.
Another leader spotlighted was Uganda President, Yoweri Museveni, accused of illegally detaining and torturing political opponents and civilians. African protesters stormed the streets of Washington in protest of his participation at the Summit. Protesters called the Biden administration “hypocrites” for welcoming Museveni and demanded that the Ugandan president be arrested for abuses.
When asked about criticisms of the invitees, a State Department spokesperson told newsmen that the Biden administration took an “inclusive approach toward invitations in close coordination with the AU.” The spokesperson noted that leaders of four countries — Burkina Faso, Guinea, Sudan and Mali — were not invited because they had been suspended from AU.
President Muhammadu Buhari (right), Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama (middle) and President of Sao Tome & Principle, Carlos Vila Nova during plenary of heads of government with President Joe Biden at the Summit
Biden additionally did not invite leaders subject to U.S. sanctions or representatives of territories that the American government does not recognise. Invitations were not offered to countries that do not exchange ambassadors with America, such as Eritrea, the spokesperson added.
Biden administration’s diplomatic decision to invite every member of AU was “the most credible way to invite the entire continent,” says Dorothy Davis, who consults political leaders and organisations on matters of Africa and foreign affairs. “It shows respect for the AU.”
Joseph Tolton, executive director of Interconnected Justice, a Pan-African advocacy group, noted that the countries suspended by the AU had experienced political coups in recent years.
By not inviting the leaders of those African nations, Tolton said, the administration signaled “to some degree” a message to the region that “we will not have presidents that do not have a particular sense of legitimacy — even if they’re autocrats — and a sense of really representing their people.”
At least, 10 of the 49 African leaders invited to the Summit are active dictators, Tolton estimates, including Equatorial Guinea President, whom the Human Rights Watch has criticised for suppressing his critics, which has allowed him to remain in power for more than 40 years.
Biden, during the Summit, apologised for the ‘unimaginable cruelty’ of slavery, which he referred to as America’s ‘original sin’. During a White House dinner honouring African leaders and their spouses, Biden addressed what he called America’s ‘original sin’ – the enslavement of millions of people – and honoured their descendants and the broader African diaspora community in the U.S.
“We remember the stolen men and women and children who were brought to our shores in chains, subjected to unimaginable cruelty,” he said.
President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, who was asked whether the 2014 summit yielded concrete results, said: “Well, at least we had a good meeting,” followed by a long laughter from those assembled.
But, despite Biden’s overtures, many African leaders rejected the idea that they need to choose between the America and China.
“The fact that both countries have different levels of relations with African countries makes them equally important for Africa’s development. However, it should be known that each African country has the agency to determine their respective relationship and best interest,” said Taye Atske Selassie Amde, Ethiopia’s U.N. ambassador.
Africa, whose leaders often feel they’ve been given short shrift by leading economies, remains crucial to global powers because of its rapidly growing population, significant natural resources and sizable voting bloc in the United Nations.
In addition to China, talks also spotlighted what America sees as malevolent Russian action on the continent. The administration argued in its sub-Saharan strategy published earlier this year that Russia, the preeminent arms dealer in Africa, views the continent as a permissive environment for Kremlin-connected oligarchs and private military companies to focus on fomenting instability for their own strategic and financial benefit.
During an appearance with Blinken, Ghanaian President, Nana Akufo-Addo, expressed alarm about the presence of mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group in Burkina Faso, directly north of Ghana.
Chinese state media were not much impressed by the Biden administration. China’s state-run Global Times was contemptuous of White House pretenses that the $55 billion giveaway and week of meetings with African leaders was anything but a desperate bid to counter Beijing’s growing African footprint.
The America-based Foreign Policy magazine reported: “Team Biden wants to court African nations without talking about Beijing.” But this was broken on the first day. At a panel discussion with several African leaders, US Defence Secretary, Lloyd Austin, said China was expanding its footprint in Africa “on a daily basis” through its growing economic influence, which will “destabilise” the continent.
After offering a little backhanded applause for “sincere help to Africa,” such as President Biden announcing he would support adding AU to the G20 nations, the Global Times claimed Biden is just trying to muscle in on the good work China has already done.
The Global Times scoffed at Biden thinking he could buy his way into Africa’s good graces with a mere $55 billion when China has become “Africa’s largest trading partner, with trade volume reaching $254 billion in 2021, which is four times that of U.S.-Africa trade.”
Chinese analysts said it seems that American officials have forgotten how many African countries have been bombed by America and other Western countries, and how many times the America has used and created chaos in the continent to plunder natural resources, and how arrogant the American elite behaved when lecturing Africans about “democracy” and “human rights” but showing racism and discrimination at the same time.
Experts say African leaders are well aware China and America are bidding for influence, even as both sides deny their intentions. The bidding war is heating up as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reshuffles the geopolitical deck, impacting issues such as international migration and food security.
One sign that African leaders understand the great game being played on their continent is that many have refused to denounce the Russian invasion. Neutrality in the conflict that presently defines superpower relations is a signal that seats at the bargaining table are open to both sides.
“America realises that it can no longer be business as usual when it comes to Africa,” Dr. Ebenezer Obadare of the Council on Foreign Relations suggested.
Commenting on the new-found interest in Africa, Femi Odere, a former Senior Special Assistant (Diaspora Affairs) to former governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, said: “Since it’s true that Africa has the mineral resources that the West need to build a modern economy of nanotechnology and robotics but doesn’t have the technological know-how and human capital to extract these resources for its own use and for export, what African leaders must do is to demand that the American set up shops in their countries for value additions to these minerals before export, thereby creating jobs and wealth for their countries with stringent regulations and oversight functions.
“Perhaps, one of the most devastating psychological trauma that has consistently dogged post-colonial Africa is the fact that the people and their leaders have been made to believe that they are poor and powerless. Because of this collective negative mindset, they almost always do not want to have a good understanding of the world around them and how it works, vis-a-vis what’s best for them. And when they do, they negotiate from the position of weakness. This has therefore created some kind of hopeless sense of dependency that the leaders jump at every ‘carrots’ on offer even when some of them are laced with some poison that ‘kills’ very softly.
“Since some funds from the global financial institutions are actually counterproductive, if not poisonous to Africa’s growth and development, they should be nicely turned down. This is the crux of benign resistance.
“Africa should look more in the direction of the middle income countries such as India, Vietnam, Thailand, Mexico for its rapid economic development and bilateral relations not only because of some similarities in some aspects of cultures and worldviews among them, but also from the point of view that services and equipment from these middle income countries are not as sophisticated, thereby making them less prohibitive and easy to replicate in the long run.
“African leaders must take firm decisions, based on their enlightened self interests, on those things that would advance their economic interests even if they are seriously at variance with other economic powers on the principle of mutual respect and benefits. This is what has been chronically missing over several decades that the American now hopes to redress,” he declared.