Ethiopia: What is the significance of the Africa summit in Washington DC?

Addis Ababa (HAN) August 6, 2014 – Expert Analysis, Your Power & Regional Influence Magazine, opinion page sent to Geeska Afrika Online Editorial by Nii Akuetteh.

According to the Sources reported  to Geeska Afrika Online, President Barack Obama get a chance to speak at the summit and for the opportunity to participate in the discussion, however, African leaders criticized President Obama  for not scheduling a meeting with any of the almost 50 African Head of states with face to face, discuss issues, while they were in Washignton D.C. The African backlash reportedly prompted Obama  asking Vice President Joe Biden to meet with Zuma, as well as the presidents of Nigeria and Tunisia.

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Nii Akuetteh. Wrote this report“Really, this is big, Nii. Your decades of activism may have jaded you. Consider: The capital of the globe’s only superpower is being plunged into its own Africa Week. You should be excited,” my colleague and former student insisted. My enthusiasm remained curbed.

Still, I do now concede that she may be raising an important question: Just how significant is Obama’s August 4, 5 and 6 Africa Summit in Washington – especially since, days ago, he hosted and mingled with 500 brilliant young Africans?

“Very significant” has been the clear answer of America’s politically connected, especially the foreign policy establishment. That includes Congress. A few days ago, it passed Senate Resolution 522 welcoming the African summiteers. And on the summit’s very first day, Congress threw a Capitol Hill reception for delegation heads.

Even America’s mainstream media have been caught in the DC excitement. That is remarkable, given its long-standing disdain and ignorance regarding Africa and given its sour attitude towards Obama’s two trips to sub-Saharan Africa.

To no one’s surprise, the Obama Administration, from the president on down, is bubbling with summit enthusiasm. As African leaders began arriving, Obama personally told the White House press corps, We are really looking forward to this and I think it’s going to be a great success.

Earlier the same day, Secretary of State John Kerry had gushed in a letter to his entire department: “For so many of us who have spent decades working on issues central to Africa, there’s something especially exciting about this moment and exhilarating about Africa’s transformation. . . . Africa [is today] one of the most creative, exciting, and promising places on the planet.”

One other group is even more enthusiastic than Obama’s own team. That would be Africa-focused civil society and activists. Africa activists have been dreaming of something like this for decades. Their moment having arrived, they are holding (without anybody’s permission) at least 100 events – conferences, panels, media sessions, receptions, dinners, lunches, breakfasts, film shows, online petitions and yes, street demonstrations.

Given all the excitement, there are three important questions to be asked: why did Obama organise the summit; what is the summit’s one real shortcoming; and how is it going to impact US relations with Africa?
First, why? What motivated Obama to gather, at this particular time, virtually all the African leaders in Washington, something none of his 42 predecessors even did? His fully embraced African roots constitute a small factor, I believe. Given Africa’s low level on the totem pole of America’s policy priorities, Obama’s second term freedom from re-election anxieties must be another small factor.

I am convinced security cooperation is a much bigger motivator. In the West Point speech and in others, Obama has been explicit about his grand strategy for fighting resurgent global terrorism at the very time the American people are dead set against going to war: systematically train and equip African militaries to do the fighting (in addition to drone strikes).

And then there is global economic competition. Africa’s international relations remain driven by this dominant fact: Even after five centuries of plunder, the continent remains a treasure trove of natural resources that foreigners covet – very badly.

Fast economic growth is the newest ingredient: Coming out of the great recession, Africa is today the fastest growing among the continents. This growth has been fuelled mostly by China’s gargantuan appetite. Not surprisingly, Beijing is the pioneer of the radical new tactic for grabbing Africa’s resources. The tactic advises use of flattery, instead of the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism, to woo Africa’s rulers, especially by giving them the red-carpet treatment in the Chinese capital. The tactic has been quickly copied by Brussels and Tokyo. It should be no surprise then that Washington is now hurrying to catch up.

So how does Obama’s Africa summit stack up? Compared to the ones held in Tokyo, Brussels and Beijing, is it as shambolic as early commentators in Africa and in the US have charged? I think not. Unquestionably, the Washington summit is far from perfect. I believe however, that its real imperfections are not the criticisms most frequently stressed in recent US as well as African commentaries.

Consider the three most popular gripes: Obama should have avoided cherry picking and should have emulated the Chinese by inviting every African leader regardless of governance record; that he showed disrespect by inviting Africans to DC instead of him going to Africa; and that he should hold face-to-face bilaterals with the Big Two, the Nigerian and South African presidents, since all 51 leaders cannot be accommodated. Without going into details, my succinct judgment: All these three gripes are dead wrong.

Insufficient emphasis on democracy, in my further judgement, is the greatest substantive shortcoming of this first US-African Leaders summit. It should be clear to all close observers, as it is to me, that deals for making money and deals for getting African militaries to fight terrorism are getting the lion’s share of the summit resources. To repeat, democracy issues – governance, human rights, rule of law, etc – are getting short-changed. This is a serious error.

Finally, what of the summit’s impact? In what way, if any, will it change US-Africa relations? This vital assessment cannot be done now. A proper, in-depth evaluation must wait years, even decades – after initiatives and programmes have been planned and implemented. Still, even at this early stage, a few signs of the summit’s impact can be gleaned. An example is the excitement and increased attention in Washington. These suggest that the summit has shifted US relations with Africa into higher gear and Obama will pay greater attention to Africa in his final two years.

If that happens, then perhaps my former student may be right and I should un-curb my enthusiasm.

Nii Akuetteh is a DC-based democracy activist, essayist and student of Africa’s international relations who often testifies before and briefs the US Congress. He has run and created several NGOs in Africa and the US and taught for several years at Georgetown University in DC.


 

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1 COMMENT

  1. Positive beginning. My take of the US-Africa Summit is that this is a positive development of Green Millennial Renaissance based Power Africa Infrastructure Development with youth and women taking over the lead from the traditional militant males who kept Africa backward for millennia. Resource wise, the Chinese, Japanese and Europeans have done better,

    The youth and women and Good Governance focus is great. The whole focus was on youths and women who make up >75% of the Global and African Population. There was little talk about man made disasters such as Bochu Haram and Ebola, Malaria and HIV.
    which continues to damage the African future. The Whole of North, Central and Western Africa is in critical situation- Virus, Parasites, and Saudi and Libya distributed guns and young men without education and future terrorizing women and children.

    The AGOA project is mainly about Oil and Gas and needs to change to involve a diverse set of business and cultural exchange! If it is to be renewed it needs to be overhauled to represent Africa and not the Dirty Oil and Mineral Money that is not available to majority Africans.

    I liked the Zimbabwe Innovator and Obama interaction as well as Clinton and US Business people show. It is clear the African Presidents had very little to say as they had nothing to offer!

    I especially like the 500 Mandela-Washington Fellows presence in advance, during and after the summit. These are the real future leaders of Africa. Like every thing, it takes people, place and time and the connection has been made. These connections needs to be institutional and based on shared sustainable and progressive prosperity for all. I still wish more youths, women need to be the driving force of the US-Africa Summit and future. The days of few MMD, Minerals, military and Drug Industrial Complex representatives dominating the plight of the majority is gone: We need Divine Living in Diversity that is serving others in bio-diversity, socio-economic diversity and ecological diversity for our shared sustainable security and progressive prosperity via (IT)3= Innovation+Integrity+Investment with Talent+Technology+Transparent Trade, with Good Governance – based on transparency, accountability and responsiveness to internal and external stakeholders is critical.

    We need Africa to be disengaged from the Jewish-Arab Genocide and Reverse Holocaust and connect to the Chinese, Japanese and US (T)3 Connection! Africa needs Science, Technology and Good Governance and our Arab-Jewish Terror Network needs to be avoided at all cost. Africa as the mother of Humanity needs to share its Divine Feminine Perspective of Civilization by showcasing the Nefertiti, Cleopatra, Empress and Queens Azeb/Bilkis/Shaba, Hindeke, Taitu, Zewditu to be role models for the rest of the world. We need to promote the first US Female President and second DC mayor and replicate these across the African continents

    With regards to your attention, I seek your aleternative perspective

    Belai Habte-Jesus, MD, MPH
    Global Conect & Global Strategic Enterprises, Inc.
    http://www.GlobalBelaiJesus.com
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