With the US-Africa leaders’ summit, Biden hopes to bridge the trust gap; amid growing Chinese and Russian influence
President Joe Biden will host dozens of African leaders in Washington this week as the White House seeks to close a trust gap with Africa that has grown wider over years of frustration with America’s commitment to the continent.
In the run-up to the three-day US-Africa Leaders Summit, which begins on Tuesday, Biden administration officials downplayed their growing concern about China and Russia’s clout in Africa, which is home to more than 1.3 billion people. Instead, administration officials attempted to focus on their efforts to strengthen collaboration with African leaders.
When asked about the shadow cast by China and Russia on the meetings, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “This summit is an opportunity to deepen the many partnerships we have on the African continent.” “We will concentrate our efforts to strengthen these partnerships across a wide range of sectors, from business to health to peace and security, but our priority will be Africa next week.”
To that end, White House officials have stated that “major deliverables and initiatives” — diplomatic jargon for major announcements — will be sprinkled throughout the meetings. On Friday, the White House teased a major summit announcement, saying that Biden would use the gathering to declare his support for the African Union becoming a permanent member of the Group of 20.
The summit will be the largest international gathering in Washington since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Local officials are warning residents to expect road closures and increased security as 49 invited heads of state and leaders – including Biden – travel through the city.
According to White House officials, discussions will focus on the coronavirus, climate change, the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Africa, trade, and other topics. Biden is scheduled to speak at a US-Africa business forum, meet with leaders in small groups, host a leaders’ dinner at the White House, and participate in other sessions with leaders during the gathering.
After four years of Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy, Biden has spent much of his first two years in office trying to assuage international doubts about American leadership. With this summit, which is a follow-up to President Barack Obama’s first such gathering eight years ago, Biden has an opportunity to assuage African concerns about the US’s commitment to the relationship.
Biden’s efforts to bring African nations closer to the US come at a difficult time, as his administration has made clear that Chinese and Russian activity in Africa is a serious concern for both US and African interests.
The Biden administration warned in its Sub-Saharan Africa strategy, unveiled in August, that China, which has invested billions in African energy, infrastructure, and other projects, sees the region as a venue where it can “challenge the rules-based international order, advance its own narrow commercial and geopolitical interests, and undermine transparency and openness.”
The administration also claims that Russia, Africa’s leading arms dealer, sees the continent as a welcoming environment for Kremlin-connected oligarchs and private military firms to focus on fomenting instability for their own strategic and financial gain.
Nonetheless, administration officials are emphasising that China and Russia will not be central to the talks.
“The United States prioritises our relationship with Africa for the sake of our mutual interests and partnership in dealing with global challenges,” said Molly Phee, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, ahead of the summit. “We are very conscious, once again, of Cold War history, of the deleterious impact of colonialism on Africa, and we work hard to avoid repeating some of the mistakes of those earlier eras.”
The administration has been disappointed that much of Africa has not joined the United States in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Biden is not expected to dwell on differences publicly.
The president is expected to attend a session with leaders on promoting food security and food system resilience. Africa has been disproportionately affected by the global rise in food prices, which has been exacerbated in part by a drop in shipments from Ukraine, a major grain exporter.
“One of the summit’s distinguishing features is the collateral damage inflicted on Africa by the Russian war in terms of food supply and the diversion of development assistance to Ukraine.” “The opportunity costs of the invasion in Africa have been very high,” said John Stremlau, a visiting professor of international relations at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand.
Four African Union-suspended countries — Guinea, Sudan, Mali, and Burkina Faso — were not invited to the summit because coups in those countries resulted in unconstitutional changes in power. The White House also did not invite Eritrea, an East African country with which Washington does not have full diplomatic relations.
Biden’s decision to invite several leaders with questionable records on human rights and democracy to the summit looms large ahead of the gathering.