GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 687, 19 December 2022

The US: Rekindling relations with Africa at Leaders Summit
Apoorva Sudhakar

What happened?
On 15 December, the three-day Second US-Africa Leaders Summit concluded in Washington wherein US President Joe Biden announced his support to the African Union’s membership at the G20 and an African representative at the UN Security Council. Biden said: “The US is all in on Africa’s future.” He said: “Africa belongs at the table in every room – in every room where global challenges are being discussed, and in every institution where discussions are taking place.” Biden announced that he would visit Sub-Saharan Africa soon, and would also ask the US Vice President, Secretary of State, Treasury Secretary and Commerce Secretary to visit Africa. The White House press release listed initiatives announced in the summit, including establishment of a new diaspora council; expansion of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI); an MoU between the US and African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat; establishment of the African Democratic and Political Transitions (ADAPT); and a range of financial support for climate adaptation, food security, and peace and security.
On 14 December, Biden said the US was committed to limiting the increasing influence of China and Russia in Africa. Biden outlined the US goal towards “a new 21st Century Partnership for African Security.” On the same day, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson called on the US to “respect the will of the African people and take concrete actions to help Africa’s development, instead of unremittingly smearing and attacking other countries.” The spokesperson said: “Africa is not an arena for great power confrontation or a target for arbitrary pressure by certain countries or individuals.”
On 14 December, Ghana’s President and Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Nana Akufo-Addo met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and expressed concern over the presence of Russian mercenaries in Africa. Akufo-Addo called on Africa to stop “begging” the West to earn international respect and thereby, change the weak perceptions across the world, about Africa. BBC quoted Akufo-Addo: “If we stop being beggars and spend African money inside the continent, Africa will not need to ask for respect from anyone, we will get the respect we deserve. If we make it prosperous as it should be, respect will follow.”

What is the background?
First, the US-Africa summit. The first US-Africa Leaders Summit was held in 2014 under former President Barack Obama’s presidency. The summit focused on trade, investment, cooperation on gender, health, governance and so on. The 2014 summit was perhaps the first largest interaction the US had with African countries. Following this, former President Donald Trump’s unwillingness to engage with the rest of the world, stagnated the US relations with Africa. 

Second, the focus on trade. Throughout both summits, the US emphasized on the need for trade and investment in Africa. Currently, China is Africa's largest trading partner, largest lender and accounts for the highest foreign direct investment. In 2009, China surpassed the US to become Africa’s largest trading partner. Simultaneously, along with trade and investment in Africa, China also worked on its Belt and Road initiative in Africa. 

Third, big powers in Africa. Several political leaders have visited Africa in 2022, prior to Biden’s announcement to visit Africa. In July, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov toured Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of Congo in July 2022, aiming to convince them that Moscow would not let the Ukraine war affect Africa. Simultaneously, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Cameroon, Benin and Guinea-Bissau amid France’s currently-tumultuous relations with a few African countries. In October, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba visited Kenya, Senegal, Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire in October to counter the Russian visit. Meanwhile, China has a strong diplomatic engagement wherein for the last 32 years, China’s first diplomatic visit during New Year’s would be to Africa. Since 2000, Beijing has also been conducting the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation every three years. 

What does it mean?
First, the second US-Africa Leaders Summit appears to be Biden’s efforts to rekindle the US relations with Africa. The objectives in the first and second summits are similar with a heavy focus on trade. However, the US has to rectify the eight-year gap between the two summits and ensure that commitments in both summits are followed through and do not remain initiatives, just on paper. 
Second, by focusing on trade and investment, the US is aiming for the best possible engagement currently. Africa is home to an emerging regional market facilitated by the AfCFTA that would bring forth the economic potential of the continent. Africa is also a competitive market with the engagement of major players like China, India and Japan.
Third, if the US wishes to limit the Russian and Chinese influence in Africa, it has to provide an attractive alternative to the African countries. However, the US decision to not invite countries that witnessed coups over the last two years indicates its unwillingness to engage with non-democratic countries, where Russia and China already have deep inroads. Therefore, addressing this scenario poses a major challenge. 
Fourth, the flurry of visits from different leaders indicates that Africa is an emerging key player in global politics. The diplomatic engagements signal efforts of different countries to court African countries and win their support at the international stage; it testifies to the speculations of a new Scramble for Africa. However, to ensure a new and sustained engagement, all players need to treat Africa as an equal player, and not a mere pawn in global politics.