By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
Under the chairmanship of U.S. President Joe Biden, the second edition of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit held mid-December has practically registered significant successes. The first summit was in 2014 during the presidency of Barack Obama, the administration officials in reports have however acknowledged regret for the long gap.
The landmark summit offered the platform for 49 African leaders + the African Union to highlight both new and longstanding challenges, and to pitch their collective expectations and aspirations in the emerging new global world.
African leaders are equally looking to voice out conveniently its development directions into the future as external forces are competing for consistent political and economic influence across Africa. The U.S. does not chart routine slogans but offers a better comparative option to African partners.
- Biden administration is closing up the gap. African leaders will return with cheerful smile and great satisfaction. The White House, during the first day of arrival in Washington, announced a $55-billion commitment to Africa over the next three years across various sectors. U.S. is sending best technologies and innovations, attempt to maintain the highest standards in the market and further looking for direct investment in Africa, but argued that it would remain the “partner of choice” in Africa.
It was in consultation with African partners to show a new era of partnership and broad-based commitment on the critical development issues that matter most to Africa. Therefore, the United States is defining its relationship with Africa on African terms.
- In addition, Biden has urged that the African Union, which represents 55 African states, be given a seat in the Group of 20, an influential collection of the strongest economies in the world. South Africa is the only member from the continent. Biden has thrown his backing behind the African Union getting permanent membership in the Group of 20 during the summit which enhances economic ties in its own right.
Even before the summit officially began, the White House announced Biden’s support for the African Union becoming a permanent member of the Group of 20 nations and that it had appointed Johnnie Carson, a well-regarded veteran diplomat, to serve as point person for implementing initiatives that come out of the summit.
The United States is showing practical unwavering seriousness on several issues to double its diverse influence will also advocate for two more permanent African representatives on the UN Security Council.
- The United States two-way trade with sub-Saharan Africa was $44.9 billion last year, a 22% increase from 2019, while foreign direct investment into the region fell by 5.3% to $30.3 billion in 2021.
In January 2021, the African Continental Free Trade Area – designed to be the world’s biggest free-trade zone by area when it kicks into full gear in 2030 – already became operational and making headways. The initiative is likely to become a key pillar in facilitating trade between the US and Africa. The bloc has a potential market of 1.3 billion people with a combined gross domestic product of $2.6 trillion.
Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General of AfCFTA, and his counterpart US Trade Representative Katherine Tai are preparing to sign a memorandum to create a platform for ongoing work. “We’ve consistently seen that there are opportunities for the program to be better – there could be much better uptake and utilization of the program,” Katherine Tai said in Washington. Asked about her vision for the evolution of the program, Tai said the United States would like to explore the “middle ground” between the current AGOA system and traditional full free trade agreements and developing new relationships that are focused on “resilience and inclusion.”
It is described as an “incredibly supportive” of the continental-integration efforts and promote trade and economic cooperation between the two regions. It is meant to assist the economies of sub-Saharan Africa and improve economic relations between the United States and Africa. With the next phase in mind new legislation at facilitating trade offers basis for widening overall economic ties with Africa.
Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, Chris Van Hollen, and Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Karen Bass, proposed legislation to increase US assistance to implement the African free-trade area. That requires to develop an interagency, long-term strategy on infrastructure development and technical support to promote African continental trade. The African Growth and Opportunity Act, which expires in 2025 and also gives about three dozen African countries duty-free access to the world’s biggest economy for almost 7,000 products.
- Biden has signed an executive order to establish the President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement in the United States, as Washington seeks to deepen ties with the region. It will advise the president on a range of issues. African-American and African immigrant communities will coordinate various emerging questions in government, business, social work, sports and other areas. The African Diaspora includes African Americans, including descendants of enslaved Africans, and approximately 2.8 million African immigrants (legally resident) in the United States.
According to World Bank Statistics, remittance inflows to Sub-Saharan Africa soared 14.1 percent to $49 billion in 2021 following an 8.1 percent decline in the prior year. Beyond remittances, African stands to benefit from the input of its diaspora considered as the most progressive in some of the most developed countries in the world.
Ultimately, African leaders have to engage with their diaspora, excelling in sports, academia, business, science, technology, engineering and all those other significant sectors that the continent needs to beef up to optimize its potential and meet development priorities.
United States is investing in raising leaders through the Young African Leaders Initiative and Mandela Washington Fellows. In addition, last September 2022, the U.S. African Development Foundation partnered with the Tony Elumelu Foundation to create a new program to provide financing, technical assistance, and mentorship to emerging innovators in Africa. Quite recently, it also launched an initiative to connect up-and-coming young African entrepreneurs with American companies and also to promote greater encouragement by American companies with youth programs in Africa.
“African voices are essential to solving global problems. To elevate these voices, one of the primary focuses is to widen the circle of engagement to include African Diaspora communities,” Dana Banks, Special Assistant to the President and Special Adviser for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, said. “It will advise the President on a wide range of issues, enhance the dialogue between U.S. officials and the African Diaspora, and strengthen cultural, social, political, and economic ties between African communities, the global African Diaspora, and the United States.”
- Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo sounded the alarm about petering private investment in middle- and low-income countries, particularly in Africa. The infrastructure finance gap, or money needed for essential projects like lighting homes and businesses, responding to the coronavirus pandemic and to making communities resilient against extreme weather, sits at $68 billion to $108 billion per year, Adeyemo said.
At the same time, Adeyemo lamented that huge amounts of private capital among the wealthy nations around the globe remains untapped. “There is a clear disconnect between the large amount of available private sector capital and the urgent need to fund critical infrastructure projects in Africa and elsewhere. The question for us is: how do we connect this massive supply of savings with high-quality infrastructure projects in Africa?” Adeyemo said at the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.
Trade between the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa was $44.9 billion last year, a 22% increase from 2019. But foreign direct investment into the region fell by 5.3% to $30.31 billion in 2021. According to reports, trade between Africa and China last year surged to $254 billion last year, up about 35% as Chinese exports increased on the continent.
Ahead of the symbolic gatherings, Witney Schneidman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the Clinton administration, said focusing on China and Russia would distract from the more important topic of U.S. private sector investment.
The simple fact is that African leaders arriving in the U.S. capital are clamoring for more U.S. business in the region, he said, where a glaring gap has led to the U.S. ceding Africa not just to China, but also to the European Union, India, Turkey and other countries that have invested in the region in recent years.
According to reports, the summit was to “really to highlight how the United States and African partners are strengthening partnerships and advancing shared priorities and indicates a reflection of the U.S. strategy towards sub-Saharan Africa and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, both of which emphasize the critical importance of the region in meeting this era’s defining challenges.”
The irreversible fact is that the United States is broadening its engagement and partnership, reviewing institutional capacity and strategic approach towards offering a comprehensive relationship based on mutual respect and values, while African leaders are also pushing for advancing efforts at achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Agenda 2063 of the African Union.