Against the backdrop of the rise of Asian powers, most prominently China, in Africa, the United States is hosting its first summit with the resurgent continent, which is expected to pitch US-Africa relations onto a higher trajectory.
Over 40 African leaders are expected to participate in the summit, the first such conclave to be hosted by Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the US.
The summit, which will be held in Washington August 4-6, is themed as “Investing in the Next Generation”.
Many African countries, including Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Sudan and Central African Republic, have not been invited due to objections raised by either the US or African Union. Apart from that, a few African countries have withdrawn due to the outbreak of the Ebola virus in the region.
The summit comes in the background of the widespread perception that Obama has not paid sufficient diplomatic attention to the African continent. During this period of relative neglect by the US of Africa, China stole the march, making rapid inroads into the resource-rich continent. In fact, many analysts see this summit as a belated response to China’s successful economic diplomacy in Africa.
“The Obama administration has come under increasing pressure from the commercial sector to prioritise Africa policy. This US-Africa summit is more a response to this than a direct beauty contest with China,” said Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at Chatham House, a much-regarded UK think tank.
President Obama visited Africa only twice during his administration where he launched initiatives like Power Africa and Trade Africa. The first US-Africa summit, say officials, will further increase the support to these programmes, including installing 10,000 megawatts of new generation capacity and connecting millions of African customers by 2018. Obama also launched a fellowship programme for young African leaders, the size of which will be doubled during this summit. New initiatives to promote trade among African countries will also be announced, coupled with other multi-million dollar private-sector investments.
There will also be an exclusive discussion on Agriculture Growth Opportunity Act during the summit, which gives African nations duty-free access to US market. This act has been criticised for the past few years and has been compared to free trade pacts struck by the EU with the African region.
The summit seems to indicate a shift in the US-Africa relationship, from one focused on aid to a trade and investment led approach. This can be gauged from the fact that the summit has one day for a business conference, bringing together African leaders and American CEOs.
Peacekeeping will be another focus area: one can expect announcement of a $60 million a year for peacekeeping training in six African countries.
“You will see a series of announcements on agriculture and food, and power and energy,” Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), told Reuters.
It appears that the US is following in the footsteps of China in convening a continent-level summit and providing massive aid and investment. China surpassed the US as Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009. According to the Office of United States Trade Representative, the US-Africa trade stood at $63 billion in 2013. Compared to this, according to the White Paper released in 2013, China-Africa trade surged to $198.49 billion in 2012 from a mere $10 billion in 2000. With this first-ever US-Africa summit, it will be interesting to see how the competition between the world’s two most powerful economies shapes up in the African continent, which is emerging as a growth pole, with an annual economic growth rate of around 5 per cent.
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