BACKGROUNDER

1st US-Africa Leaders Summit: A New Chapter in the US-Africa Relations

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  • August 20, 2014

    From 4-6 August, 2014 America hosted the first US-Africa Summit at Washington DC which saw nearly 50 African head of States discussing multiple themes and utilising the summit as a platform to foster stronger US-Africa relations. The summit had an intention to build on the progress made since the US President Barack Obama’s trip to Africa in 2013, advance the administration’s focus on trade and investment in Africa, and highlight America’s commitment to Africa’s security, its democratic development, and its people.11 When America elected its first African-American President, the African continent was hopeful of renewing its relationship with America and forming stronger ties. But the Obama foreign policy has been largely focussed towards the other parts of the world, primarily Asia, resulting to its policies towards the African continent taking a back seat. This summit has been seen as one of the major initiatives of the Obama administration towards the African continent and being the first US President to hold the largest event with the African head of states and governments.

    US Strategy towards the Sub Saharan Africa elevates two efforts that will be critical to the future of Africa: strengthening democratic institutions and boosting broad-based economic growth, including through trade and investment.22 The four pillars of this strategy are: strengthen democratic institutions, spur economic growth, trade and investment, advance peace and security and promote opportunity and development.33 The US-Africa Summit is historic purely because of the vision envisioned by the present US president and hosting a track one dialogue with almost the all the various head of states or governments (excluding Zimbabwe, Sudan, Eritrea, and Central African Republic), commencing a new era in its relationship with the African continent. The broader theme of the summit was ‘Investing in the Next Generation’, with emphasis given on ways through which the government can unlock the potential of the future generation of Africa. Though the previous presidents have worked tremendously for Africa with initiatives like African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), President Obama tried to synergize the US-Africa relations with an outlook towards the future by discussing various themes with the African leaders under one roof. In 2010 his administration launched ‘Feed the Future’ initiative and in 2013 during his eight day visit to Africa he launched ‘Power Africa’ initiative for bringing electricity to millions of households in the sub-Saharan Africa. A week before the summit on 28th July 2014, President Obama met 500 young African students under the 2014 Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) launched in 2010 as a platform for giving opportunities to the next generation of Africa for excelling in various fields, kick starting pre-summit enthusiasm in Washington DC .
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    Events for the 1st US-Africa Leaders Summit 2014

    “Investing in the Next Generation”

    4 August, 2014

    5 August, 2014

    6 August, 2014

    • Civil Society Forum
    • African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum
    • Investing in Women for Peace and Prosperity Working Luncheon
    • Investing in Health: Investing in Africa’s Future Working Luncheon
    • Resilience and Food Security in a Changing Climate
    • Combating Wildlife Trafficking
    • Congressional Reception for African Leaders
    • US-Africa Business Forum
    • White House Dinner on the Occasion of the US-Africa Leaders Summit
    • Leaders Session- US Department of State
    • Spousal Program hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama, Mrs Laura Bush and the Bush Institute

    Source: The White House, US-Africa Leaders Summit, Schedule of Events for the US-Africa Leaders Summit

    African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Health Services and Global Resilience

    Day one of the summit saw many themes ranging from trade to women issues, from health to climate change being brought on table by the African leaders. One of the major points brought up by the leaders was the renewing AGOA as it expires in 2015. African Growth and Opportunity Act is a legislation which was signed into law on May 18, 2000 as Title 1 of The Trade and Development Act of 2000 by the US Congress. The Act offers tangible incentives for African countries to continue their efforts to open their economies and build free markets.44 Extending the 14-year old AGOA is crucial to preserving trade ties with the fast growing African countries.55 AGOA has been central to the US efforts of engaging with Africa in terms of trade and investment.

    This summit has occurred during the time when Africa has been struck by Ebola outbreak which has claimed at least 887 lives. The US officials promised support in containing the Ebola outbreak on the first day of the summit. The US Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and other US officials spoke with Guinean President Alpha Conde and senior officials from Liberia and Sierra Leone, representatives of the three countries at the centre of the Ebola.66 The World Bank Group announced that it will donate as much as $200 million in emergency funding to improve the region’s ability to survive and prevent the spread of Ebola infections and future outbreaks.77 The leaders of Sierra Leone and Liberia could not attend the summit because of the outbreak.

    Due to the vast array of disasters whether natural or caused due to human activity constantly disturbing the stability of the African continent, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Rockefeller Foundation announced a $100 million Global Resilience Partnership to help safeguard some of the world’s most vulnerable people from disasters and shocks. This money will be invested in preparedness, adaptation, and inclusive economic growth that can help communities function better day-to-day and, when a crisis hits, realise a resilience dividend.88 Matters like democracy and individual rights, security issues, climate change, human rights etc. were also discussed by the leaders on the first day of the summit.

    Economic Investments

    The main event of the US-Africa Leaders Summit i.e. the US-Africa Business forum was conducted on the second day of the summit. Economic growth and trade investments seemed to be high on agenda of all the leaders present at the forum. The US and African companies and the World Bank pledged more than $17 billion in investments in construction, energy and information technology projects in Africa to showcase US economic interests in the fast growing region.99 The White House announced $33 billion in commitments aimed at increasing US economic ties with Africa. A big part of the money, $14 billion, is coming from the private sector. Among the companies announcing new commitments are Coca-Cola and General Electric (GE).1010 The US-Africa Business Forum focussed on US private-sector engagement in Africa in the areas of finance and capital investment, infrastructure; power and energy, agriculture; consumer goods; and information and communication technology.1111The private sector in the summit seemed to be in the forefront for expressing their interest in the region: a $5 billion investment from Coca Cola to manufacturing lines and production equipment; $2 billion investment from GE by 2018; $200 million in investments across Africa by Marriott, and a $66 million commitment by IBM to provide technology services to Ghana’s Fidelity Bank were some of the plans announced. The White House also touted another $12 billion in a new commitment for Obama’s Power Africa initiative from the Private Sector, World Bank and the government of Sweden.1212

    As part of the ‘Doing Business in Africa’ campaign, President Obama announced a $7 billion in new financing to promote American exports in Africa. He signed an executive order to create a new President’s Advisory Council of business leaders to think about new and creative ways that can promote economic growth and job creation in the United States and Africa.1313 Trade and commerce clearly dominated the US-Africa summit with all the attention by leaders on both the sides focussing on fostering greater economic relationship. Economic investments took the centre stage of the summit with matters on politics and security though discussed but lacking emphasis in comparison to the economic matters examined.

    Security and Governance

    On the final day of the summit President Obama and the African leaders opened talks on two key issues that threaten to disrupt economic progress on the continent: security and government corruption.1414 Security discussions centred on ways to enable African governments to boost their own peacekeeping and counterterrorism capabilities while moving away from the need for costly outside intervention. Leaders also discussed good governance and transparency with US officials as both are necessary condition for economic growth.1515 The security matter was discussed in the summit to meet common threats ranging from terrorism, human trafficking etc. President announced a new ‘Security Governance Initiative’ to help the African countries continue to build strong, professional security forces to provide for their own security. The first countries to be part of this initiative are Kenya, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Ghana and Tunisia. He further announced that United States will provide additional equipment to African peacekeepers in Somalia and the Central African Republic.1616 US military relations with the African continent reached a significant milestone with the establishment of Unites States Africa Command. US Africa Command began operations in 2007 and now has roughly 2000 personnel in its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, with another 2000 as part of the of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa at Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti.1717 The Pentagon has formed elite African counterterrorism units with US Special Forces, including the Army’s Green Berets and Delta Force in Mali, Niger and Mauritania, and Libya as part of a secretive “new Africa plan”, backed by millions in funding.1818 This summit became a platform for US to be more committed towards their counterterrorism initiatives in the African continent and further harnessed their plans of collaboration with the African countries.

    Also, on the final day of the summit, First Lady Michelle Obama and Former First Lady Laura Bush hosted a day-long “Investing in Our Future” symposium on advancement for women and girls in Africa. The symposium- which focussed on the impact of investments in education, health and public-private partnerships- brought the two First Ladies together with African first spouses from almost 30 countries as well leaders from nongovernmental and non-profit organizations, private sector partners and other experts.1919 The symposium led to an announcement of more than $200 million in investments to support programs fostering improved education, health and economic opportunity for more than 1 million Africans.2020

    China Factor

    The Chinese interest in the African continent has been dominant over the years, due to their roaring business ambitions and Africa’s capabilities to fulfil these ambitions with the continent’s abundant natural resources. Countries like India, Japan, China and even Europe have lately left America behind in terms of having trade with the Africa. India’s bilateral trade with Africa in 2013 reached $93 billion, up from $3 billion in 2001, beating projections of $70 billion by 2015.2121 China passed the US in imports in 2012 and imported $88 billion from sub-Saharan Africa in 2013, according to the International Monetary Fund. As China strengthens ties on the continent and the European Union negotiates free trade agreements there, the goal US officials say is to replace foreign aid with investment.2222 The Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the region has increased dramatically over the years. The stock of FDI in sub-Saharan Africa from the EU, China, Japan and the US grew by nearly five times between 2001 and 2012, from $27.2 billion to about $132.8 billion. This growth was primarily driven by China, whose FDI grew at an annual rate of 53 percent, compared with 29 percent for Japan, 16 percent for the EU and 14 percent for the US.2323 US-Africa trade dwindled from $125 billion in 2011 to $99 billion in 2012 and $85 billion in 2013.2424

    In the summit President Obama claimed that the US is interested in the continent for more than just its minerals and oil, hinting towards China. The Summit was clearly administered to promote US as a better partner in its efforts to catch up with the rapidly expanding Sino-Africa trade.2525 China’s relations with the African continent is already going strong especially after the launch of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000, translating into deep economic ties on many levels. Competing with China, US with this summit has tried to transform the US-Africa relations into a fathomless economic union.

    Future of the US-Africa Relations

    Due to the immense success of the 1st US-Africa Leaders Summit, President Obama declared that the US- Africa Leaders Summit will henceforth be taken place every four years. In the coming time, the competition between the Americans and Chinese over the African resources is bound to escalate greatly, especially given the six out of ten fastest growing economies in the world are from Africa. The continent survived the economic crisis better than expected with growth in telecommunications, construction, transportation and banking. Nations have averaged growth rates of five to six percent the last decade. By 2050, one in four workers worldwide will be in Africa.2626 It is clear that presently US lags far behind China in terms of forming great trade nexus and this summit is only a beginning to a possibly more flourishing US-Africa relations. Economically, China has managed to have an upper hand in the continent thanks to their business-like approach. But, even if US investments in Africa are unable to match the scope of their Chinese counterparts, what distinguishes the American presence in Africa is Washington’s ability to assist on security matters.2727 Though economic relations between US and Africa was the key highlight of the summit, matters like security, governance, human rights, women rights, climate change etc. was also highly discussed showcasing America’s broader interest in the region.

    Although one can say that Obama’s attention towards the African continent came very late given the high expectation from his administration in fostering ties with the Africans, this summit happened better late than not at all. Being the son of a Kenyan, Obama’s win as the new US President in 2009 led to celebrations in various parts of Africa leading to Kenya declaring his inauguration a public holiday! But this initial expectation of the African continent soon faced disappointment due to Obama’s larger attention towards other parts of the world and conception of the ‘US Pivot to Asia’ strategy. Finally, in his second term, the US president has managed to initiate an elaborate foreign policy towards the African continent by conducting this summit. The US Strategy towards the Sub Saharan Africa seemed to be highly fulfilled due to the various developments in the US-Africa Leaders Summit. But now with hardly two more years left in the office, it’ll be interesting to see how the next President of US would formulate its foreign policy towards Africa and takes ahead the newly revived US-Africa relations amidst fierce competition from China.

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