On December 13-15, 2022, the White House hosted forty-nine leaders from across the African continent to the second U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. This historic event has only happened once before, in 2014 with former President Barack Obama. The purpose of the summit was several fold: to build trust with the many countries of the African continent, advance the interests of the African Union, to foster new economic activities, and more. This summit is seen as an important step in building better relationships with “a new, more prosperous Africa”, as President Obama said during the first summit. This year’s summit is especially important as it comes amid economic hardship across the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a debt crisis for many African countries.
In the past, relationships with the African continent have been strained, due to years of mistrust over the lack of action and commitment to building a more prosperous continent. Historically, the U.S. has emphasized security over development, a strategy with limited benefits to the African nations and has prevented them from receiving help that would improve their economy. U.S. relations with Africa were primarily focused on trading raw materials and resources, a practice that continues to hold them back and does nothing to improve wealth. Additionally, pollution and corruption continue to grow in the region because of this raw material exportation and the way it strips the continent of its natural resources. U.S. foreign policy has focused on poverty reduction and foreign aid to help reduce corruption and conflict. In recent years however, policy makers and advocates for change have said that Africa has more to offer, and the U.S. 's approach should change dramatically to have any hope of truly aiding in ending corruption and improving Africa’s economy.
Africa is now being seen as a critical geopolitical and economic ally. The State Department of the U.S. has said that “Sub-Saharan Africa is critical to advancing our global priorities” and that it is “impossible to meet this era’s defending challenges without African contributions and leadership”. In August 2022, the White House released a new African strategy to outline new plans regarding the U.S. relationship with the African continent, with the goal of building a “21st century U.S.-Africa partnership”. The new strategy outlines a vision for how the U.S. will engage with Africa, affirm African agency, seek to elevate African contribution and voices, and develop new infrastructure, all while emphasizing continued growth and cooperation towards democracy, peace, and security for all.
There were several key policies that the U.S. brought to the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. One of these policies included mobilizing the entirety of the U.S. government to help reaffirm that the government is willing to take these new goals seriously. Cabinet leaders from the Department of State, Defense, Energy, Health, Agriculture, Labor, and Commerce were in attendance. Heads of top federal agencies such as the U.S. International Development finance corporation, U.S. African Development Foundation, and the U.S. Trade Representatives also came to represent U.S. businesses at the summit. President Biden and Vice-President Harris hosted roundtables and bilateral meetings, as well as giving several keynote speeches. Another policy informing the U.S. approach to the summit was the U.S. “supporting Africa’s representation in global governance”. In a historic move, President Biden formally announced U.S. support for the African Union’s bid to join the G20 as a permanent member. This support will likely lead to other European countries giving their support as well, which would immensely help Africa further develop their economy, and give light to many of the issues the African continent faces today. Another key policy was President Biden’s commitment of $55 billion for the African continent. This aid is to be used in building human capital, infrastructure, health systems, and security, which represents a shift in how aid has been applied in the past. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo talked about how the U.S. government “wants to move from just aid…to investment…and partnership to unlock the potential of the private sector to the benefit of all our countries”.
Other key moments of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit included recognizing that Africa is an important geographical ally in the world, and collaborating with Africa is one of the best ways to help address global challenges such as food shortages and global economic recessions. This summit was also likely a precursor to renewing the African Growth and Opportunity Act AGOA), an act with bipartisan support with the goals of building trade and investment opportunities with Africa. Overall, this summit demonstrates the new commitment the U.S. has given to Africa, and provides multiple benefits for the U.S. as well. Africa is largely an untapped market for economic opportunities, and U.S. businesses will benefit from these increased opportunities. Additionally, the U.S. finds itself in competition for these opportunities with Russia, China, India, and some gulf states. Thus, building better relationships and shifting foreign policy in this region will help U.S. political and international interests as well.
These new policies and promises from the U.S. are exciting. However, some African leaders have expressed concern or doubt over their feasibility and whether or not they will actually be carried out. The CIO of the African Finance Corporation Sameh Shenouda said that the U.S. needs to “find a way to demonstrate the U.S. funds have gone into projects in Africa in the next six months. If this is not the case, it’s a sign this was all political posturing, not a commitment to deliver”. The Senegalese President and president of the African Union, President Macky Sall has indicated that Africans are willing to work towards closer ties with the United States, but this time as “active participants” and not just sitting around waiting for what Americans want. Their concerns are valid. For decades, the U.S. has kept their foreign policy the same, and has made no significant strides to help fix many of the economic and political problems that have historically plagued the African continent. Is this summit a signal that things are changing? Only time will tell, as President Biden works to secure the promised $55 billion in aid from Congress and to fulfill his many other promises that came from the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.