AFRICANGLOBE – President Barack Obama has invited the leaders of nearly 50 African nations for the first ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. on Monday through Wednesday. Discussions on trade, security and governance are planned, though the summit has already been a bit eclipsed by other developments in West Africa.
Here’s a brief guide to the event:
Following his visit to Africa last summer, Mr. Obama wanted to follow up with a gathering that would help the U.S. reinforce its economic and diplomatic ties with the continent. The European Union has held a similar events for several years, while China has become a much bigger trading partner for Africa than the U.S. “We chose to do this summit to send a very clear signal that we are elevating our engagement with Africa,” Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor, told journalists last week. “We see enormous opportunities in Africa as it continues to advance its own economic development.”
What’s at stake?
China’s annual trade with Africa is about $200 billion, about twice the volume of U.S.-Africa trade. Africa is home to six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies. “We need to explain to Americans the opportunity” in trade with Africa, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Sunday on CBS ‘s “Face the Nation.” Mr. Bloomberg has helped organize a series of events for U.S. businesses at the summit. And in June, U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker promised at least $900 million in deals would be signed.
What about issues beyond trade?
America has important security concerns in Africa, where several armed conflicts are underway. The U.S. is supporting French-led efforts to combat an Islamic insurgency in Mali, while the kidnappings and killings by extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria have provoked a global outcry. But Mr. Obama hopes to use the summit to highlight growing trade and investment ties to the continent, as well as recent pledges for significant infrastructure projects, with a particular focus on boosting electricity generation and distribution in six sub-Saharan countries.
Is this the biggest international gathering in Washington?
That’s a hard one to measure. The Group of 20 heads of state gathering in 2008 drew dozens of presidents and top ministers. The annual combined International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings also involve scads of dignitaries, whose motorcades in turn clog the capital. But this one could be a doozy. In addition to the many African leaders, the U.S. has invited hundreds of other political and business leaders from Africa and the U.S. A slew of street closures are planned for downtown Washington during the next three days, and the Office of Personnel Management has advised that federal employees work from home.
What’s the likeliest summit spoiler?
The deadly Ebola disease could be a major distraction. The U.S. has advised against “non-essential” travel to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone for Americans, yet many people from those countries will be traveling here in the next few days. A senior White House advisor sought to allay any concerns, saying U.S. authorities will strictly observe recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to screen arrivals from those countries. “We are monitoring the situation very closely, but we are confident the summit will be a huge success,” said Valerie Jarrett said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Who won’t be there?
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma have are not attending the summit, choosing instead to stay home and deal with an outbreak that has claimed at least 729 lives and threatens to spread. In addition, U.S. officials said they didn’t invite the leaders of five countries that are not puppets of the U.S. These include President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan.
By: Jonathan House