Following some positive opinions from different African representatives of civil society across Kenya, Sudan and Nigeria, our second article presents a number of more critical European and further African views alongside fresh American observations about the upcoming U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which undoubtedly is held at a time of ongoing crises in many parts of the continent in need of relevant answers from major powers including the USA.
Former Congressman from Connecticut and currently Senior Adviser at national law firm Mayer Brown LLP Toby Moffett thinks that, “other countries with a long history on the continent are amused that it has taken the U.S. so long to send strong signals indicating a greater focus on Africa.”
“I also believe that they are probably somewhat impressed that President Obama has had the foresight and courage – after all, this is a move that is not easy – to put this summit on. It is certainly very relevant to the crises raging across the rest of the world,” said Moffett in an interview with AFKInsider.
While other heavy and emerging actors of world politics, such as China, Japan, India, or Turkey held many high-level summits in Africa to boost business, the U.S. so far has failed to use summit diplomacy in Africa to handle international relations. According to some European Africanists, the upcoming event is merely a late answer to these previous summits.
Concerning the question whether or not the U.S. wants to counterbalance China with the summit, Moffett thinks that “despite some U.S. stumbles in Africa, it is true that many Africans would more look forward to working and partnering with U.S. leaders than with the Chinese, and so the summit helps emphasize that point for the U.S.”
“China’s influence in Africa is on Washington’s mind, but I do not think it is the driving force of this summit,” said Sandor Balogh, President of the African-Hungarian Union (AHU) in an interview with AFKInsider.
“The U.S. Africa summit is a sign for the marginal role of Africa in U.S. foreign policy. The problem with it is that the expectations on President Obama have always been very high. I think the summit is a kind of last attempt to turn Obama’s, at times uneven, relationship with Africa,” told AFKInsider Political Scientist Alexander Meckelburg, Ph.D. Candidate at the Hiob Ludolf Center for Ethiopian Studies, University of Hamburg, Germany.
When Barack Obama was elected as President of the USA, people in the streets of many African cities were dancing to celebrate the first Afro-American president in history.
“It is clear that expectations were huge, but the impact resulting from his election is still low, so Obama tries to improve his image, together with improving the image of the U.S., which is somewhat poor,” commented Dr. Linda Piknerova, lecturer at the Department of Political Science and International Affairs, Faculty of Philosophy and Arts, University of West Bohemia in Pilsen.
Although Obama launched many promising programs, such as the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in 2010, the African Food Summit in 2012, and the Power Africa Initiative in 2013, as Associate Professor Kassahun Berhanu, Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia, pointed out to AFKInsider, “these did not move forward thereby entailing any meaningful progress aside rhetoric and political pretension, thus making the Obama Administration a sheer promise-giver not supported by real action.”
“Now that the second Obama Administration is approaching its end, one cannot help thinking that Obama is striving to save face in a manner that could lure Africans and the U.S. electorate that the administration is trying its level best to keep its pledges to Africa despite its impending odds,” said Professor Berhanu.
Finding New Markets
However, the main American interest seems to be finding new markets where the U.S. could expand. As we reported earlier (see link here: https://moguldom.com/37628/summit-diplomacy-shall-u-s-copy-chinese-boost-business-africa/), according to Ambassador Bisa Williams, who spoke last November at the 56th annual meeting of the African Studies Association in Baltimore, MD, as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State, the summit is “not planned as a one-time show,” as the U.S. will not only keep a “humanitarian assistance mindset” toward Africa, but also wants to provide American businesses with more linkages, and therefore more opportunities.
At the same time, as Piknerova underlined, “it is fair to say that Obama has taken some significant steps to improve American image in African eyes, for example, as the U.S. tries to work with African governments to support economic progress through AGOA, as well as to help fight global terrorism in the continent, too.”
One additional issue of high significance should also be emphasized connected with the theme of the summit, which is “Investing in the Future Generation”, meaning the youth of African societies.
According to Professor Berhanu: “One cannot help but suspect that this is aimed at extricating the frustrated and desperate African youth from being induced to join radical and extremist groups by introducing projects and schemes that could divert them from falling prey to agitation of forces that have vowed to unseat mainstream actors accused of being sources of their deprivation and marginalization.”
From this African perspective therefore, the summit again is an opportunity for the participating leaders to have a dialogue (also obviously on a bilateral basis with the American President), and as Balogh mentioned, “to strengthen the partnership between the U.S. and the continent of Africa as a whole to work closer together on issues of development, peace and security with society-wide repercussions,” which then may create a better environment for young people to feel integrated, and by finding jobs and opportunities, to stay in their countries.
Any strengthened American Africa-policy and a new phase of U.S.-Africa relations can have an effect on Euro-African relations, too. Although the summit might mean little in the end from a German perspective, German interests – broadly speaking – can only benefit from a newly defined U.S. involvement on the continent.
“Germany has a relatively well-developed agenda of economic relations with selected countries, spearheaded by South Africa, but also Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana or Kenya. It hosted various small scale summits and there is a new ‘partnership with Africa’ initiative by the German foreign ministry,” said Meckelburg.
With many different countries, the benefits of the summit for Africa will vary according to individual countries. “Almost all of the leaders will return from the summit having had great photos beamed back home. The contact African leaders will have with executives at major U.S. companies, however, could lead to more investments by American firms in their home country,” said Moffett.
“For the U.S., the main benefit will be an increase in awareness, which is good for U.S. companies that have been urging for more focus on Africa. It will also benefit civil society and groups, such as CARE, Refugees International, Doctors Without Borders etc., who have been asking for a heightened focus on human rights and refugee issues,” Moffett told AFKInsider.
Istvan Tarrosy is assistant professor of political science and director of the Africa Research Center at the University of Pecs, Hungary. He was Fulbright Visiting Research Fellow at the Center for African Studies, University of Florida in 2013 and early 2014. He is co-editor of “The African State in a Changing Global Context, Breakdowns and Transformations” (Berlin, 2010) and editor of “Afrika Tanulmanyok,” the Hungarian journal of African Studies.