What's behind US overtures to Africa?
By Stephen Ndegwa  ·  2022-12-22  ·   Source: China.org.cn


The White House is seen in Washington, D.C., the United States, on Nov. 30, 2022. [Photo/cfp.cn] 

U.S. President Joe Biden will host dozens of leaders from African countries in Washington this week. During the three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, running from Dec. 13 to 15, the U.S. is expected to focus on improving cooperation with African countries in multiple sectors.

It is the second summit between a U.S. president and the heads of African countries after the first one was held by then-President Barack Obama in 2014. The upcoming summit will be an opportunity for the U.S. to narrow its trust gaps with the African continent.

At the opening of the first U.S.-African Leaders Summit in August 2014, Obama talked about his "African heritage" and made commitments to strengthen U.S. cooperation with African countries in multiple areas, such as trade, governance and security.

However, the relationship between the U.S. and Africa has not improved significantly over the past few years. Those goals set at the first summit have turned out to be nothing.

Several days before the summit, the White House announced that Biden would use the gathering to declare his support for adding the African Union (AU) as a permanent member of the G20. Along with the announcement, White House adviser Judd Devermont said there is a dire need for "more African voices in international conversations."

Are these signs that the U.S. has finally started to care about Africa?

Most certainly not.

In recent years, Africa has become increasingly influential on the global stage. In the fight against COVID-19, the continent proved its resilience by surviving the pandemic's social and economic devastation experienced in developed countries. Africa also has trillions of dollars in unexploited resources. Moreover, with a population of about 1.4 billion, most of whom are youth, Africa also has a vast untapped market.

As such, it is unlikely that the U.S. hasn't realized Africa's potential all these years. Despite the latest show of "goodwill," it is difficult to believe that the U.S. is not using the rising political forces of Africa to meet its own strategic needs, especially regarding its own economic headwinds.

Given all these factors, one might raise questions about the real intention of the revised U.S. strategy towards Sub-Saharan Africa, announced in August. It pointed out that Sub-Saharan Africa's governments, institutions, and people will play a crucial role in solving global challenges. The continent hosts vast natural resources and will be home to one-quarter of the world's population by 2050.

The U.S. has long stigmatized China's financial support and loan assistance to Africa. However, Sino-African cooperation in multiple areas has facilitated African countries to achieve solid and sustainable development.

For example, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, first held in 2000, has become a regular event every three years in Beijing. It has developed into a multilateral platform to promote cooperation and development between China and African countries regarding trade, people-to-people exchanges and security. It has served as a resource for African nations to materialize rapid economic and social development, achieving substantive progress in infrastructure and technology.

In 2009, China overtook the U.S. as Africa's largest trading partner. Trade between China and African countries reached a record high of $254 billion last year. The U.S. is the fourth largest trading partner of Sub-Saharan Africa, but their two-way trade in goods has declined since the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

After all the failed pledges and commitments, which have left the African continent struggling in growing frustration, the U.S. has to make greater efforts to show its goodwill and friendship to the African nations to ensure development and improve people's well-being on the continent more pragmatically.

The author is the executive director of South-South Dialogues, a Nairobi-based development and communication think tank.

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