Eight years have passed since, in 2014, the Obama Administration hosted dozens of the top leaders running the African continent to try to deepen relations between the two vast territories. This December, just weeks before Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov begins his tour of several African countries in early January, it was Biden who led another meeting with his African counterparts. This is the second meeting of its kind so far this century.
Thus, on Tuesday 13 December, the city of Washington was visited by almost fifty African heads of state and government (including the notable absences of Guinea-Conakry, Sudan, Mali and Burkina Faso, as well as those of Eritrea and representatives of the Polisario), as well as important figures from the African Union, who will remain for the three days of the summit, and who will address issues such as food security - in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and in the face of the effects of climate change - security and defence challenges, China's influence in Africa, and mutual investment opportunities.
There are three main ways in which the Biden Administration is working to deepen partnerships that foster African innovation," said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his remarks in the Benjamin Franklin Conference Room: investing in infrastructure to lay the foundation for African entrepreneurship, investing in emerging leaders, and encouraging greater involvement of US companies on the continent. "Africa doesn't need aid, it needs innovation," Blinken stressed, "and none of us can solve the regional challenges we face unless we work together".
The US-Africa Leaders' Summit thus began with a focus on civil society, and debates and roundtable discussions on health, security, climate change and government-to-government cooperation. Wednesday's event will focus on the Africa-US forum and bring together more than 300 companies, while Thursday will see high-level discussions on food security.
However, far from being purely diplomatic in a two-way sense, US efforts to improve its relations with Africa have second motivations: to distance the continent from Moscow's political, economic and commercial influence - in the context of the war in Ukraine - and to counterbalance China's economic presence in the continent.
The mobilisation of much of the West in defence of Ukraine has been one of the White House's greatest achievements during Biden's tenure, but some of the African countries that see themselves as most affected by the supply disruptions - being deeply dependent on imports of Russian and Ukrainian grain and cereals - have placed themselves in the bloc of nations that refuse to condemn the Russian attack, claiming that there is "little benefit in angering Moscow". This is despite the African Union's official position condemning the invasion.
In this scenario, the United States announced a few days ago - through the White House National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan - that, within the framework of the summit, Biden would promise new aid of 55 billion dollars for Africa. Although this money does not depend on the approval of the government, but rather on the US Congress, it is intended to demonstrate the country's commitment to the African continent, in economic, health and security matters, over the next three years. Likewise, and to show his intention to ensure that the commitment lasts over time, Sullivan stated that a specific post will also be created to ensure that the agreements reached during this summit become a reality. The post will be filled by Johnie Carson, the former head of Africa at the State Department between 2009 and 2013.
According to Sullivan, the Democratic president also plans to express his support for the African Union joining the G20 as a permanent member, as well as calling on the UN Security Council to expand its permanent and non-permanent membership so that one of the African countries has a permanent seat on the body. "We need more African voices in international conversations on the global economy, democracy and governance, climate change, health and security," was the premise with which White House adviser Judd Devermont explained these plans.
On the other flank of the US on Africa is China's growing influence. On the basis of the "China-Africa Cooperation" forum - held every three years since the turn of the millennium -, Beijing's support for liberation movements against colonial rule, and China's huge commercial and economic investment in the "New Silk Road" (or "Belt and Road") project, the Asian giant is the continent's largest trading partner. This is something that works in both directions, and that last year 2021 exceeded 254 billion dollars. Four times the trade between the United States and Africa.
Against this backdrop, the U.S.-Africa Leaders' Summit has served the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce, Don Graves, to recognise that Washington has fallen behind China, but that it remains "partner of choice" for Africans. "US investors and businesses have some catching up to do," Graves was quoted by the AP as saying at an event organised by the media outlet Semaphor. He added: "But we are bringing the best technologies and innovations, the highest standards. The US is helping to build the capacity of partner countries, not exploit them.
Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra