The US-Africa Summit: Revitalizing the Relationship with Renewed Cooperation

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“We’re all in on Africa’s future”

US President Joe Biden

“African success and prosperity are essential for a better future for all of us, not just for Africa” – this remark of the US president and the previous one show the total intention of the current US administration- which is the reengagement in the African continent, for now, the commitments showed by them and the agreements indicate that it will be of an economic revitalization of relations. President Joe Biden met 49 African leaders in the three-day-long US-Africa Summit in Washington DC. After years of the continent taking a second seat to other U.S. objectives while China made inroads with investments and commerce, President Joe Biden announced an agreement on December 14 with the goal of strengthening trade connections between the United States and Africa. Besides, there were some agreements signed by different government and private organs. This summit thus helps to reincarnate the relations between the two actors since it was not on the table with clarity for a long. But there will be some implications since there are other extra-regional actors involved in the economic and strategic domain. So understanding the dimensions and assessing the ramifications will open up to acknowledge the key factors of revitalization of the relationship.

However, 2014 saw the first such summit. Barack Obama, who was president at the time, promised to usher in a new era of relations between the US and the continent. Obama worked to strengthen ties, but he also lowered foreign aid to the continent and curtailed financing for the fight against AIDS in Africa. The Trump administration then purposefully overlooked Africa for four years. Trump never took a ride to Africa, a visit by the president is traditionally seen as a sign of a commitment to a bilateral partnership and it was absent in his tenure. Obama’s visit to Kenya and Ethiopia in July 2015 was the most recent tour made by an American president.

But, since 2021, the U.S. Government has assisted in the closing of more than 800 bilateral trade and investment agreements spanning 47 African nations, with a total estimated value of over $18 billion. In addition, the U.S. private sector has completed $8.6 billion worth of investment agreements in Africa. In 2021, the United States traded $83.6 billion worth of goods and services with Africa. The PGII, Prosper Africa, and Power Africa overarching initiatives are supported by these investments and projects.

For the summit, on the agenda- issues are the Covid epidemic, climate change, and commerce, as well as how Ukraine war has affected food supplies in Africa. Besides the ever-growing Chinese influence in the region should also be taken into account as it is also got influenced by the absence of strong US policies regarding Africa. Hence, the conference gave Washington a sense of normalcy again. The paper will discuss the issues raised during the summit and the ramifications also.

President Biden unveiled pledges, agreements, and collaborations totaling more than $15 billion in two-way trade and investment from numerous American businesses in sectors including sustainable energy, internet access, gender equality, and agriculture.

The $55 billion provided by the Biden administration will be used to address concerns such as trade agreements, climate change, and food security. During the events, Biden is anticipated to support the inclusion of the African Union as a permanent member of the Group of 20 major economies. Moreover, a landmark pact with the African Continental Free Trade Area, according to Biden, will provide American businesses access to 1.3 billion people and a $3.4 trillion market. He named businesses that had transacted trade at the summit, notably Cisco Systems Inc. and General Electric Co.

Besides, The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to promote organizations that will hasten sustained economic progress throughout the continent. Moreover, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) has also signed a number of agreements.

Apart from that, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) has unveiled upwards of 15 new initiatives aimed at generating more than $500 million in increased competitiveness for American businesses and unlocking close to $1 billion in financing for Africa’s clean energy, digital, and healthcare infrastructure priorities.

A new phenomena was raised during the session. Biden addressed what he termed USA’s “original sin” – the slavery of millions of people – and recognized their heirs as well as the larger African diaspora community in the United States during a White House luncheon honoring African leaders and their spouses.

On the political side, for a debate on elections and democratic ideals, Biden met with leaders from Gabon, Liberia, and other to examine various elections in 2023.

But there are some challenges to cope with the arrangements made during the sessions. Since 1991, Chinese foreign ministers each new year visited Africa. Furthermore, China has extended its diplomatic reach to all states regardless of whether they uphold democracy or human rights; in contrast, the United States has been harshly critical of the human rights abuses occurring on the continent, and five African countries were not invited to the summit. Four of them—Guinea, Sudan, Mali, and Burkina Faso—were expelled from the African Union, according to the White House, for changing their governments in an unlawful manner. The fifth, Eritrea, has no official relations with the United States. This will hinder to get support from a unified Africa.

Another confronting actor for US on the continent is Russia. The White House thinks Moscow views the continent as a welcoming environment for oligarchs with ties to the Kremlin and private defense corporations to profit off regional instability and violence. Moscow has emerged as Africa’s top arms trader. The White House has expressed concern that a large portion of the continent has not denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, although national security adviser Jake Sullivan had stated that there will be no economic repercussions. Africa has been disproportionately affected by the increase in food costs worldwide, which is partly due to a decrease in exports from Ukraine, a key exporter of grains.

Ramifications: Mostly Economic and Political Domain Centric

In the political and diplomatic domain, a thrust for democratization can be experienced.  “In a year that has seen elections across Africa, we have worked together with the African Union to strengthen democracy and the core values that unite our people,” Biden urged. Freedom, opportunity, transparency, good government were the tags used by the president. It says that a surge of policies for the continent to democratize certain actors will be

In the economic domain, the accord of the first regional agreements will support regional economic integration, trade, and cross-border cooperation and will involve the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the authorities of Benin and Niger, and a total investment of $504 million. Benin and Niger will also contribute an additional $15 million.

In order to increase internet access and literacy throughout the continent, President Biden unveiled the Digital Transformation with Africa (DTA) program. In accordance with the African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy, this new project seeks to invest more than $350 million and secure more than $450 million in finance pledges for Africa.

Besides, by lowering the financial risk to lenders and promoting trade, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will keep encouraging financing of commercial exports of American agricultural products.

There will be investment on a need based manner and to cut short the pricing while making a fair share in profit by the African states since according to Kenyan President William Ruto, the United States should look for opportunities to invest rather than export commodities. He claims that the US has the equipment and the know-how necessary to make goods for the African continent there. In order to unlock this growth, Ruto noted predictions that the African agricultural sector will more than triple to $1 trillion by 2030. He claimed that U.S. funding can also help address the continent’s physical infrastructure deficit.

Moreover, China’s Belt and Road initiative has invested billions in infrastructure, energy, and other projects across Africa, giving Beijing more sway over the continent. The United States has sought to increase its own geopolitical wobble in the area, and American companies operating there see Africa as crucial as a developing market for their goods as well as a source of commodities like cobalt and lithium that are crucial to the burgeoning electric vehicle industry.

The visit plays a significant role to revitalize the relationship between the USA and the African continent. But there should be the discussion of strategic rivalries between China and USA. Moreover, there is a significant portion of military and security engagement in the region facilitated by the Russian government. So, the summit and the subsequent discussions showcase that the absence of the issue of strategic events will eventually not help the US to step into the full throttle of engagement without discussion of security postures in the region. That means the China and Russian factor should be discussed heavily in the policy domain of the US to get a grip on the region.

– Syed Raiyan Amir is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA). Previously, he served as a Research Assistant at United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and International Republican Institute (IRI).

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