US rolls out red carpet, opens wallet for African leaders

Washington, United States/AFP

The United States on Tuesday rolled out the red carpet to leaders from across Africa as it started unveiling $55 billion in support as part of a renewed bid to win back influence on the continent.

Nearly 50 heads of state or government have descended on Washington in the midst of a pre-Christmas cold snap for three days of courtship by President Joe Biden after years of inroads in the continent by China and Russia.

Biden plans to unveil $55 billion for Africa over three years. In one of the first announcements, the White House said the United States would invest $4 billion by the 2025 fiscal year to train African health workers, a rising priority for Washington since the Covid-19 pandemic.

The summit’s first day also brought in NASA, with Nigeria and Rwanda becoming the first African nations to sign the Artemis accords, a US-led bid for international cooperation on traveling to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

The Artemis accords, which already include European allies, Japan and several Latin American powers, come as China rapidly expands its own lunar program and as tensions with Russia threaten its post-Cold War work with the United States on space.

The summit will also address the immediate security concerns of Africa. US leaders met Tuesday with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, voicing guarded hope at progress in the turbulent country.

The United States “is fortunate to partner with Somalia’s courageous armed forces and will continue to support your government’s effort,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told him.

The Biden administration has identified China as its top global competitor but hopes to show a subtle contrast from Beijing during the summit rather than hammering home criticism.

“This is going to be about what we can offer. It’s going to be a positive proposition about the United States, its partnership with Africa,” Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, told reporters Monday.

“We are bringing the resources to the table in significant numbers,” he added.

Welcoming African entrepreneurs for a reception Monday evening, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was guided by the principle of partnership.

“We can’t solve any of the really big challenges we face if we don’t work together. So it’s about what we can do with African nations and people, not for them,” Blinken said.

 

– Push on democracy –

 

Biden during the summit will outline US support for the African Union to gain a formal berth in the Group of 20 club of major economies, months after he threw support behind a permanent African seat on the UN Security Council.

Unlike China, which holds summits every three years with Africa, the United States plans to promote democratic values.

Sullivan said Biden will meet with African leaders facing election in 2023.

“We would like to do everything we can to support those elections being free, fair and credible,” Sullivan said.

Successive US presidents have pursued signature initiatives for Africa, with George W. Bush launching a major push to fight HIV/AIDS that he considers among his top legacies and Barack Obama spearheading a drive to bring electricity, which US officials say has brought power for the first time to 165 million people.

Obama’s successor Donald Trump, by contrast, made no secret of his lack of interest in Africa, and Biden’s summit with the region’s leaders will be the first by a US president since Obama’s landmark first edition in 2014.

In the eight ensuing years, China’s investment in Africa has consistently outpaced that of the United States, with countries brushing aside US warnings that Beijing’s billions in infrastructure spending could put them in long-term arrears.

Ahead of the summit, China’s ambassador to Washington, Qin Gang, said that his country was “sincere” in Africa” and that its investment “is not a trap.”

“We believe that Africa should be a place for international cooperation, not for major powers’ competition for geopolitical gains,” he told an event of the news site Semafor.

“We welcome all other members of the international community, including the United States, to join us in the global efforts to help Africa.”

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