Biden aims to close confidence gap with US-Africa leaders summit – Boston News, Weather, Sports

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will host dozens of African leaders in Washington this week as the White House seeks to close a gaping trust gap with Africa — one that has widened over years of frustration with America’s commitment to the US Continent.

Ahead of the three-day US-Africa summit that begins Tuesday, Biden administration officials downplayed their growing concerns about China’s and Russia’s influence in Africa, home to more than 1.3 billion people. Instead, administration officials tried to focus on their efforts to improve collaboration with African leaders.

“This summit is an opportunity to deepen the many partnerships we have on the African continent,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre when asked about the shadow China and Russia are casting on the meetings . “We will focus on our efforts to strengthen these partnerships across a variety of sectors ranging from business to health to peace and security, but our focus next week will be Africa.”

To that end, White House officials said “significant outcomes and initiatives” — diplomatic speech for big announcements — will be peppered during the meetings. The White House made a key announcement from the summit on Friday, saying Biden would use the gathering to declare his support for the African Union’s inclusion as a permanent member of the Group of 20 nations.

The summit will be the largest international gathering in Washington since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Local officials are warning residents to prepare for roadblocks and increased security as 49 invited heads of state and leaders — and Biden — streak through the city.

White House officials said talks are expected to focus on the coronavirus, climate change, the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Africa, trade and more. Biden will make remarks at a US-Africa business forum, hold small group meetings with executives, host an executive dinner at the White House and participate in other sessions with executives during the meeting.

Biden has spent much of his first two years in office allaying doubters about American leadership on the international stage after four years of Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy. With this summit — a follow-up to the first of its kind held by President Barack Obama eight years ago — Biden has an opportunity to allay concerns in Africa about whether the US is serious about looking after the relationship.

Biden’s efforts to bring African nations closer to the US come at a difficult time, as his administration has made it clear that it believes Chinese and Russian activities in Africa pose a serious problem to US and African interests.

In its strategy for sub-Saharan Africa unveiled in August, the Biden administration warned that China, which has pumped billions into African energy, infrastructure and other projects, sees the region as an arena in which Beijing “challenges the rules-based international order and may advance its own narrow commercial and geopolitical interests undermining transparency and openness.”

The government also argues that Russia, the pre-eminent arms dealer in Africa, sees the continent as a tolerant environment for Kremlin-linked oligarchs and private military companies to focus on fomenting instability for their own strategic and financial gain.

However, government officials emphasize that concerns about China and Russia will not be the focus of the talks.

“The United States is prioritizing our relationship with Africa in the interest of our common interests and our partnership in addressing global challenges,” Molly Phee, deputy secretary of state for African affairs, told reporters ahead of the summit. “We are again acutely aware of the history of the Cold War, we are again acutely aware of the detrimental effects of colonialism on Africa, and we are keen to avoid repeating some of the mistakes of those earlier eras.”

The government has been disappointed that much of the continent has refused to follow the US in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Biden is not expected to publicly address differences.

The President is expected to attend a session with leaders on promoting food security and food systems resilience. Africa has been disproportionately affected by the global rise in food prices, which was partly caused by a drop in shipments from major grain exporter Ukraine.

“One of the unique aspects of this summit is the collateral damage that the Russian war has done to Africa in terms of food supplies and the diversion of development aid to Ukraine. The opportunity cost of invasion was very high in Africa,” said John Stremlau, visiting professor of international relations at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Four countries excluded from the African Union – Guinea, Sudan, Mali and Burkina Faso – were not invited to the summit because coups in those countries resulted in unconstitutional transfers of power. The White House has also not invited the East African nation of Eritrea; Washington does not maintain full diplomatic ties with the country.

Biden’s decision to invite several leaders with questionable records on human rights and democracy to the summit is before the gathering.

Equatorial Guinea was invited despite the Foreign Ministry saying it had “serious doubts” about last month’s elections in the tiny Central African country. Opposition parties “made credible allegations of significant election-related irregularities, including documented instances of fraud, intimidation and coercion,” according to the department. Election officials reported that President Teodoro Obiang’s ruling party received almost 95% of the vote.

Zimbabwe, which has faced years of US and Western sanctions over poor governance, human rights abuses and widespread corruption, was also invited.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took power from longtime ruler Robert Mugabe in 2017, has tried to portray himself as a reformer, but local and international human rights activists accuse him of as bad or even worse repression than Mugabe.

Although Mnangagwa, like Mugabe, has close ties with China and Russia, he has also sought to befriend the US and other Western countries to bolster his legitimacy.

In a national address delivered in November in a new multi-million dollar Chinese-donated parliament building, Mnangagwa handed over the invitation to the US-Africa summit as a mark of his government’s success. He said the South African country welcomed the invitation but also called for the “unconditional” lifting of sanctions, which he blames for Zimbabwe’s debilitating economic woes.

“The focus remains on dialogue,” Mnangagwa said.

Ethiopia received an invitation, although Biden announced late last year that he would exclude the country from a US trade program known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act because Ethiopia failed to end a war in the Tigray region, which resulted in “gross violations” of human rights. A peace deal was signed last month, but implementation faces major challenges such as the continued presence of troops from neighboring Eritrea.

Analysts say African leaders will expect Biden to make some key commitments during the summit, including announcing his first presidential visit to sub-Saharan Africa, efforts to strengthen the continent’s economy through private sector investment and trade, and more.

Perhaps most importantly, it could be an opportunity for Biden to show that Africa is more than a battleground in its economic and military competition with Beijing and Moscow.

“I firmly believe that the United States is still viewed as a superpower from an African perspective, but most African leaders do not want to join their promotion of democracy,” said Abraham Kuol Nyuon, a policy analyst and associate professor of political science at the university of Juba in South Sudan. “They need America’s support, but not America’s system.”


Mutsaka reported from Harare, Zimbabwe and Magome from Johannesburg. Associated Press writers Cara Anna in Nairobi, Kenya, and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.)

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Sarah Y. Kim

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