WASHINGTON, D.C. — On August 4, United States President Barack Obama will be spending his birthday preparing for the first ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the first of its kind to be held in Washington, D.C. following the January announcement by the White House.
The summit will last for roughly three days, beginning at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time on August 4 and ending at 5 p.m. on August 6. The event will cover a wide variety of issues pertinent to the continent, ranging from climate change and civil society to women’s health and wildlife trafficking. The ultimate focus, as the White House stated, is to “advance the Administration’s focus on trade and investment in Africa, and highlight America’s commitment to Africa’s security, its democratic development, and its people.”
Although Obama has touted the event as an excellent opportunity to discuss economic, social and political issues implicit to the continent, the White House has reserved the most time for business dialogue in the U.S.-Africa Business Forum on August 5.
Although the administration publicly views the summit as a venue to discuss vital social and political issues between the U.S. and Africa, Obama will most certainly want to focus on the future of the economic partnership between select countries in Africa and the U.S.
As the Brookings Institute recently observed, the U.S. is a top investor in the African continent, and pours massive Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) funds into resource-rich countries like South Africa, Nigeria and Mauritius. No doubt the U.S. is interested in maintaining its lofty investor status within key countries in Africa, but the U.S. is not universally the biggest investor in all African countries. In fact, China, the European Union and Russia out-invest the U.S. in many African nations, and the U.S. has significant potential to become a bigger influence in the continent; however, the summit will most likely be an opportunity for the U.S. to cement its current interests, not form substantively new ones.
Indeed, the event will be the first effort by U.S. leadership to host an African summit, but other groups have hosted similar summits before. China, India, Japan and the European Union have all hosted their own summits before and with similar focuses. Moreover, no single African leader will have one-on-one time with the president. The summit will consist of forums to discuss their ideas in front of their other African counterparts.
The event is not a game changer, nor is going to substantially change the way the U.S. interacts with African nations or the continent at large. The summit is instead a short event that will allow the Obama administration to focus on its utmost interests in Africa—maintaining economic partnerships with extraction-focused economies and not necessarily emphasizing the broader social issues of poverty and security.
– Joseph McAdams
Sources: U.S. News, The White House 1, The White House 2, Brookings
Photo: 4th Media