Biden administration seeks to strengthen ties with US-Africa Summit

The first US-Africa summit was hosted by former President Barack Obama in 2014.

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The Biden-Harris administration this week will host a three-day summit on Africa in partnership with the African Union. The US-Africa Summit is a first for President Joe Biden, who has yet to visit the continent of Africa as president; however, sources close to the administration tell theGrio to “stay tuned” on the president’s travels.

US President Joe Biden talks with South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa at the G7 summit in Carbis Bay on June 12, 2021 in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, along with cabinet and administration officials, are expected to take part in the summit, which will facilitate global dialogue on peace, food security, and trade, among other major topics, that impact sub-Saharan Africa. A total of 49 African leaders have been invited to Washington, D.C., for the summit. 

This past summer, the Biden-Harris administration released its “U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa,” which highlights key objectives for the U.S., like advancing democracy, adapting to climate change, and supporting the continent’s energy transition.

An administration official close to the planning of this week’s global forum told theGrio, “this summit is really an opportunity to help highlight how the United States and African nations are strengthening our partnerships in order to advance shared priorities.”

The White House quantifies the importance of sub-Saharan Africa as one of the world’s fastest-growing populations, largest free trade areas, and most diverse ecosystems.

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Greg Meeks, D-N.Y., told theGrio exclusively, “There has never been a better time to work with our African partners to help our partnerships evolve beyond the aid narrative, deepen commercial ties, and reaffirm our commitment to equity and African agency.”

“As the first Black chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who has been elevating U.S.-Africa relations, I am pleased to see the second Africa Leaders Summit taking place against the backdrop of a new U.S. Africa Strategy.” 

US President Barack Obama speaks during a town hall meeting at the Summit of the Washington Fellowship for the Young African Leaders Initiative(YALI) in Washington, DC on July 28, 2014. (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

The first US-Africa summit was hosted by former President Barack Obama in 2014. At the time, it was the largest event any U.S. President had held with African heads of state. Many of Obama’s summit focus was similar to this year’s agenda. White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told theGrio that’s “not surprising.” 

“These are not topics that get resolved in four years or 40 years,” said Sullivan during Monday’s press briefing. “They are the topics upon which durable partnerships get built at a government to government level, business to business, and people to people.”

Strategically, Africa is important to the United States for a host of reasons, but especially for national security. The U.S. has supported democratic rule on the continent, where many countries have not fully embraced democracy and the rule of law. As a consequence, some parts of Africa have become breeding grounds for terrorist activity. 

In the past decades, particularly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. and the rampage of ISIS, President George W. Bush’s administration had been working with sub-Saharan African nations to start extraditing criminals to the United States who were accused of committing acts of terrorism against the United States.

Sullivan said health security will also be a major focus of the summit, telling theGrio that President Biden will “talk about the support that we flowed to Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic and the work we are now doing to help Africa stand up its own capacity to manufacture vaccines and therapeutics going forward.”

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks to the press at the White House on November 10, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

A little-known fact on the topic of health, W. Bush was considered the U.S. president who did the most for Africa, due to his administration’s work with PEPFAR, an effort to combat the spread of AIDS and malaria in the continent. Former Bush advisor Karl Rove reminds, “it was a very impressive effort” that was “generously funded by the American people” despite there being a “reluctance of the rest of the West.”

Rove added, “It made a huge difference in stopping the spread of AIDS and restoring health to millions of people across the continent. An amazing effort we ought to be very proud of what it did to help people in need.”

While the range of global issues discussed during this year’s summit seems like overlap throughout recent decades, Sullivan emphasized that the agenda wasn’t simply set by the U.S.  based on what “matters the most to us,” but rather set “in consultation with our African partners on the issues that matter most to them into our shared future.”

Not all member states of the African Union were invited to participate in this year’s US-Africa summit. A source told theGrio that, “currently, there are four countries who are suspended from the African Union for undemocratic military transitions of power, and they currently have transitional governments.” Those nations are Sudan, Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso. Eritrea was not invited because they do not have full diplomatic relations with the U.S., and Western Sahara was not invited because the U.S. does that recognize the disputed territory, an administration official said.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (C) and other leaders are seen before posing for a photo following attending the 35th session of the African Union Summit kicks off in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on February 05, 2022. (Photo by Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

During the US-Africa summit, there will be discussions about the extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which was signed into law more than 20 years ago. The legislation provides trade preferences for quota and duty-free entry into the United States for certain goods. It is meant to assist the economies of sub-Saharan Africa and improve economic relations between the United States and the region.

Tuesday, day one of the summit, will see Vice President Harris deliver remarks at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit’s African and Diaspora Young Leaders Forum at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Vice President Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will also join President Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden as they host the U.S.-African Leader’s Summit dinner in the East Room. Earlier on Tuesday, President Biden will deliver remarks at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum. The president will also participate in several sessions on Thursday at Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The United States kicks off the US-Africa Summit, having already announced a commitment of $55 billion to help address some of the top priorities for the continent, something Sullivan said is done “in very specific tangible ways in partnership with African nations.” Still, he said, “We’re never satisfied with the progress we’ve made.” 

“There’s always more work to do,” he explained.

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