As the US–Africa Leaders Summit in Washington drew to a close; African leaders took turns to pose for photographs with US President Barack Obama. The agenda of the summit was to discuss how to boost trade and investment and to talk about America’s commitment to security and democracy in Africa.
On its part, Uganda, just like many other African countries, expected the US to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Through AGOA, the US allows some African products duty–free access into the US. That way, some manufacturers operating in Africa are assured of market for their products. That creates job opportunities for people and helps to keep poverty at bay.
Uganda also wanted more US guarantees about security cooperation in the region being on frontiers in Somalia, South Sudan and Central African Republic. Also, some African countries wanted to change the narrative about the continent.
“There is a perception and there is reality,” said Senegal’s President Macky Sall.
“What you see in the media about one or two or three countries is not what is going on in the rest of the continent. Africa is 54 countries. They are all trying to build long lasting democracies,” Mr Sall told US media. “There is commitment to fight corruption, drug trafficking. There is more respect for human rights. Unfortunately, this is the good story that is not being told,” added Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete.
The timing of the Summit
Though Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian-born economist who analyses the macroeconomy, foreign aid impact, and global affairs, did not have the US–African Leaders Summit in mind, she captured the times when she noted in 2009 that “across Africa, China’s influence is seen as growing faster than America’s”. “For many Africans the benefits are all too real – there are now roads where there were no roads and jobs where there were no jobs,” she stated in her book, Dead Aid Why Aid is not working and how there is another way for Africa (2009).
Dr Frederick Kisekka–Ntale, a political analyst, said the summit happened because the big states think they must be seen to be engaging with Africa. “They want to keep up with the diplomacy rhythm. China has done it. Japan has done it. Britain does it through the Commonwealth,” Dr Kisekka–Ntale told the Sunday Monitor last week.
The China influence ($210b in bilateral trade with African in 2013 against US’s $85b) explains why invitations were also sent out to some of Africa’s longest serving leaders like Mr Nguema Obiang, who has ruled oil-rich Equatorial Guinea for 34 years, Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola for 34 years, among others, with whom the US has repetitively expressed discontent over several issues like human rights, and they tended to lean towards the East.
What did Africa get?
First, Obama said he was optimistic Congress will renew AGOA, which is due to expire in September 2015, to make it long term. AGOA started in 2000 after some American activists –unhappy with US protectionism – pushed Congress to support freer access for some African products into the US.
Second, Africa which is home to the 6 fastest growing economies, was assured the US has raised $26 billion (Shs67.6 trillion) to power Africa. Among the contributors to the Power Africa Initiative are Sweden, the World Bank and the US. Through the initiative, 60 million more African homes and business will be connected to electricity so as to spur [economic] growth. Many homes in Africa currently are not connected to electricity because they are either too poor to afford the connection fees or the electricity infrastructure is lacking. Some of the money will be funneled to aviation, banking and construction.
The details about when and how the $26 billion will be released to Africa and how long the initiative will run are still sketchy. Not mentioning all bilateral talks between individual Africa leaders and US businessmen, Mr Obama overall announced a total of $33 billion (Shs86 trillion) in investments and partnerships to Africa, which he said would spur development. US companies also pledged $14 billion (Shs36 trillion) in investments.
The US President on Tuesday admitted the fact brought to his attention by one Ugandan lady during a video conference, that Africa/Uganda does not need aid but rather equal business partnerships and commitments.
Regarding Uganda’s expectations on security, he said the US will provide additional equipment to African peacekeepers in Somalia and the Central African Republic and, “will join with six countries that in recent years have demonstrated a track record as peacekeepers -- Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda.
US Secretary of State John Kerry at a meeting with Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) member head of states, issued warning to South Sudan rebel leader Dr Riek Machar they accused of violating the ceasefire agreement and continuous spiraling violence in the conflict. Yet the US has in the past been critical of Uganda’s fighting alongside President Salva Kiir’ SPLA in the conflict which has since tuurned tribal, it’s not yet clear if the issue of pulling out troops was raised.
It costs the Ugandan taxpayers Shs7 billion monthly to maintain some Special Forces Command troops in S. Sudan where they have been since December 2013. The US, as the rebels at the ongoing peace talks in Ethiopia, have urged Uganda to pull-out to further meaningful discussions. However, Senator Kerry’s warnings could imply a shift in diplomatic goal posts during mediation and peace resolutions. With the Summit having taken place just as Ebola hit some countries in West Africa, the US said it would work urgently with the Liberians, the Sierra Leoneans and the Guineans to control an outbreak of the deadly disease.
What’s in this new–found friendship for the US?
The US says it wants to be an equal and long term partner in Africa’s success, and that it is not pushing for the partnership so that it could exploit Africa’s natural resources. Obama said a secure, prosperous and self–reliant Africa is in the national interests of the United States.
Noteworthy too is that President Obama said he wants to see more products with the label ‘Made in America’ sold in Africa. Even before the Summit, this was already happening in Uganda. According to the Bank of Uganda 2014 figures, Uganda’s imports from the US increased from $26.01 million (1999) to $118.11 million in 2013. This was due to increased import of the high–value items. According to the US Bureau of African Affairs, US exports to Uganda include machinery, optical and medical instruments, wheat and aircraft.
On the other hand, the Uganda exports coffee, cocoa, base metals and fish to the US. According to Bank of Uganda, Uganda’s exports to the US increased from $2.07 million in 1999 to $38.70 million (2013). The increase is, partly, attributed to increase of commodity prices over the years.
What more can be done to improve trade between Africa and the US?
Martin Meredith, in his book The State of Africa A History of Fifty Years of Independence, notes that industrialised countries – such as the US – operate a system of subsidies and tariff barriers that have a crippling effect on African producers. He says the US provides just 25, 000 cotton farmers with an annual subsidy of $4 billion.
As the African leaders take time to review the pictures they took with President Obama, they might want to consider if they had spent their time lobbying the US administration to do boost the continent’s bilateral trade in terms of agriculture.