US-AU summit: Is it time to update US policy on Africa?

What you need to know:

  • African countries are continuing to be undermined and facing persistent humiliation on the global stage where the US holds much influence.  

In July, the Biden administration announced that the United States will hold a summit that is set to bring together leaders from across the African continent for a major summit in Washington. The statement issued by the Biden Administration read, “I’m looking forward to hosting leaders from across African continent in Washing DC on December 13-15, 2022, for the US-African leaders summit. The summit will demonstrate the United States’ enduring commitment to Africa and will underscore the importance of US-Africa relations and increased cooperation on shared global priorities. 

However, this summit comes at a point when US-Africa relations have been shrinking and rival countries such as China, Russia, and Turkey are making more headway on the African continent.

It’s so surprising that the US hasn’t updated its views on Africa, for centuries, the US still views Africa as a place for humanitarian crises and as fertile grounds for competition between global power. There is an Internet meme that has been trending among the African elite that reads “When China is in Africa, it’s talking about investment but when the US is in Africa, it’s talking about China”.

The level of economic engagement and trade between the US and Africa has declined significantly while the battle for political and economic influence between US and China is taking a centre stage on the continent. 

Statistics indicate that China, US’ top rival is now Africa’s biggest trading partner and it continues to position itself as Africa’s infrastructural vanguard, Since 2005, the total trade value of Chinese investment and construction in Africa is about $2 trillion according to the American Enterprise Institute(AEI) a China global investment tracker.

US’ indifferent approach to African issues has left African leaders presuming that the West has very little interest on the continent minus extracting their mineral resources such as gold and oil.  Former US president Donald Trump openly used derogatory statements describing African countries as “shitholes” and in 2006, the 42nd US president George W Bush collectively referred to the African continent as a single country yet Africa has over 50 sovereign states.

African countries are continuing to be undermined and facing persistent humiliation on the global stage where the US holds much influence. A good example is the UN Security Council where the US is a permanent member. 

President Museveni and other African leaders have been advocating to have Africa’s representative on the UN Security Council in vain. However, countries with small populations compared to some African countries such as Nigeria or Ethiopia are members of the UN Security Council yet there is no single country to represent more than1.2 billion people on the African continent.

Former US president Donald Trump never visited Africa throughout his four-year term in the White House. Had it not been for the recent international conference on climate change, Joe Biden by this time would have not visited Africa to specifically address African issues yet he has already visited Europe and the Middle East.

This portrays a low level on which African issues are to Washington. Besides having the majority number of fastest growing economies, Africa has the youngest population in the world with the average median age being 19 compared to the Middle East where is at 30, South Asia at 38, and 45 for Europe.  

This indicates that Africa has the potential to turn into a continent with a future vibrant labour force, future buyers, and consumers that will form a large pool of Africa’s middle class. It’s time for Washington to get back to the drawing board and re-examine its approach to the African continent.  Africa is no longer a continent of problems but a place of great potential.

Steven Akabwayi, [email protected] 

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