The Biden administration is holding a summit with some 40 leaders of African countries. The New York Times headline of its reporting on the summit is revealing:
Biden Is Bringing Africa’s Leaders to Washington, Hoping to Impress
“Bringing Africa’s Leaders to Washington”? Why not “invited African leaders to Washington”? Isn’t this reminiscent to the millions of Africans who had been “brought to America” in past centuries?
The U.S. is late in fostering better relations with Africa:
NAIROBI, Kenya — In Russia, Africa’s leaders were feted at a seaside resort where military aircraft for sale were parked outside the summit hall. In China, they dined with President Xi Jinping, some of them one-on-one, and received promises of investments worth $60 billion. In Turkey, they won support for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Now they are headed to Washington for a major summit hosted by President Biden — the latest diplomatic drive by a major foreign power seeking to strengthen its ties to Africa, a continent whose geopolitical clout has grown greatly in the past decade.
There is little hope that the U.S. will do better than other nations:
As the planes of over 40 African heads of state descend on Washington, a question looms: What can Mr. Biden offer that they want?
“The U.S. has traditionally seen Africa as a problem to be solved,” said Murithi Mutiga, Africa director at the International Crisis Group. “But its competitors see Africa as a place of opportunity, which is why they are pulling ahead. It’s unclear if this conference is going to change that.”
What the leaders from Africa demand is first of all respect:
Africa’s top diplomat says that, first of all, they want to be heard.
“When we talk, we’re often not listened to, or in any case, not with enough interest,” President Macky Sall of Senegal, who is president of the African Union, said in an interview in Dakar last Thursday. “This is what we want to change. And let no one tell us no, don’t work with so-and-so, just work with us. We want to work and trade with everyone.”
There is no serious attempt to really get into better relations with African countries:
There will be initiatives to tap the African diaspora for new ideas in higher education, creative industries and the environment and for collaborations with NASA on space programs. A guide for summit delegates, obtained by The New York Times, predicts that Africa’s “space economy” will grow 30 percent by 2024 — an opportunity for the U.S. to help with technologies to solve problems related to climate change, agriculture, security and illegal fishing and mining.
But there is little sign that Mr. Biden intends to launch a signature policy initiative like previous American administrations.
In short: it is a sales show and at least partly aimed at one of Biden’s constituent groups – ‘diaspora Africans’.
There is not much to expect from the meeting but empty words and not so empty threats. Yesterday, the day before the first summit meeting is supposed to take place, the Biden administration set the tone by … sanctioning African leaders:
The Biden administration on Monday slapped corruption sanctions on the son of Zimbabwe’s president as the U.S. prepares to host a major summit of African leaders in Washington.
The Treasury Department announced it was hitting four Zimbabwean people and two companies with penalties for their roles in undermining democracy and facilitating high-level graft. Those sanctioned include Emmerson Mnangagwa, Jr., the son of the previously sanctioned Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
“We urge the Zimbabwean government to take meaningful steps towards creating a peaceful, prosperous, and politically vibrant Zimbabwe, and to address the root causes of many of Zimbabwe’s ills: corrupt elites and their abuse of the country’s institutions for their personal benefit,” Treasury said in a statement.
“The goal of sanctions is behavior change,” it said. “Today’s actions demonstrate our support for a transparent and prosperous Zimbabwe.”
I fail to find a participants list for the summit at the State Department’s Africa Summit page. But I am pretty sure that Zimbabwe as well as ten plus other member states of the African Union will not be present. It would be interesting to learn who those are.
Sanctions are typically reviewed by the National Security Council before they are enacted by the Treasury. That the White House let these pass at this time means that the move is intentional.
Those who are coming will notice this well timed action against the leadership of one of their fellow countries. It is likely supposed to intimidate them: “Watch what could happen to You!”
But times have changed. I doubt that they will fall for such a cheap trick.