Joe Biden’s message at the first US-Africa summit in eight years also included implicit self-criticism: “We have long known that a prosperous Africa is essential to a better future for all of us,” he said. The American President is courting 49 delegations from African countries this week. He talks about the America-Africa partnership in the 21st century and how it must go beyond aid. It must be about investment to unleash the power of the private sector.
At a business forum with representatives from 300 American and African companies, he spoke about the expansion of roads, the Internet and renewable energies, and announced that trade relations were to be significantly strengthened. Biden said a new deal with the free trade area of African Union (AU) member states will give American companies access to 1.3 billion people and a huge market.
Africa’s restraint in the Ukraine war
The President’s words always resonated: All of this has been neglected in the past. China, Russia, but also Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are heavily involved in Africa. For Beijing, a major lender for infrastructure projects, the continent has long been part of its sphere of influence, not least to gain access to mineral resources. China’s trade volume with Africa is four times that of the United States. Russia, on the other hand, is the largest arms dealer in sub-Saharan Africa and is involved in politics in Mali, for example with the Wagner mercenary group.
All of this is not without consequences: this year the American government felt the geopolitical price of having left the continent to other powers in a special way. When, after the Russian attack on Ukraine in the spring, Biden tried to convince the international community to isolate Moscow politically and sanction it economically, he encountered reluctance in many African countries, and sometimes even rejection. When the United Nations General Assembly condemned Putin’s war, many African member states abstained. Washington wants to learn lessons from all of this.
Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, said the summit was grounded in the recognition that Africa was a key geopolitical player. The continent will shape the future not only of the African people but also of the world. In view of Moscow’s neo-imperial aggression, the security strategy presented by the American government in October stated that Russia, as a declining authoritarian power, could be just as dangerous in the short term as an ascending one. In the long term, however, China’s ambitions remained the greatest challenge for the United States.
Africa is the theater of the great powers
Even if Biden did not mention Beijing in his speech on Wednesday, the summit made it clear that Africa has long been the scene of a new “great game” between the great powers. It is the first summit of this kind since 2014, which was hosted by President Barack Obama at the time. Obama, son of a Kenyan, started an initiative to electrify the continent. His predecessor, George W. Bush, was primarily involved in the fight against HIV. Under Donald Trump, Africa played a subordinate role for the United States.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Biden administration promised the African states funds of 55 billion dollars – among other things to deal with the food crisis and the consequences of climate change. The President is also expected to support the political initiative to make the AU a permanent member of the G-20. Mali, Guinea, Sudan and Burkina Faso were not invited to Washington. The AU suspended its membership because of military coups. Eritrea is also absent because the United States does not maintain normal diplomatic contacts with the country due to the armed conflict with Ethiopia.