BY CHARLES ONUNAIJU
The much anticipated U.S – Africa Leaders’ Summit has held in Washington, The United States of America from the 13th to 15th of December. As expected it drew considerable media attention. Coming eight years after the first summit was held in 2014, it did not have much to look back in terms of antecedents and continuity. There was virtually nothing about 2014 inaugural Summit. Between then and now, Power Africa, the signature initiative of former president Barack Obama to double access to power in sub – Saharan Africa, where more than two thirds of the population are without electricity and more than 85% of those living in rural areas lack access to electricity, has mostly floundered.
Mr. John Rice, vice chairman of the U.S based General Electric gave a scathing verdict several years after the initiative that there have been some good initiatives contemplated, Power Africa being one of them but if you look today at the number of megawatts that are actually on the grid directly from the Power Africa Initiative, it is very little;. Even the initial phase of the project aimed to add “more than 10,000 MW of cleaner, more efficient electricity generation capacity targeted to increase electricity access by at least 20 million new households to its ultimate destination of “adding 30,000 MW of cleaning electricity and increasing access to 60million new connections designed to be invested with about 7 billion U.S dollars got nowhere. Six countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania were lined up for the phase ending in 2018. By the end of that year the former chairman of the Nigeria Electricity Regulation Commission told an American Newspaper, “I am not aware of any concrete plans for power plants that have emerged as a result of Power Africa”. Prosper Africa, another initiative launched in 2018 was designed to substantially increase two-way trade and investment between the United States and Africa. By the end of 2021 prior to the second Washington Summit delivered a paltry two-way trade of just 64 billion U.S dollars, less than one percent of U.S total global trade.The Africa growth opportunity Act, (AGOA) passed at the turn of the century renewed in 2015 and due to expire in 2025 has added little or no momentum at all to U.S – Africa economic exchanges.
The U.S – Africa leaders’ summit which just concluded in Washington was not short of lofty rhetoric. President Joe Biden told his guests “we are all in on Africa’s future” and followed with announcement of 55 billion USD in commitments. However, the President underscored that only 15 billion USD are new commitments, which translate that the bulk of the headlined 55 billion USD comes from initiatives that have already been announced in the past fora. Some observers noted that “while there were a few interesting investment announcements and commitments, the overall feelings, while observing the U.S. Africa Business Forum was watching an assemblage of disparate deals scraped from any, presentable enough commitment to make an impression that in President Biden’s words “the U.S is all in on Africa’s future”.
Beyond the glitters of the Washington Summit, there are no roadmaps benchmarks, timelines, specific deliverables to give concrete momentum to the existing modest commercial and economic intercourse between the two sides. The Summit which has opportunity to invigorate the existing cooperation was over the board in haranguing the private sector of both sides to hug themselves as if that is not happening already, but rather fell far short of the institutional and other structural process to drive it on a sustainable basis. Definitely Washington is more enamored to Geo-politics than to the critical inputs that would support Africa in building self-propelling capacity. The summit itself was ostensibly inspired by geo-politics, an extension of Washington’s obsession to contain China and to lesser degree, Russia on a global scale , especially in region where Beijing footprints are boldly on the horizon.. The U.S strategy towards Sub-Saharan Africa, released in August made no pretense about the reason for Washington’s renewed interest in Africa. It has accused China of seeing Africa, “as an important arena to challenge the rules – based international order, advance its own narrow commercial and geopolitical interest… weaken U.S relations with Africa peoples and governments…., and work with African government, Civil societies and counter harmful activities by the PRC, Russia and other foreign actors”
And this is in spite of the warnings earlier by the chairman of the African Union and President of the Republic of Senegal, Mr. Macky Sall at the UN general Assembly that Africa has suffered enough of the burden of history, it does not want it to be breeding ground of a new cold war but rather a pole of stability and opportunity open to all its partners on a mutually beneficial basis. At the Washington Summit, President Biden promised support for the Africa Union to be admitted as permanent member of G20 exclusive club of top global economic performers. Already the group has significantly outreached to major International organizations and significant regional groups. Being more of a mechanism or process rather an organization, its agenda and outreach are constantly evolving and engaging critical global players is more in its best interest to stay relevant. African Countries need more of capacities to notch up their respective national aggregates and come to global top tables on their own than to be patronized to it, even worse as a group. Another eye catching sweetener of the Washington Summit was President Biden’s appointment of a special envoy to coordinate US new interest in Africa and drive the Summit’s outcomes. The mantle fell on ambassador Johnnie Carson. Mr. Carson comes with a baggage of condescending arrogance towards Africa. Prior to the Kenyan Presidential election in 2013, Mr. Carson, assistant secretary of state for Africa, warned Kenyan voters that whatever choice they make would have consequences. The comment was viewed with alarm across Africa and already, concerns are whether Mr. Carson would be knocking heads or mending fences in his new assignment. At the Summit, President Joe Boden has said that “African voices, African leadership, African innovation all are critical to addressing the most pressing global challenges… Africa belongs at the table in every room where global challenges are being discussed and in every institution where discussions are taking place”.
This is truth expressed in its objective form and their is no doubting that Africa’s moderating influence would douse some of the world’s tension. However, the United States has a responsibility as a major country to contribute to international instability. When instigating separatist irredentism on China’s Taiwan or piling pressures on Moscow through surrogate wars, or seeking confrontation in the Indo-Pacific, such actions dissipate energy and attention from “ a world that is free, a world that is open, prosperous, and secure”, according to President Biden. The U.S Africa leaders’ Summit have obviously concluded and it’s expected that its outcomes would enable a framework for what Washington called “equal partnership” between the two sides and now all talk is done and known, the essential part is to walk the talk. The United States of America as the convener of the Summit should take the initiative and world is watching.