On December 13, 2022, delegates from forty-nine African countries and the African Union traveled to the United States to attend the US-Africa Leaders Summit. Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, and Sudan were unwelcome because the African Union suspended them over unconstitutional changes in government, and Eritrea does not currently have diplomatic relations with the U.S. The summit’s major objective was to close the trust gap that has grown between the U.S. and Africa as a result of years of anger over America’s apparent lack of genuine commitment to the continent.
The summit concentrated on promoting cooperation, defining and achieving shared goals, and boosting African voices in regard to the main global agendas. Among the major takeaways was the formal declaration of Biden’s support for the admission of the African Union as a permanent member of the G20 and a pledge of $55 billion to achieve priorities agreed upon by the U.S. and Africa within the framework of the African Union’s Agenda 2063.1 The summit’s goals were ambitious, but it is not obvious that a divided U.S. Congress will give the green light.
Actions speak louder than words
The true legacy of the summit will depend on whether and how fast those commitments translate into facts. African leaders need to see real action in the upcoming months: trade and investments top the list. They want closer ties with the United States, but they also want to play an active role and find out how to get access to U.S. capital, rather than aid.
China showed the way. China’s current trade with Africa is indeed considerable. Last year, it reached $254 billion.2 By contrast, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, total two-way goods trade with sub-Saharan Africa totaled $44.8 billion in 2021.3 Moreover, in 2021 US foreign direct investment into the region was just $30.31 billion.4 Beyond commerce, China is investing heavily in infrastructure and is currently the first choice for English-speaking African students.5 In fact, China has turned into a major study-abroad hotspot for thousands of African students. Before Covid-19, China hosted over 80,000 African students, making it the second most popular destination for African students abroad after France. It is even ahead of the US and UK. For African students, education in China is attractive for its affordability compared to the world’s other major education hubs. This trend can be partially explained by China’s growing provision of scholarships, the availability of courses in English, the ability to apply for scholarships without having any prior knowledge of the Chinese language, the simplicity of obtaining a visa, and the reputation of Chinese universities around the world.
Why does Africa matter to the United States?
American leaders now have a unique window of opportunity to advance U.S. and African interests. The vast majority of Africans strive for democratic governance and continue to find inspiration in the U.S. According to Afrobarometer, approximately 70% of Africans favor democracy and transparent government above other systems.6 The U.S. should continue to support African democrats, civil society, and media who push for open and inclusive governance, often in the face of repression.
In this light, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) offers new opportunities to American companies. Africa can become a platform for manufacturing and exporting goods to other parts of the world as well as a market for U.S. companies. In addition, the AfCFTA’s potential for growth offers a way to reorganize and diversify supply chains while enhancing economic freedom. However, reforms are needed. African governments must make it easier to start a business, allow entrepreneurs to implement their ideas, protect property rights and improve judicial systems. It is hard to overestimate the importance of an honest, fair, and efficient legal system in empowering people, reducing prejudice, and fostering competitiveness.
1 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit: Strengthening Partnerships to Meet Shared Priorities, The White House, December 15, 2022 https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/12/15/u-s-africa-leaders-summit-strengthening-partnerships-to-meet-shared-priorities/
2 China to Focus on Trade to Deepen Africa Ties, EIU Says By Antony Sguazzin 4 août 2022, Bloomberg https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-08-03/china-to-deepen-africa-ties-over-next-decade-with-focus-on-trade?sref=RGkt8hNg#xj4y7vzkg
3 2022 Biennial Report on the Implementation of The African Growth and Opportunity Act – United States Trade Representative June 2022 https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/reports/2022/2022AGOAImplementationReport.pdf
4 Ambassador Katherine Tai to Host African Growth and Opportunity Act Ministerial Meeting During Africa Leaders Summit on December 13, 2022, July 26, 2022 https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2022/july/ambassador-katherine-tai-host-african-growth-and-opportunity-act-ministerial-meeting-during-africa
5 Landry Signé, “How to Restore U.S. Credibility in Africa,” Foreign Policy, January 15, 2021 (https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/01/15/united-states-africa-biden-administration-relations-china/).
6 Democracy in Africa : Demand, supply, and the ‘dissatisfied democrat’ by Robert Matter- Afrobarometer Policy Paper No. 54 | February 2019 https://www.afrobarometer.org/wp-content/uploads/migrated/files/publications/Policy%20papers/ab_r7_policypaperno54_africans_views_of_democracy1.pdf