WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden threw his support behind a larger African role in the world as he also vowed to champion democracy in a continent where China and Russia have enjoyed rising clout.
“The United States is all in on Africa and all in with Africa,” Biden told nearly 50 African leaders who spent three days in a wintry Washington summit that featured a gala White House dinner.
“Africa belongs to the table in every room — every room for global challenges that are being discussed,” Biden said.
Biden, who in September called for an African permanent seat on the UN Security Council, backed a permanent African Union role in the Group of 20 economies and said he was planning a visit — the first by a US president since 2015 — to sub-Saharan Africa.
Parcel bomb hurts Russian official in Central Africa
The summit is the first of its kind since African leaders came in 2014 to see Barack Obama, whose successor Donald Trump made no secret of his lack of interest in Africa.
China for the past decade has eclipsed the United States as an investor, and Russia in recent years has sent in mercenaries and sought diplomatic support against Western pressure.
Biden announced $2.5 billion in new assistance on food as price increases lead to hunger across the continent, especially in the drought-struck Horn.
“Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine has led to the disruption of food and energy supplies that affect all of our economies,” Vice President Kamala Harris told a luncheon. She told African leaders “international rules and norms are under threat — for example, sovereignty and territory integrity, unimpeded commerce and peaceful resolution of disputes”.
The Biden administration has been more veiled in its criticism of China, which has poured in funding for high-profile infrastructure projects and lent more than $120bn across the continent since the start of the century.
The United States at the summit laid out $55bn in projects over the coming three years including in green energy, training for health workers and modernisation of internet networks, with the private sector also pledging $15bn led by investment in technology.
In contrast with China that has been happy to do business with all African regimes, the United States has made a point of stressing democracy, even if Biden still invited leaders seen as authoritarian. “The United States will always lead with our values,” Biden told the African leaders.
“Support for democracy, respect for the rule of law, commitment to human rights, responsible government, all are part of our DNA.”
While announcing $100 million for security, Biden also said the US would invest $75m to counteract “democratic backsliding” including by strengthening electoral authorities and civil society.
Biden on Wednesday met leaders of six nations that hold elections next year including Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, sub-Saharan Africa’s largest countries in population and size respectively, to seek promises on free elections.
African leaders hail summit
African leaders largely welcomed the summit. But the continent has also been reluctant to take sides among major powers.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking to reporters at the end of the summit, said: “America will not dictate Africa’s choices. Neither should anyone else.” Senegalese President Macky Sall, the current chair of the African Union, welcomed US support for the institution and voiced appreciation for Biden’s summit.
But he also called for the US to end longstanding rights sanctions on Zimbabwe and voiced alarm over a bill in the US Congress that would impose sanctions on African countries over dealings with Russia. “This would be the first time in international relations that a whole continent is targeted,” Sall said.
Meanwhile, a parcel bomb wounded the head of a Russian cultural centre in the Central African Republic on Friday, an embassy spokesman said.
“This morning, an attempt was made on the life of the director general of the Russian House, Dmitry Sergeevich Sytyi. He is in hospital,” the spokesman for the Russian embassy was quoted as saying by state news agency TASS.
Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2022