Lessons Learned From The US-Africa Summit

In the recently held US-Africa leadership summit in Washington, DC, a number of African heads of state were hosted by US president Barack Obama at the White House. Dignitaries including Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, Guinea?s president Alpha Conde, and Nigeria?s president Goodluck Jonathan were seen strolling up for quick photo-ops (here, here and here). Former US president George W. Bush was also in attendance and was seen spreading jokes and humor. The reunion gave rise to much laughter and posing for pictures. But was this just an occasion for an annual festival where African leaders can dress regal and snap polaroids (okay, one more), or will Africa really be better off for it?

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Were there any tensions at the conference? Very much so! The United States did not extend an invitation to Zimbabwe?s president for life Robert Mugabe, and despite this gesture, the White House was still severally criticized for hosting these leaders at all. The Daily Mail for example ran a headline comparing the summit to a ?Monster’s Ball.? Complaints ranged from how President Obama welcomed some of Africa?s most evil dictators and homophobes, to how Obama had ignored some of his guest?s human rights records. So wasn’t the non-invitation of Robert Mugabe enough to quell the tensions? Apparently not.

Obama began the night by informing his guests that he was indeed a son of the African continent, but?the similarities seem to have ended there. As part of his speech, he asked the leaders to tackle problems in health, security and government corruption. Although that would seem like a tall order given the order of business, the nearly 50 African leaders in attendance did go home with $37 billion in American pledges. Being aware of the situation on the continent, it would be a fairly good bet that a few African leaders have come up in the financial world upon hearing this news (just saying, Dead Aid anyone?).

Ebola was a sure bet for discussion. Obama insisted that the virus is controllable if only affected African countries would adopt standard public health measures, and that additional medical workers will be sent to West Africa.

So who benefited from this summit? Obama lauded the event as ?extraordinary.? Behind the scenes, U.S. officials and U.S. companies were cutting deals with the African leaders, hoping to break the rising influence of China and Europe upon the African continent. Did Africa benefit? Theoretically yes. $37 billion is a lot of investment money. The problem is that the average African will never see any of the money or any effects of the money. As the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward Royce said, the real value of the summit can only be judged a year from now ?when the words on paper and the hours of talking are implemented and acted upon”. ?So will they actually get things done? The records say probably not, but we are keeping our fingers crossed and definitely hoping for the best.

Image: The African Union