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Biden aims to bridge trust gap with US-Africa leaders summit

President Joe Biden is expected to welcome dozens of African leaders to Washington this week as the White House seeks to narrow a yawning trust gap with Africa — one that has grown over years of frustration with the America’s commitment to the continent.

Ahead of the three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit that begins Tuesday, Biden administration officials have played down growing concern over China and Russia’s influence in Africa, home to more than 1 .3 billion people. Instead, administration officials have tried to emphasize their efforts to improve cooperation with African leaders.

“This summit is an opportunity to deepen the many partnerships we have on the African continent,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, White House press secretary, when asked about the shadow that China and Russia cast over these encounters. “We will be focusing our efforts to strengthen these partnerships across a wide range of sectors from business to health to peace and security, but we will focus on Africa next week.”

To that end, White House officials said “key deliverables and initiatives” — diplomatic language for big announcements — will be sprinkled throughout the meetings. The White House previewed a major announcement from the summit on Friday, saying Biden would use the rally to declare his support for adding the African Union as a permanent member of the Group of 20 nations.

The summit will be the largest international gathering in Washington since before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Local officials are warning residents to prepare for roadblocks and step up security as 49 heads of state and guest leaders — and Biden — stroll through the city.

Discussions are expected to focus on the coronavirus, climate change, the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Africa, trade and more, White House officials say. Biden is set to deliver remarks at a U.S.-Africa business forum, hold breakout meetings with leaders, host a leaders’ dinner at the White House, and participate in other sessions with leaders during the gathering.

Biden spent much of his first two years in office trying to assuage doubts on the international stage about American leadership after four years of Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy. With this summit – a follow-up to the first such gathering hosted by President Barack Obama eight years ago – Biden has an opportunity to allay concerns in Africa about whether the United States is serious about the maintenance of the relationship.

Biden’s effort to bring African nations closer to the United States comes at a complicated time, as his administration has made it clear that it believes Chinese and Russian activity in Africa is a serious concern for American and African interests.

In its strategy for sub-Saharan Africa unveiled in August, the Biden administration warned that China, which has pumped billions into energy, infrastructure and other African projects, sees the region as an arena where Beijing can “challenge the rules-based international order, advance one’s own narrow commercial and geopolitical interests, undermine transparency and openness.”

The administration also argues that Russia, Africa’s main arms dealer, sees the continent as a permissive environment allowing Kremlin-linked oligarchs and private military companies to focus on fomenting instability for their own. strategic and financial advantage.

Still, administration officials stress that concerns about China and Russia will not be central to the talks.

“The United States prioritizes our relationship with Africa in the interest of our mutual interests and our partnership in the face of global challenges,” Molly Phee, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told reporters before the top. “We are very aware, again, of the history of the Cold War, we are aware, again, of the deleterious impact of colonialism on Africa, and we are carefully seeking to avoid repeating some of the mistakes of those earlier times.”

The administration was disappointed that much of the continent refused to follow the United States in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but Biden is not expected to dwell publicly on the differences.

The president is expected to participate with leaders in a session on promoting food security and food system resilience. Africa has been disproportionately affected by the global rise in food prices which has been caused in part by lower shipments from the main grain exporter, Ukraine.

“One of the unique aspects of this summit is the collateral damage the Russian war has inflicted on Africa in terms of food supplies and the diversion of development aid to Ukraine. The opportunity costs of invasion have been very high in Africa,” said John Stremlau, visiting professor of international relations at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Four countries that were suspended from the African Union – Guinea, Sudan, Mali and Burkina Faso – were not invited to the summit because coups in those countries led to power changes unconstitutional. The White House has also not invited the East African nation of Eritrea; Washington does not have full diplomatic relations with the country.

Biden’s decision to invite several leaders to the summit who have questionable human rights and democracy records looms large on the rally’s horizon.

Equatorial Guinea was invited despite the State Department saying it had “serious doubts” about last month’s elections in the small central African country. Opposition parties “have made credible allegations of significant election-related irregularities, including documented cases of fraud, intimidation and coercion,” according to the department. Election officials reported that President Teodoro Obiang’s ruling party won nearly 95 percent of the vote.

Zimbabwe, which has faced years of US and Western sanctions for poor governance, human rights abuses and widespread corruption, was also invited.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who seized power from longtime leader Robert Mugabe in 2017, has sought to portray himself as a reformer, but local and international human rights activists accuse him of a similar crackdown serious, if not worse, than that of Mugabe.

Although Mnangagwa enjoys comfortable relations with China and Russia, like Mugabe, he has also sought to befriend the United States and other Western countries in an effort to bolster his legitimacy.

In a nationwide address he delivered in November at a new Chinese-endowed multimillion-dollar parliament building, Mnangagwa touted the invitation to the U.S.-Africa summit as a sign of his administration’s success. He said the southern African country welcomed the invitation, but he also called for the “unconditional” lifting of sanctions he blames for Zimbabwe’s debilitating economic woes.

“The focus remains on dialogue,” Mnangagwa said.

Ethiopia received an invitation even though Biden late last year announced he was removing the country from a US trade program, known as the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, following a Ethiopia’s failure to end a war in the Tigray region that has led to “gross violations”. ” human rights. A peace accord was signed last month, but its implementation faces major challenges such as the continued presence of troops from neighboring Eritrea.

Analysts say African leaders will seek Biden to make major commitments at the summit, including announcing his first presidential visit to sub-Saharan Africa, efforts to bolster the continent’s economy through sector investment and trade private, etc

Perhaps more importantly, this could be an opportunity for Biden to demonstrate that Africa is more than a battleground in its economic and military competition with Beijing and Moscow.

“I strongly believe that the United States is still considered a superpower from an African perspective, but most African leaders do not want to align themselves with its promotion of democracy,” said Abraham Kuol Nyuon, political analyst and associate professor of political science. at the University of Juba in South Sudan. “They need support from America but not from the American system.”

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Mutsaka reported from Harare, Zimbabwe, and Magome from Johannesburg. Associated Press writers Cara Anna in Nairobi, Kenya, and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.


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