By Abdelmalek Alaoui | –
The U.S Africa Leaders’ Summit ended yesterday in Washington DC after three days of intense meetings and passionate debates. For many, this event will be remembered as the largest ever gathering of American and African leaders in history.
During the event, some 50 heads of state and government as well as several hundred officials and CEOs had the opportunity to witness America’s attempt to come back strong in Africa.
A decade after the U.S. progressively lost most of its leadership in Africa to China and other emerging powers, President Barack Obama sent a strong signal that he is determined to fight back in order for America to regain its influence on African affairs.
The President knew that he had to hit hard and give proof of his personal commitment to a major policy shift in America’s strategy in this continent.
This objective was partially fulfilled by the announcement of a $14 billion investment pledge by US companies in Africa and another $3 billion to be provided by the Export-Import Bank.
Most participants in the summit viewed this package as a major shift in American foreign policy, because aid was no longer considered as the main tool for an effective US-Africa Partnership.
By moving the centre of gravity of America’s policy in Africa from an aid-oriented vision to a private investment strategy, the US is clearly aiming at going after China by deploying corporate America in Africa.
For many specialists, this move is not only the smartest one, but is also the only one that America can afford right now, for U.S. public opinion would not understand why taxpayer’s money would have to be spent on ineffective aid-programs.
The recent evaluation of the U.S. aid program to Afghanistan revealed that America spent $104 billion – more than the Marshall plan – in order to rebuild Afghanistan, but the results have been very poor.
Hence, the summit’s emphasis was clearly put on the economy, with very few conferences and side-events dealing with democracy, governance and human rights. Most African leaders welcomed this business-oriented vision of America’s new policy, very similar to China’s approach: “no questions asked.”
Furthermore, there is a general feeling among African politicians that those issues are better dealt with internally. They also believe that the democratization process in their countries should be supported by a global approach where the improvement of the population’s economic conditions should be an absolute priority.
Despite that, many African power brokers present at the summit expressed very clearly their scepticism about U.S economic policy in Africa.
Answering a question from former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda had some harsh words: “We should not be going to repeat the same speeches but we should come out with something real. We need to be partners, where everyone is a stakeholder and [is deriving] benefits”.
During the business forum hosted and organized by Michael Bloomberg, emblematic telecom tycoon and global philanthropist Mo Ibrahim went much further by pointing out how misinformed U.S. companies are about Africa. His very simple piece of advice will certainly remain in all participants’ memory: “You invented Google. Please use it.”
The U.S administration, including President Obama, did not dismiss the criticism and acknowledged that the hurdles of misconceptions towards Africa need to be lifted in order for their new policy to succeed.
For Washington, strengthening U.S.-Africa economic ties is important, but the real challenge remains job creation in order to address the demographic pressure.
Although many observers believe that this U.S. economic move on Africa comes a bit late, the real message of this summit is that America is back in African business.
Abdelmalek Alaoui is an Editorialist, Author and Founder of Global Intelligence Partners (www.global-intel.com); a consultancy firm specialized in strategic analysis and Business Intelligence. An MBA graduate from HEC Business School and a graduate in public policy from Sciences Po Paris.