Obama welcomes Africa to Washington

Washington - President Barack Obama, whose election in 2008 as the first black American president sparked huge expectations in Africa, will at last hold a summit next week for the continent's leaders.

Invitations were sent to 50 heads of state and government for talks that seem designed as a counterweight to China's decade-long surge in investment and trade with Africa.

American officials said all the countries invited to send delegations will do so, most of them headed by presidents but some by vice presidents, prime ministers or foreign ministers.

Notable absentees will include Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Morocco's King Mohammed VI - who will send envoys - but sub-Saharan Africa will be well represented.

Only four presidents were excluded: Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, Eritrea's Issaias Afeworki and the Central African Republic's transitional leader Catherine Samba Panza.

But, even if Obama's gathering marks the greatest ever concentration of African leadership in Washington, it is not clear what kinds of results can be expected from the three-day summit.

Obama's foreign policy was first marked by a pivot to Asia and a failed attempt to "reset" relations with Russia, and he did not make Africa a priority in his first term.

The agenda will certainly include discussion on current threats facing the continent - kidnappings and killings by Islamist group Boko Haram in Nigeria, civil war in South Sudan and deadly attacks by the Somalia militant group Shebab in Kenya.

And the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa could find itself at the center of talks.

The leaders of Sierra Leone and Liberia have canceled their summit trips to Washington over the epidemic, which was first declared at the beginning of the year in Guinea and has so far claimed more than 725 lives.

The hemorrhagic fever, often fatal, could spread "like a forest fire," US health authorities warned this week.

The US-Africa summit will also have a strong economic aspect, with a programme focused on opportunities for the continent where 60% of the population is under 35 and where growth rates are higher than anywhere else in the world.

Currently, the United States is third among Africa's major trading partners, far behind longtime number one the European Union, and raw material-hungry China.

"I see Africa as the world's next major economic success story, and the United States wants to be a partner in that success," Obama said last year during his first presidential trip to the continent, with stops in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.

But his national security advisor, Susan Rice, acknowledged on Wednesday that Americans need to change their "outdated mindset" of the continent.

"Too many Americans still only see conflict, disease and poverty, and not the extraordinarily diverse Africa, brimming with innovation," Rice said, adding "the United States can do more to compete to be a full partner in Africa's success".

Packed agenda

Some analysts see the Washington summit as a response to Beijing's campaign of African investment and trade over the last decade.

"It can't help but be seen that way, because we have never done this before, and the Chinese have," said Deborah Brautigam, who directs the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University.

Brautigam wondered, however, whether the United States had done enough to prepare ahead of the summit.

"When the Chinese organised a similar event" in 2006, "they had been working for about six years," she noted.

Among economic issues to be discussed will be the possible extension beyond 2015 of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA, which provides preferential market access for some products from African countries deemed to be democratic and following good economic governance.

Likewise, Obama's "Power Africa" initiative, leverages loan guarantees and private sector finance and aims to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.

After a first day, on Monday, dedicated to health challenges and climate change, a business forum on Tuesday will gather leaders from both the public and private sector - including former US president Bill Clinton.

The third and final day will be for political discussions on peace and regional stability.

There are no bilateral meetings planned between Obama and any of his African counterparts but a huge White House gala dinner is on the agenda for Tuesday evening.

Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, said this summit will be important for relations between Obama and the continent where his father was born.

But he cautioned that African expectations for Obama's presidency started out "unreasonably high".

"The fact is nothing in President Obama's history other than the identity of his father, nothing in his personal history or his political history, would point to the expectations that were put on his shoulders," he said.

"Others read into it what they wanted to read into it."

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Kamohelo Moshodi 2014/08/01 06:16:13 AM
Oh yes we can,you have my vote boss and you belong to africa that's why God chose you to be the first black president in America,all the best Sir
Graeme Musto 2014/08/01 06:31:52 AM
Hid the silver, the beggars and thieves have arrived
Langa Kapueja 2014/08/01 06:43:27 AM
You might just want to add the corruption virus, commonly known as the E-tolls, to your agenda Mr Obama. Er, Would like to bid the African contingent a spectacular vaccation...at this time of the year, you can still do some skinny dipping in one of Miami's nude beaches. There's a light of fine looking fat a$$es out there :-(
Givemore Mukombe 2014/08/01 07:04:22 AM
I think president Obama and Washington need to change their mindset about African countries, particulary Zimbabwe.
Derek Bekker 2014/08/01 07:15:44 AM
Just make sure there is enough johny blue and kentucky for the RSA delegate!? And also make sure to book the complete 300 bed Hyatt....
Riaz Jadwat 2014/08/01 07:20:20 AM
We know the Game of the USA ,they played it over and offer for last 100 years , South America , Middle East , Eastern Europe, South East Asia . Suck the lands of all the resources to feed the American machine of greed and consumption , maintain global super power dominance , the proxy economic war between brics and the old emperial regimes of USA , France , Germany , Britain . Both sides are axis of evil , cover the evil agendas with human rights , modernity , democracy , technological advancement , a better world ! The 1% are only interested in getting richer at expense of the hungry starving world . Be wary fellow Africans don't trust your leaders and these ppl
Themba Khumalo 2014/08/01 07:41:50 AM
David Joubert, you thibk he is the first and last black President. We can only say thank God there hasnt been an American President of Afrikaner descent yet......
Zuko Black Trump Fipaza 2014/08/01 08:06:38 AM
Obama is too late, the Chinese rule Africa
Victor Fedrick 2014/08/01 08:20:50 AM
African leaders stop portraying yourselves as as a begging continent,america have nothing good to offer you....america is very greedy and sellfish country.
Waggie 2014/08/01 08:30:06 AM
Must be kidding. Why support a tyrant that took a wealthy well run country and destroyed it? Typical African mentality. Mess things up and then cry for help. Sek.