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The politics of Africa on the world stage

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 8/22/2014, midnight

The obvious theme of this week’s column could be and maybe should be the vicissitudes of the Michael Brown killing. But I’m not an obvious kind of writer.

During August 4-6, 2014, President Barack Obama hosted the largest gathering of African leaders ever assembled together in the U.S. It was a major risk, diplomatically, to hold such a gathering with all the security concerns and emotions involved. President Obama’s international reputation could have taken a major, unrecoverable blow if things had gone sideways during this gathering. And there were plenty of preliminary signs that things would not go well. Fortunately, the president, his staff, and several congressional representatives persisted in their efforts, and by virtually all reports, the event was hugely successful in a great number of ways and that success needs to be written about and discussed.

For more than five days, Washington, D.C., which has its own population of Chocolate City dwellers, was virtually overwhelmed with hundreds of African dignitaries and their 10-30-member entourages, freely spending money and expanding the district’s economy. That was a very good thing. During the actual three days of the summit, and several days prior to it, more than 200 American business firms met with African counterparts and many worked out future investment deals which are to benefit both sides. There were several meaningful behind-the-scenes diplomatic gatherings that laid the groundwork for future talks on restricting, if not eliminating, human trafficking, reducing tensions over the Great Lakes region and other major issues.

Some called the gathering, which brought together 47 African heads of state and Dr. Nkozasana Dlamini Zuma, the head of the African Union “transformational.” This was a confident Africa and its leaders on display in the U.S. capital. For some U.S. Chamber of Commerce types, they were able to recognize that “Ebola isn’t in every African country, and there aren’t armed insurgents in every nook and cranny of Africa.” Africa is not the “heart of darkness’ of some stereotypical past. As one official put it, ‘Africa can no more be characterized by HIV, Ebola and Boko Haram, than the U.S. can be by citing rising Black homicides in Chicago.’

President Obama summarized the gathering as extraordinary and promised to try to have such gatherings as an annual event in the U.S.

Earlier, President Obama had declared, in a break with U.S. tradition of the last 50 years, “Africa is more important than ever to the security and prosperity of the international community, and to the United States in particular.” The European union has for years hosted summits of African heads of state to shore up Europe’s continuing access to Africa’s vast resources, so has Japan and China, in recognition of Africa’s importance. The U.S. entry into this game of ‘summit diplomacy’ is rather late, but very much needed. And in spite of President Obama not meeting with each head of state individually, as the Japanese prime minister and the Chinese head of state regularly do, the event went very well indeed.