This week, from December 12 to 15, in Washington, D.C., the Biden administration has invited 49 African heads of states, and the director of the African Union (AU), to a series of meetings aimed at reestablishing a positive and progressive U.S. presence and series of economic partnerships, in and with African countries. It’s called the new Africa-U.S. Summit, after the major interest shown by the Obama administration over eight years ago. 

Due to the major erosion of that good will by one faux pas after another during the Trump administration viz-a-viz Africa, China’s position on the continent is now so entrenched that the U.S. must now madly scramble to just become relevant again in the 54-country area. The summit is part of that continuing effort.

After the major isolationism and bullying-based foreign policy of the Trump administration, the Biden administration says it intends to put heft into a global effort to re-establish progressive American influence from Latin America to the Indo-Pacific Rim through Africa and the Middle East — a ‘re-engagement with the world’ strategy. This week’s gathering is to be part of that effort. 

Looking at the state of the world now, this is an initiative that definitely seems to be sorely needed, but the U.S. is so far behind China that catching up just may be a bridge too far. The U.S., for example, still only has ambassadors in 40 of 54 African countries currently (with Trump, it was roughly 35 out of 54), and the U.S. State Department has yet to lay out a comprehensive African strategy based on mutual respect and support for Africa.

In August, 2022, the U.S. State Department finally made public its new African policy that it intends to highlight at the December African Summit. This new U.S. policy for Africa can be stated thusly: The overarching strategy is focused on the following initiatives: (1) boosting democracy in African countries (2) improving African governance and security (3) focusing on pandemic recovery and increased economic opportunities (4) addressing the climate crisis and a “just” energy transition for the continent (5) and promoting open societies (this latter is and will in all likelihood remain a major point of contention for the foreseeable future—most African countries firmly reject the U.S. openness to gay and trans relations and resent the U.S. pushing such ideas in Africa). 

U.S. officials inside the Biden administration say one of the top goals of the new strategy is to increase the focus and the funding for African diplomacy and development, and to shift away from the military-first engagement in most parts of Africa (represented by the infamous AFRICOM military command), particularly in the Sahel region. 

That latter, gun-heavy pursuit has dominated U.S. policy in Africa over the past two decades, as Washington’s primary foreign-policy focus in the continent was on counterterrorism.

That emphasis on military partnerships found the United States cooperating closely with harsh, autocratic regimes, including in Chad and Mali, and focusing on counterterrorism directives while actively ignoring human rights and democratic governance priorities. This helped lead to the advent of terrorist groups seizing control of too many African countries — already in the past three years there have been four coups d’etats and two attempted coups in Western Africa within earshot of American forces, while outside terrorist groups have greatly increased their populations in the region.

The Africa-U.S. Summit this week should strike a new pose and sense of purpose in the relations between African countries and the U.S. Such rapport will be beneficial for both sides. We look forward to hearing good news from the gathering. 

Wakanda Forever. 

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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