Eyes On U.S. — When African Leaders Go To Washington, China Is In The Room
Some 100 of the most important political eyes in Africa aren’t turned towards the U.S. this week — they’re in the U.S. For the first time in eight years, the White House is hosting 49 African heads of state and leaders of government (and the Senegalese head of the African Union) for a U.S.-Africa summit. Not invited: any nation that has recently undergone a military putsch, or otherwise not in good standing with the African Union, like Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Sudan.
It’s only the second such summit, after Barack Obama held the inaugural one in 2014. For African nations, it’s a chance to push for trade agreements and international investment, as reports FinancialAfrik, as well as to showcase their most successful businesses. According to RFI, dominant in its coverage of West Africa, on the agenda are: fighting terrorism, climate change, food security, and a financial facility intended to facilitate African exports to the U.S.
These themes are recurrent in national coverage and official diplomatic communiqués, from the likes of Cameroon (whose communiqué pointedly notes the U.S.’s “lack of colonial history” in Africa), which is seeking to regain access to the the U.S. market under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, to Madagascar, which as an island nation, is particularly concerned with climate change.
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But is the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit and the accompanying nice talk all just cynical cover for what are, in fact, purely U.S. strategic interests in its wider global competition with China? That’s certainly the message from Chinese media — but also a point of view either echoed, or simply acknowledged as matter of fact, by African voices.
“No matter how many fancy words the U.S. uses, the country still sees Africa as an arena to serve its strategic goal of competing with China,” Liu Xin writes for China’s state-run Global Times.
Indeed, for the U.S., the summit is a chance to move past the disinterest — if not outright disdain — that the Trump administration showed for Africa at a time when both China and Russia were ramping up their economic and military presence on the continent. Even if Biden Administration officials have been eager to talk about Africa on its own terms, the “long shadow” of China is everywhere, writes Kenya’s The Standard.
There is more than simply a U.S.-China competition at work.
The U.S. is playing “catch up,” writes The Standard, having fallen behind China when it comes to foreign direct investment in Africa, and must convince African countries that it is a better partner than China. The Nairobi-based daily isn’t coy about Africa’s growing strategic importance, leverage, and need to be wooed, writing, “The continent, whose leaders often feel they’ve been given short shrift by leading economies, remains crucial to global powers because of its rapidly growing population, significant natural resources, and a sizable voting bloc in the United Nations.”
Cognizant of the UN voting bloc that African countries constitute, the Biden administration is eager to court their support for Ukraine, but maintains that irrespective of outcome, it wants Africa to have a louder international voice — perhaps, as Al Jazeera reports, by making an African nation a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Finally, for Malcom Biiga, writing in the regional Francophone magazine Jeune Afrique, there is more than simply a U.S.-China competition at work, and the timing of the summit can’t be disconnected from France’s pullback from West Africa, in particular the announcement this year of the end of its military mission in Mali. “As anti-French sentiment grows larger across Africa, the U.S. is giving it a go with a charm offensive,” Biiga says. It’s not so much competitively “thumbing its nose" at French President Emmanuel Macron, but an expression of Washington’s worry that Russia or China will step in to fill France’s void — reminding readers that Russian military contractor group Wagner has done exactly that in Mali.
As Cameroonian research Paul Simon-Handy told RFI on Tuesday, the U.S. “is trying to define its own strategic vision [in Africa] while remaining a strategic ally of France [in the region].”
Biiga, meanwhile, concludes his analysis of the African leaders’ collective pilgrimage to Washington by wryly pointing out that neither President Joe Biden nor Vice President Kamala Harris has yet to visit Africa.
— Alex Hurst
In other news …
📰 UP, FRONT PAGE AND CENTER
U.S. scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced that they have — for the first time — created a net positive amount of energy from fusion. It could be a major breakthrough in the search for near limitless clean energy. The experiment used enormous, high powered lasers to start the reaction. Even if actual electricity generation on a large scale remains a long way off, for the Italian daily LaRepubblica, it’s the very first glimpse of a “spark” from the future.
⚜️ AMERICAN EXPORT
“We need an Anglo-American cultural detox,” writes a worried Montréal columnist, otherwise les Québecois risk becoming “Anglo-Americans who just speak French.”
It’s tough being an 8-million person linguistic island in the middle of a 350-million strong North American anglophone ocean … Referencing a professor friend who queried his students about Christmas movies and realized that none of them had any francophone references (like cult comedy films Le Père Noël est une ordure or Les Bronzés font du ski), Loïc Tassé doesn’t just fret about a loss of Québecois culture, but proposes solutions: more public financing of French language movies, books, and music, and introducing more francophone writers (possibly even in English translation) in school courses.
🎅🏻🎄 SO AMERICAN?
Germans are known to take their Christmas sehr seriously. And should they wish to expand their merry horizons and “celebrate it like in the USA,” Focus came up with a handy list of typically American customs for its readers. Some are well known (cookies and milk for Santa, hanging up socks, etc.) and others … less so.
Case in point, the “Christmas pickle,” which the weekly magazine says probably originated in Germany, and wherein a small cucumber (or cucumber-like ornament) is hidden among the other Christmas tree decorations. Guests and children are then invited to look for said Weihnachtsgurke, with the person finding it being awarded an extra present.
Hmmm? It seems most American readers will be as interested as Germans to discover this supposed popular tradition ...