Will the grand Africa-United States summit with more than 40 leaders in attendance in Washington D.C. on 4-6 August produce the results wanted by its protagonists? The expected high attendance is due both to President Barack Obama's charisma and the search for foreign capital.
Certainly, the business agenda will be full: the Corporate Council on Africa is holding investor sessions on individual countries throughout the summit week. Similarly, the State Department, led by Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield, is pushing development and economic issues such as the Africa Power initiative and a new round of trade concessions in the Africa Growth & Opportunities Act. China's trade with Africa is running at over US$200 billion a year; US trade with Africa has slipped back to around $85 bn. after a cut in oil imports from the continent of almost 90% due to domestic shale oil production.
The diplomatic, security and social outcomes will be harder to gauge. Part of the point of the meeting is to show the US is getting more serious about Africa policy – whether deploying military and intelligence teams or working on innovations in education and health. There was some dismay in Africa at the rule that there would be no bilateral meetings with Obama: everything is to be discussed in open plenaries, in a more informal and inter-active setting with no set-piece speeches and position papers. Although China, Japan and France have hosted several such grand summits for the whole continent, this is new territory for the US. How will we know if it worked? We'll have another one in a couple of years' time, an official replied.