Friday, 25 July 2014

Africa-US summit – a look ahead

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.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Crises stalk West African summit

A sense of crisis loomed over the regional summit on 10-11 July as West African leaders gathered in Accra, with security, migration and the Ebola virus high on the agenda. Insurgencies, organised crime and political rivalries are intruding on grand plans for economic development and cooperation.

Leaders were due to finalise details for launching a common currency by 2020, free movement of people and cutting constraints on cross-border trade but concerns about security implications have held back agreement. Pointing to growing worries about terrorist attacks and cross-border crime, the presidents of Cameroon, Chad and Mauritania were to join those from the 15 member-states of the Economic Community of West African States. Most pressing is the spread of the Boko Haram insurgency across Nigeria’s north-east to neighbouring countries.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in Islamist attacks over two months despite a new regional security coordination centre in Ndjamena. In Mali, Ibrahim Ke├»ta’s government has failed to reach agreement with northern rebels, some nine months after coming to power. Presidents John Mahama and Macky Sall are under growing domestic pressure as Ghana and Senegal struggle with their own economic and political demons. West African commercial energy is not in doubt but economic development is hindered by political and bureaucratic blockages. The summit’s willingness to tackle these issues as well as the security threats will show where the region is heading.