African leaders are meeting with Biden administration officials at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit from Dec. 13-15.
With African youth anticipated to account for nearly half of the global youth population within the next decade, young African leaders didn’t mince words about what they wanted to come out of these discussions.
“We can’t ask Africa to invest in education when we [have to] spend money on debt as our currency depreciates,” said David Moinina Sengeh, a millennial and Sierra Leone’s minister of basic and senior secondary education.
On Tuesday morning, Sengeh kicked off a panel discussion at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) with remarks that outlined Sierra Leone’s gains in expanding educational opportunities to school-aged children.
In the spirit of the panel discussion’s theme, “Preparing the Future Workforce for Tomorrow’s Careers,” Sengeh also issued a charge to his peers.
“We need to make our countries the best spaces for entrepreneurs and make sure our young people can help us solve intractable problems,” Sengeh explained.
“The question shouldn’t be if African youth can lead. We should ask ourselves how we enable youth and get out of the way so we can lead.”
A Breakdown of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit
The panel discussion counted among several breakout sessions that took place at NMAAHC during the Young Leaders Forum on Dec. 13. As part of the U.S.- Africa Leaders Summit, the Young Leaders Forum, was heralded as an effort to foster stronger relationships between the African continent and the Diaspora.
That morning, Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio and Liberian President George M. Weah spoke to attendees and acknowledged the importance of improving the lives of African youth.
Bio and Weah counted among 49 African heads of state who, along with Chairperson for the Commission of the African Union (AU) Moussa Faki Mahamat, are scheduled to attend the summit.
The White House didn’t invite Sudan, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea to the summit, due to the suspension of their AU membership. However, reports surfaced of some engagement with those countries’ civil society organizations.
Additionally, select African leaders have been scheduled to engage President Joe Biden (D) in a multilateral discussion about 2023 elections in Congo, Sudan and the newly formed South Sudan.
Throughout much of Tuesday, Biden administration officials met with African leaders in bilateral and multilateral meetings about trade relations, youth affairs, health, climate change and technology.
During a Congolese protest just feet away from the Washington Convention Center, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and the United States signed a memorandum of understanding further solidifying American access to natural minerals for the development of electric vehicle battles.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, had also been scheduled to sit down with Gabonese leaders, but that afternoon meeting got cancelled at the last minute.
The Department of Commerce, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Corporate Council on Africa, along with the Prosper Africa Initiative, have been scheduled to host the U.S.-Africa Business Forum on Dec. 14. In what’s called the Deal Room, Prosper Africa plans to announce new commitments from the U.S. and African businesses, governments and investors.
Grassroots Organizers Counter the State Department’s Narrative
While the summit has been described as an opportunity to build on shared priorities with African leaders, some U.S.-based, Pan-African grassroots organizers continue to express skepticism about the U.S. government’s true intentions.
People, like Netfa Freeman, noted that the U.S. wants to counter Russia, and more so China’s, expanding influence on the African continent.
In a move that took some by surprise, China recently announced that its government would forgive 23 interest-free loans issued to 17 African countries and divert $10 billion of its International Monetary Fund (IMF) resources to the African continent.
That development came amid the Senate’s deliberation on legislation that, if passed, would dedicate resources to countering Russian influence on the African continent. Much to the chagrin of U.S. officials, more than a dozen African countries voted against or abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
This past summer, federal agents raided African People Socialist Party Chariman Omali Yeshitela’s St. Louis, Missouri and St. Petersburg, Florida homes in response to concerns that he colluded with Russianss.
This week, Freeman, a member of Black Alliance for Peace, counts among those who are participating in another set of events, titled “Africa Anti-Imperialist Week of Actions.” As with the summit, activities kicked off on Tuesday afternoon, miles away from the Washington Convention Center at the Institute for Policy Studies, with a forum titled, “Africa Anti-Imperialist Summit: Voices from the Ground.”
Other activities on Dec. 13-16 include rallies and protests, all aimed at further highlighting the U.S.’ military presence in most parts of the African continent via the U.S. Africa Command, more commonly known as AFRICOM.
“This summit obscures the fact that the U.S. has advanced its influence and hegemony on Africa and the rest of the world through force and military coercion, in terms of these military bases,” Freeman said.
“They’ve also done it through financial institutions like the IMF and world banks,” he continued.
“African nations are subjected to high interest rates and policies that require them to change their domestic policies like privatization of state-run agencies. This would be for the benefit of foreign interests.”
U.S. Officials Continue to Make Reassurances
Last week, senior administration officials speaking in background said that the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit wouldn’t focus on Russia or China. They instead described it as part of an effort to advance the Africa Development Bank’s Agenda 2063 Plan.
The goals of the Agenda 2063 Plan include the creation of tools to ensure the continent’s collective security and interests, and the guarantee of human rights, democracy, gender equality, inclusion and peace for all citizens.
Days before the summit, President Joe Biden (D) revealed plans to visit several African countries in 2023. National security advisor Jake Sullivan also said earlier this week that the U.S. will commit $58 billion to African nations over three years.
In years past, the U.S. invested in African countries to mitigate the spread of malaria, HIV and COVID. In the realm of education, investments facilitated the launch of the Young African Leaders Initiative, also known as YALI, through which African youth get to spend weeks in the U.S. and develop their leadership skills.
While addressing African youth at NMAAHC on Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris (D) said she will work with Congress to secure an additional $100 million to sustain leadership development and skills development among underrepresented populations in Africa, particularly women.
Harris also announced the launch of the President’s Advisory Council on Africa Diaspora Engagement in the United States. This entity, also known as PAC-ADE, will enhance dialogue between the U.S. government and the African diaspora. In her remarks, the vice president talked about the NMAAHC’s Yoruba-influenced structure and alluded to African Americans’ shared history with the African continent.
Harris also attempted to reassure African youth that they would be able to participate in what she described as a collective endeavor to boost the African continent’s standing in the world.
“The Biden administration intends to be beside you young leaders, knowing it’s the spark and determination of young people that will drive us forward,” Harris said.
She also made a promise to continue investing time and energy to fortify partnerships across Africa “grounded in candor, openness, inclusiveness, shared interest and mutual benefits.”
The vice president emphasized the Biden administration’s goal of true collaboration.
“And overall, our administration will be guided not by what we can do for Africa, but what we can do with Africa.”