From Dec. 13-15, African presidents, Congressional members and the President and Vice President of the United States met during the three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. This photo is taken day-three during the Plenary 1 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ben Solomon/ U.S. Department of State)
From Dec. 13-15, African presidents, Congressional members and the President and Vice President of the United States met during the three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. This photo is taken day-three during the Plenary 1 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ben Solomon/ U.S. Department of State)

Jimmy Carter and Andrew Young

On Jan. 30, 1977, President Jimmy Carter nominated Atlanta Congressman Andrew Young as the 14th and first Black U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. 

Shortly after his confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Ambassador Young met with the President prior to embarking on his first journey to the continent in his new position. As a Member of Congress, he had traveled to Kenya with U.S. Treasury Secretary George Shultz during the Ford Administration. He made additional trips to the African continent to attend conferences hosted by the Africa-America Institute (AAI) and with tennis legend Arthur Ashe for tennis matches in South Africa. 

As he met with Carter in the Oval Office that morning, the President handed him a note that simply said, “I want you to ask African leaders what they would expect of this administration.” Ambassador Young later recounted, “We didn’t try to tell Africa what it must do. Instead, we asked: Africa, how can we help you? That same spirit remains the key to unlocking opportunity today.” 

U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit 

Last week, President Joe Biden convened the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in the nation’s capital with 49 African presidents and their respective delegations in attendance for high-level discussions with administration officials, congressional representatives and business leaders from across the United States.  

Why Now? 

When a White House official was asked by The Washington Informer “why now,” for such a convening in a background briefing, the response was, “It has been eight years since the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. President Biden came in on day one with the determination to revitalize our partnerships with African countries.”

Noting that the president had addressed the African Union virtually, “early in the Administration,” the White House official emphasized the President’s dedication to such a convening as the summit.

“And so, it has been our intent from, really, the beginning to do this – to bring together African leaders and civil society and businesses and meet their counterparts here…. Nothing is a better demonstration of our renewed engagement than three days of interaction and conversation.” 

The official also shared the criteria for extending invitations to the African leaders. 

“In terms of the rubric in terms of who we invited, we started with countries that are in good standing with the African Union. So, there are four countries that have had unconstitutional changes to the government that have been suspended from the African Union: Guinea, Sudan, Mali and Burkina Faso. And then we do not have full diplomatic relations with Eritrea, so they were not invited as well.” 

Summit Highlights 

During the course of the day, a host of multimillion-dollar investments were announced to increase African exports, boost infrastructure and private investments, as well as accelerate innovation across the continent. Over the course of the Summit, the Biden-Harris Administration announced plans to invest at least $55 billion in Africa between now and 2025. 

Other Summit highlights included announcements by President Biden for the African Union to officially become a member of the Group of 20 (G20), a global forum for major economies. Stated the President, “Africa belongs at the table in every room where global challenges are being discussed, and in every institution where discussions are taking place.” The White House also announced the establishment of a New Diaspora Council. The executive order directs the U.S. Secretary of State to establish the President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement in the United States (PAC-ADE), for the purpose of deepening “the dialogue between U.S. officials and the African Diaspora.” 

Next Steps 

Longtime American diplomat and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson has been named by the President as the Special Presidential Representative for U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Implementation. During his distinguished thirty-seven-year career, Ambassador Carson has also held diplomatic postings in Botswana, Mozambique and Nigeria, in addition to being a Peace Corp volunteer in Tanzania. 

Ambassador Young, at age 90, continues to believe that strengthening ties between the United States and Africa can be mutually beneficial to both continents- listen to Africa, America. 

Summit Reflections

I commend the Biden Administration for bringing African leaders to Washington. Indeed, the timing is always right to not only ask Africa, “How can we help you?” but more importantly, to listen. However, the United States must also begin asking Africa, “How can you help America?” 

For me, a highlight of the Summit was sitting in the U.S.-Africa Business Forum’s Deal Room at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Wednesday, Dec. 14. Prosper Africa is a White House initiative operated out of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) designed to bring together services of the U.S. Government and assist companies and investors to facilitate business here and in African markets. The Deal Room, an ongoing Prosper Africa initiative, connects American investors with African businesses seeking capital. The deal opportunities showcased at the Summit, and otherwise, have been curated by on-the-ground experts. 

Austin R. Cooper Jr.

Austin R. Cooper, Jr., serves as the President of Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc. The firm provides legislative, political and communications counsel in Washington, D.C., for governmental, nonprofit and...

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1 Comment

  1. Well done Doc! Thanks for the background and informing us of todays initiative. I always believe in the balance of give and take. What has been offered from the African Union about what they can do for US?

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