US President Barrack Obama is meeting some of the 50 “big men” responsible for some of the myriad of problems that have faced the Africa continent since Libya became the first African country to gain independence in 1951. (not to be confused with Ghana which was the first African country to gain independence South of the Sahara) Ostensibly, Mr Obama and his advisers will be discussing trade, democracy and the respect of Human rights with the approximately 50 leaders who are in Washington now; all good and fine but these summits hardly ever have any significant impact on the lives of Africans because like those before this one, leaders meet, make some high sounding promises, sign a declaration written months before they met, squander a lot of tax payers money and quietly get back home and continue acting as if the summit never happened.
The reason these summits all fail is because the people these leaders are supposed to be representing are never ever consulted or involved in their high summit games and more often than not, the leaders employ exceedingly poor PR officers who always fail to sell the vision of the summits or simply, just don’t worry selling it at all to the beneficiaries. Why engage in an enterprise everybody knows will fail? Let’s examine some of the aims and objectives of the present summit and why this summit will fail like those before it.
Improving US-AFRICA Trade Links
One of the stated objectives of the present summit is to improve African trade links with the biggest economy on earth after Europe and China beat the USA to that game. How many people even still remember The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) enacted in the year 2000, eight years before Obama became US president? AGOA was intended to improve trade between the two continents and had some stringent eligibility criteria. Each adhering country had to improve labour rights and to move towards a market economy and membership was renewed annually. In 2009, Madagascar, Niger and Guinea were kicked out but two years later, Guinea and Niger were re-admitted. Next year, American legislators will have to review the law and most probably, will prolong it. A year before the review, Obama invites his peers across Africa to talk about improving trade between the two continents. Why is AGOA not working as envisaged? Unlike China that deals with everyone, setting eligibility criteria has not been helpful and par of the reason AGOA has done little to improve US-Africa trade links.
Respecting Human Rights.
Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Omar al-Bashir of Sudan were not invited to the Washington Summit because of their human rights records but why were only these two given these selective treatment considering that almost every single African president from Paul Biya of Cameroon through Yahya Jammeh of Gambia, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda to Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya all have dodgy human rights records that Washington quietly choose to ignore? Al-Bashir and Mugabe both have travel bans but the others don’t which might partly explain why they were not invited. It is definitely not reassuring to human rights activists when the US president sits and dines with these African leaders who don’t care what happens to the people who “voted” them and regularly send armed troops to shoot, maim and sometimes kill protesters. The US State Department publishes annual reports on the human right records of all these leaders so cannot claim they don’t know they are blood suckers who should be in prison and not walking on red carpets in Washington.
Liberia president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Sierra Leonean president Ernest Bai Koroma proved we still have a handful of African presidents who have the interest of their people at heart. They were both invited to the Washington summit but choose not to go and stayed back to help coordinate the fight against the most deadly ebola virus outbreak on the continent. Close to a thousand people, most of them in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have died after they were infected with the virus that presently has no cure. Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has still flown to the USA though he has shown his limitations in fighting renegade Islamist militants Boko Haram and after a Liberian man died in Nigeria from the Virus. Two Nigerian doctors have now been diagnosed with the virus. Ebola is the latest public health Challenge to hit the African continent and health officials around the world are concerned because Nigeria is Africa’s most populous black nation and Nigerians travel the world over. The Nigerian president had a perfect reason to remain home but choose to travel to attend a summit where a lot of noise will be make and little action taken to act on resolutions adopted.
This present Washington Heads of State Summit is the biggest assembly of African presidents with a US leader not only because of Obama’s African roots but mostly because of the photo shoot opportunity it will give some African leaders who will do everything to have a little of the charisma of Obama. The Summit is not about taking decisions that will benefit Americans and Africans. A small group of people will benefit from the summit but to a vast number of Africans, these summits achieve next to nothing.
After the summit, they will still struggle to survive on less than one dollar a day.