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President Biden hosts African leaders amid multiple crises

At least 45 African governments are to send high-level delegations to the summit as US competition with China and Russia heats up

Africa's relations with the United States may not have been as badly strained by the Ukraine war as its ties with the European Union but Washington wants to use its US-African Leaders' summit from 13-15 December to reset relations with the continent.

It follows US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's launching of the Joe Biden administration's Africa strategy paper in South Africa in August which attempted to redraw Africa policy to recognise the continent's growing economic and demographic weight.

US-Africa relations, which took a back seat in the Donald Trump years, have been losing out to more activist diplomacy by middle powers such as Brazil, India, Iran, Japan, and Turkey, and most of all China, which is Africa's biggest bilateral trading partner.

On the geopolitical divide over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, US diplomats are playing down the 'choose the west' imperatives for more nuanced negotiations over the war's consequences on trade and energy prices. They will be helped by Russia's postponement of its Africa summit from earlier this year to an unspecified date in 2023.

The opening day of the US-African Leaders' summit on 13 December is likely to be dominated by a discussion on 'conservation, climate adaptation and a just energy transition'. This will highlight some of the main differences on climate if African leaders press their case on financing and the composition of the structures that will provide it. There is plenty of unfinished business from November's UN COP27 summit in Egypt (AC Vol 63 No 23, Delegates haggle in Egypt as the planet burns).

In Sharm el-Sheik, US climate envoy John Kerry was cool on a 'loss and damage' fund, the main new initiative to emerge from the COP27 summit. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has talked up sweeping reform of the IMF and the World Bank, which are likely to lead on climate financing, but without getting into specifics (AC Vol 63 No 20, Geopolitical divides take centre stage at the UN).

Also on the opening day, there will be a Youth Leaders' Forum at the Smithsonian Institute, a civil society forum at the US Institute for Peace, and a security and governance forum at the Washington Convention Center.

On 14 December, the US Africa business forum is to set announce new bilateral investment deals as well as host discussions with company chief executives, business and political leaders and the US President's Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa.

Ministers are scheduled to discuss the next steps on the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which gives tariff-free trade to African states on a host of products but is due to expire in 2025.  These are questions where African leaders are set to push for more clarity on the US position, as well as on the African Union's bid to join the G20 and reform of the UN Security Council.

The final day on 15 December is to start with leader-to-leader discussions and a forward-looking policy debate based on the African Union's Agenda 2063. There will be also bilateral meetings between Blinken, Biden and several African leaders.

Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan and Guinea have not been invited because they are military regimes and suspended from the AU. Eritrea, with whom the US doesn't have diplomatic relations, and Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa, currently under US travel sanctions, will be the other absentees.

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