Africa's interests should be at the heart of US summit

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Wilmington, De. [AP Photo]

The US-Africa Leaders Summit kicked off yesterday in Washington DC and over three days, African presidents and delegates from the civil society and investment communities will hold forums aimed at strengthening bilateral ties between the two regions.

According to the White House, the Summit will demonstrate the United States' enduring commitment to Africa and will underscore the importance of US-Africa relations and increased corporation on shared global priorities. It comes at a time the world is reeling from significant shocks that have disrupted the socio-economic fabric for a large part of the global community.

The climate change disaster, high inflation in most economies and political strife experienced in many regions across the world, not least Russia's war in Ukraine, have all undermined a wobbly recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. On this background, this summit bears an urgency that transcends previous conferences criticised for too much talk while achieving little.

African leaders have rebuffed several attempts to declare a stand on Russia's war in Ukraine, and the continent has maintained it is open to do business with both the United States and its economic rival China.

US political, economic and civic leaders will use the forum to seek partnership commitments and concessions from their African counterparts on various matters. These include forums on the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act trade pact and the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, among others.

This is not the first time Africa leaders are are holding such a forum. It has held similar meetings with China, India, Japan and eve Russia.

While such platforms are important in mobilising the investments that the African economy badly needs, the devil is often in the details.

African leaders have, for instance been chastised for falling too eagerly for Chinese loans that some people maintain is a ploy by Beijing to entrench 'debt-trap diplomacy', a criticism that has also been levelled towards the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, IMF.

As the US-Africa leaders summit gets underway, representatives from the continent should put the needs and interests of Africa at the front. This should be the unifying strategy for engaging with Washington and any other regional economic powerhouse reaching out to Africa for help.

Despite being a signatory to numerous free trade agreements and bilateral treaties with the West, Kenya's agricultural and manufacturing sectors have stagnated over the past two decades. This has depleted the country's economic output, lowered its competitiveness and driven up unemployment.

The US-Africa leaders Summit presents an opportunity for both parties to re-evaluate existing partnership models and question whether it is aligned with their respective interests. Africa will be banking on the African representatives to deliver returns that will take the continent forward and break cycles of extraction and dependency.