The first U.S.–Africa Leaders Summit concluded this week. President Obama has, quite expectedly, characterized it as “an extraordinary event, an extraordinary summit.” The three-day summit yielded some positive notes and outcomes. Yet on balance, the summit was the Administration in a nutshell—compelling theatrics, nice sounding rhetoric, ambitious promises, and lingering doubts about implementation and follow-through. Elements worth noting in include:
- The Administration announced “a new investment of $110 million per year for 3–5 years to build the capacity of African militaries to rapidly deploy peacekeepers” that will focus on training and professionalization of African militaries. This is a welcome commitment, as instability remains a widespread problem and Africans need to be encouraged to assume more responsibility for regional peacekeeping efforts.
- The intent to enhance the commitment of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to Africa is also welcome. The MCC has shown greater effectiveness than traditional development assistance by emphasizing and dedicating aid to countries committed to good governance, the rule of law, anti-corruption, and free-market policies. In addition to leading its first ever investment mission to Africa, the MCC will commit up to $2 billion in funding for new compacts in Africa to facilitate private-sector-driven economic development.
- The Administration reiterated its commitment to the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund that was announced during the President’s West Point commencement speech. If the President is serious about combating terrorism in Africa and building partnerships to counter violent extremism in Africa, a long-term program will be required. Emergency funding is not the silver bullet to a long-term problem, no matter how “comprehensive” the President claims it will be.
- Although the specific call for renewing the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a positive sign, the Administration appears to have very little ambition for AGOA renewal beyond extending the current framework. This is a missed opportunity to upgrade the current economic partnership beyond a trade preference arrangement.
- President Obama also announced investment pledges of more than $26 billion. However, it is unclear how much is actually new commitments and how much was previously committed or arranged for unveiling at the summit. Moreover, a significant portion of the U.S. government’s commitment is based on Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and Export-Import Bank support, which is backed by U.S. taxpayers. Private-sector investment in Africa should be based on market conditions, investment climate, and profit potential, not subsidies from the U.S. taxpayer in the form of Ex-Im financing and OPIC political risk insurance, loans, and guarantees.
The Administration deserves credit for salvaging some positive results from the summit, which was criticized as unfocused in the lead-up. However, the Administration has demonstrated little skill and even less interest in working with Congress to get legislation passed. Unless things change dramatically, the promises of the U.S.–African Leaders Summit will be unfulfilled.