Today marks Day 1 of the inaugural U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which is being held in Washington, DC from August 4-6, 2014. Yours truly will be observing the Summit’s events from afar, as my invitation appears to have gotten lost in the mail…
In the weeks leading up to the Summit, there were concerns that the event might not contribute to advancing the Obama Administration’s objectives in Africa, to which Amadou Sy offered counterarguments as to why the Summit was ‘far from bungled’ and Mwangi Kimenyi articulated five indicators of a successful Summit.
Most African heads of state or government and the Chairperson of the African Union, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, have been invited to DC, but the Presidents of Liberia and Sierra Leone have cancelled their trips to deal with the Ebola outbreak in the Mano River region, which has killed over 700 people since March of this year. (Btw, check out Kim Yi Dionne’s very informative take on the limits of local and international responses to the disease.)
Countries that have not been invited are the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, which are not in good standing with the United States and the African Union for various reasons – transitional governments, sanctions, war crimes, etc.
Yet, some of the countries to be represented, such as Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda, are currently restricting the space for political dissent and have attempted to adopt anti-homosexuality legislation, as Sarah Margon highlights in “Human Rights Shouldn’t be Sidelined at Africa Summit.” Furthermore, as Jeffrey Smith and Todd Moss write in “Obama Should Embrace Africa’s Democratic Standard-Bearers,” leaders who have been in power for over two decades are expected to be in attendance – including Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, who celebrated 35 years in power on Aug 3, Cameroon’s Paul Biya (in power since 1982), and the Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh (in power since 1994). Acknowledging the complexity of U.S. relations with such states, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield had previously stated “You cannot change people if you do not engage them. You have to engage them, and this [Summit] will be that opportunity.”
The Summit comes on the heels of Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) (now renamed The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders), whose fellows had been in the U.S. since June studying at 20 top American universities. This year’s class consisted of approximately 500 young leaders, selected out of an applicant pool of 500,000.
Before this year’s program wrapped up, the fellows convened in DC, where I had the true pleasure of meeting some of them last Wednesday, when the Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN) hosted fellows from Eritrea, Sudan, and South Sudan for a candid two hour discussion. You’re probably aware that I tend to focus on death, destruction, and world domination for a living, so it was a pleasant change of pace to witness the exchange of human and social capital between Mandela Fellows and DAWN members. As we discussed our respective career paths, we covered the challenges of leadership, institutional access, conflicting identities both within and across the diaspora, and common aspirations. The evening ended with Mandela Fellows asking for DAWN – and the diaspora in general – to be available for collaboration, motivation, two-way mentorship and skills transfer.
In anticipation of the first U.S.-African Leaders Summit, DAWN partnered with FEMNET and Oxfam America to create a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Social Media Guide, with the purpose of amplifying the need for continued civil society engagement in shaping U.S.-Africa bilateral relations and providing general guidance on using the event as a social media platform for pushing for a wide range of policy recommendations. This way, those of us who haven’t been invited to the Summit (sniffle) can share ideas and visions for the future during the #USAfricaSummit with #TheAfricaWeWant.