Some have reported Obama is gathering nearly 50 African heads of state in Washington for an unprecedented summit aimed in part at building his legacy on a continent where his commitment has been questioned. I don’t agree. What I see Obama as doing is something vital to the future of America. It is not building his legacy but more buiiding a better future for America. We ignore Africa at our own risk.
The African leaders came to Washington on Monday of this week with their delegations, security details and motorcades for a three-day summit at the State Department and the U.S. Institute of Peace. The meeting is breaching many protocols not to mention that traffic in DC is going to be atrocious with each head of state being afforded secret service protection.
According to the White House: “the August 4-6 Summit will advance the Administration’s focus on trade and investment in Africa and highlight America’s commitment to Africa’s security, its democratic development, and its people. At the same time, it will highlight the depth and breadth of the United States’ commitment to the African continent, advance our shared priorities and enable discussion of concrete ideas to deepen the partnership. At its core, this Summit is about fostering stronger ties between the United States and Africa.”
Not to be a fear monger but it has also been noted: “Obama administration officials are competing with increasingly dire news out of West Africa, where Ebola is ravaging populations in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.” Our disease experts suggest we have no need for concern. Like with the two Americans with the Ebola virus who have come back here to be hospitalized, we can only hope our experts are right. The only thing that gives me pause is it was too late to cancel the meeting.
The leaders from the two African countries most affected by the outbreak will not come. It was reported: “Two West African heads of state, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma, have sent their regrets, choosing instead to stay home and deal with an outbreak that has claimed at least 729 lives and threatens to spread.” I can’t deny that I’ve got a strong feeling they were asked not to come which suggests to me there is a danger of it spreading to our country. .
Others were not invited. Excluded were : Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, and The Central African Republic. Kenya, whose president, Uhuru Kenyatta was indicted by the International Criminal Court was invited,some suggest this is a blow to that court’s legitimacy. Kenya is a strong ally of the United States in its fight against piracy and terrorism and had to be invited.
Africa is a mess as a continent. (Click on Map Above) It has about ten democracies; 20 dictatorships; 16 semi-dictatorships or hybrids and various things in between. Despite this, we have military assets all over that continent and need to keep up our relations with it.
“The importance of this for America needs to be understood, Africa is growing, and you’ve got thriving markets and you’ve got entrepreneurs and extraordinary talent among the people there.”
That’s true. It can also be said about many other places in the world. What then makes the African so special?
For me, what he said next explains it and is what really matters. He pointed out:
“Africa also happens to be one of the continents where America is most popular, and people feel a real affinity for our way of life.”
In the world today where too many people have lost their respect for America in part because they feel no need for our umbrella of protection we’ve provided over the last 70 years, we have to take our friends where we find them. Obama is right in having such a meeting and welcoming these leaders.