Obama’s Africa legacy moment?
Monday, August 4, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to three African countries last summer might have been dubbed the “trade not aid” tour.
Obama participated in a CEO round table, visited a power plant and launched “Power Africa,” an initiative to spur U.S. investment in Africa’s power sector.
Where former-President George W. Bush built his Africa legacy around PEPFAR, one of the most ambitious aid packages in U.S. history, Obama’s vision for U.S.-African relations — and the mark he intends his administration to leave behind — is about changing the way Americans and U.S. businesses think and talk about the African continent and its potential.
This week, about 50 African heads of state will gather in Washington, D.C., and Obama is putting them in a room with U.S. corporate leaders. The focus of the first-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit is “investing in Africa’s future,” and in many ways the historic gathering better resembles a business convention than a diplomatic summit.
Obama will not meet one-on-one with attending African leaders. While side meetings will provide opportunities to discuss critical security issues like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the ongoing conflict in Sudan, traditional “aid issues” do not appear firmly fixed on the agenda. In addition, the summit’s governmental organizers have stressed it is not designed to produce any concrete agreements or communiques, but to create opportunities for relationship-building and substantive conversations around various economic sectors and issues.
But even without a concrete product or specific objective on which to pin the summit’s success or failure, expectations are still extremely high. The message that African leaders carry home with them from the week’s events will likely go a long way in shaping perceptions of the Obama administration’s ongoing Africa-related initiatives, including Power Africa.