Tuesday, January 17, 2023
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Global AddisFighting for sway in Africa's diplomatic arena

Fighting for sway in Africa’s diplomatic arena

When the United States hosted the US-Africa summit back in 2014, its trade with Africa was USD 85 billion a year. But Africa’s trade with the main political and economic rival of the US, China, was 135 percent larger than this amount during the same time.

To counter China’s influence, the US convened the first-ever summit of its kind under then-President Barack Obama, with the main agendas of trade and investment. Two years later, the former president Donald Trump took power, and there had been no gatherings between the two. The three-day summit in 2014 took place between the US and 50 African countries, out of 54. It concluded with President Obama announcing USD 20 billion in energy projects in the form of investment for sub-Saharan African countries.

Fast forward eight years, the next summit between the US and 49 African nations was held beginning on December 13, 2022, and ending yesterday. Even as recently as last year, the United States traded far fewer goods and services with Africa than with China, accounting for USD 83.6 billion against China’s record high of USD 254 billion.

The US had announced ahead of the summit that it would commit USD 55 billion in the coming three years. Several discussions and deals were made among the countries, traders, and investors over potential trade and investment opportunities that US companies have on the continent. In his keynote speech during the summit, Joe Biden, the US President, said that the summit was about building connections, closing deals, and, above all, about the shared future of the continent and the US.

“When Africa succeeds, the United States succeeds. Quite frankly, the whole world succeeds as well,” he said.

Biden also announced that this forum has spurred a total of USD 15 billion in deals to improve the lives of people in Africa. “All of you. The deals you have signed and the investments we have made together are concrete proof of the enduring commitment we are making to one another,” he said, adding, “The US is all in Africa’s future.”

As described by the politicians and experts, this summit was mainly aimed by the US to counter the influence of China as well as Russia on the continent. African governments have been the leading voices opposing the sanctions that Western countries have been attempting to impose on Russia.

Unlike the conference with the US, which convened both events in Washington, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) has been prepared by the Chinese government every three years since the first program was held in 2000.

The last time the forum took place was in Dakar, Senegal, by the end of November 2021. It ended with China promising to expand the scope of duty-free products for least-developed countries, making it one of the most successful forums for landing big deals for Africa.

China’s pledge to grant duty-free treatment to products aims to achieve USD 300 billion in African imports over the next three years. China also promised to provide USD 10 billion in credit to African financial institutions.

In contrast, decisions from Washington last year targeted sanctions on Ethiopia and two other African nations, under which three countries, including Ethiopia, were revoked from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

On the Ethiopian side, delegates to last week’s forum included Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), State Minister for Finance Eyob Tekalign (PhD), CEO of Ethiopian Investment Holding, and senior advisor to the PM, Mamo Mihiretu, as well as several other ministers and diplomats.

“Mr. Prime Minister, it’s so good to finally connect in person,” Antony Blinken, United States Secretary of State, said while receiving Abiy in the meeting room.

“PM Abiy and I discussed the measurable progress made so far on implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and the positive impact full implementation by all parties of the Pretoria and Nairobi agreements will have on Ethiopia’s recovery,” Blinken tweeted later.

In addition to discussions with government representatives, the Prime Minister has met with Jake Sullian, the United States’ National Security Advisor. Tesfaye Yilma (Amb), state minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs disclosed that how the strategic relationship between Ethiopia and the US should progress in the future and what directions it should follow were the main discussion topics.

“The main focus of the discussion [between the PM and Jake Sullian] was how the relationship between the two should go in the future. This relationship has huge potential in terms of economy, politics, and security,” Tesfaye said.

Besides the politics, economic ties were one of the main goals African nations were looking to achieve from their attendance at the summit. Business deals, investment opportunities for US investors in Africa, aid, and financial assistance were achieved.

Abiy and the delegates also held talks with the two big international financial institutions based in the US, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“While the PM was still there, the World Bank’s board had just yesterday approved a new support of USD 745 million to Ethiopia for health and environment protection,” Mamo Mihretu said, after their discussion with David Malpass, president of the World Bank. “The World Bank president pledged to further support the Ethiopian economic reform.”

A sideline meeting with the managing director of the IMF, Kristalina Georgieva, was also held. The long discussion with the IMF director was aimed at strengthening the cooperation following the peace deal and briefing her about the economic reforms, according to Mamo.

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