File photo shows US President Joe Biden (then US Vice President) at the US-Africa Business Forum on the sideline of the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC, on August 5, 2014. AFP
Nearly 50 African heads of state or government have descended on Washington in the midst of a pre-Christmas cold snap for three days of courtship by President Joe Biden after years of inroads in the continent by China and Russia.
Previewing the summit, Biden's national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, said the administration would seek $55 billion for Africa over the next three years "across a wide range of sectors to tackle the core challenges of our time."
He said the blueprint would be the African Union's own Agenda 2063, its plan for sustainable development.
"We are lifting up African voices and African priorities in what we are doing in this summit," Sullivan told reporters.
The Biden administration, which has identified China as its top global competitor, hopes to show a subtle contrast from Beijing during the summit rather than hammering home criticism.
"This is going to be about what we can offer. It's going to be a positive proposition about the United States, its partnership with Africa," Sullivan said.
"We are bringing the resources to the table in significant numbers," he added.
Welcoming African entrepreneurs for a reception Monday evening, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was guided by the principle of partnership.
"We can't solve any of the really big challenges we face if we don't work together. So it's about what we can do with African nations and people, not for them," Blinken said.
- Push on democracy -
Biden during the summit will outline US support for the African Union to gain a formal berth in the Group of 20 club of major economies, months after he threw support behind a permanent African seat on the UN Security Council.
Unlike China, which holds summits every three years with Africa, the United States plans to promote democratic values.
Sullivan said Biden will meet with African leaders facing election in 2023.
"We would like to do everything we can to support those elections being free, fair and credible," Sullivan said.
Successive US presidents have pursued signature initiatives for Africa, with George W. Bush launching a major push to fight HIV/AIDS that he considers among his top legacies and Barack Obama spearheading a drive to bring electricity, which US officials say has brought power for the first time to 165 million people.
Obama's successor Donald Trump, by contrast, made no secret of his lack of interest in Africa, and Biden's summit with the region's leaders will be the first by a US president since Obama's landmark first edition in 2014.
In the eight ensuing years, China's investment in Africa has consistently outpaced that of the United States, with countries brushing aside US warnings that Beijing's billions in infrastructure spending could put them in long-term arrears.
Ahead of the summit, China's ambassador to Washington, Qin Gang, said that his country was "sincere" in Africa" and that its investment "is not a trap."
"We believe that Africa should be a place for international cooperation, not for major powers' competition for geopolitical gains," he told an event of the news site Semafor.
"We welcome all other members of the international community, including the United States, to join us in the global efforts to help Africa."
- Cultural connections -
The United States has also been alarmed by a rising presence of Russia, whose Wagner mercenary group has become involved in several hotspots and which has sought to convince African nations that Western sanctions, not its invasion in Ukraine, are responsible for a spike in global food prices.
Biden will highlight food security during an event with African leaders on Thursday, officials said.
The summit will also feature events connecting the African diaspora, hoping to stress cultural familiarity.
New York Mayor Eric Adams said that the success of African Americans showed the need for Africans to "walk differently."
"You have been denied, ignored and exploited on the continent of Africa for too long," Adams, the second Black person to lead America's largest city, told African visitors at the State Department.
"You're the largest producer of cocoa and others have made the chocolate out of it. Now you make the chocolate out of your cocoa!"