African solidarity

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial
Thursday 15 Dec 2022

On Tuesday, 13 December President Abdel- Fattah Al-Sisi joined 49 African leaders in Washington for the three-day US-Africa Leaders Summit, the first meeting of African heads of state and a US president in Washington since 2014.


At the biggest international gathering in the US capital since before the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the summit aimed to confirm the reversal of the America First strategy which sidelined the African continent for the longest time despite amazing potential.

The three-day summit had a wide-ranging agenda: efforts to help Africa combat the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, the devastating impact of the war between Russia and Ukraine on food security in Africa, and increasing joint trade and investments.

Yet, what really matters for African leaders are tangible, concrete initiatives that go beyond diplomatic rhetoric on the US commitment to development and partnership. America is expected to assure African leaders that relations between the two continents are based on genuine desire to benefit both sides, and not only viewed from the perspective of geo-strategic competition with other world powers, namely China and Russia.

One major announcement that has come out of the summit so far confirms Washington’s support for adding the African Union as a permanent member of the Group of 20 nations. While the G-20 is made up mostly of individual countries, in addition to three individual European countries, Germany, France and Italy, the European Union is a member in its own right.

It is long overdue that Africa should have permanent seats at the table in international organisations and initiatives. African voices must be heard and considered in international conversations that concern the global economy, democracy and governance, climate change, health, and security.

Hopefully this will be the first move towards the long-awaited step of reforming and restructuring the United Nations Security Council to reflect the realities of our current times, very different from what the situation had been when the world body was formed after the end of  World War II in 1945.

With over 1.3 billion people, mostly young, and massive natural resources, Egypt has long stressed Africa’s right to gain a permanent seat at the Security Council, on an equal footing with the permanent five: the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. We are no longer in the Cold War era, marked with competition between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Moreover, the world order that followed the collapse of the communist bloc, marked by unilateral the dominance over world affairs of the US as the sole superpower, has also come to an end. Thus, Africa’s voice on the world stage must be heard loud and clear through a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. 

As the Washington summit takes place only a few weeks after the successful conclusion of COP-27 at Sharm El-Sheikh, translating its final statement into action would be another test for the US true desire to help the African continent cope with the disastrous effects of climate change.

The Sharm El-Sheikh climate summit took a historic step by establishing for the first time ever a “loss and damage” fund to help reduce the effects of carbon emissions by the world’s advanced economies on developing and poor nations. The threat is existential, and not simply an attempt to extract funds by the world’s less developed countries.

If Washington means business, the US-African summit would be a golden opportunity for the Biden administration to take the lead and make a contribution to the newly created “loss and damage fund” that would incite other wealthy world countries to follow suit. Africa is home to countries that are among the worst hit by rising temperatures, droughts and other extreme weather events fuelled by climate change.

The summit will also be an opportunity for both sides to frankly and openly discuss the US complaint that African nations have not been forthcoming in backing its campaign against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine 10 months ago. Africa is in no position to take sides in this war, considering its keenness to maintain close and historic ties with both Russia and China.

Despite this relatively neutral stand and declared support for a diplomatic solution to end the catastrophic war, Africa has been disproportionately impacted by the global rise in food and fuel prices caused by the drop in shipments from major grain and fertiliser exporters, Russia and Ukraine. The generous flow of Western military and economic support to Ukraine has also diverted development assistance away from the continent. 

Hopefully, direct meetings between Biden and African leaders will help Washington better understand Africa’s delicate stand towards this war taking place thousands of miles away, but directly increasing the daily suffering of its peoples.

To reflect their good will and concern to maintain close ties with the United States, nearly all African leaders have positively responded to Biden’s invitation to hold this summit in Washington. What they expect after this gesture is an announcement by the US president that he will reciprocate and schedule a visit to the African continent, which has not been on his itinerary since he took office two years ago.

Such a visit could be an opportunity for Biden to demonstrate that Africa is more than a battleground in Washington’s economic and military competition with Beijing and Moscow. The next summit should not take place in eight years. It should take place next year in Africa with the participation of the US president.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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