Zuma in Washington for US-Africa summit

4 August 2014

South African President Jacob Zuma arrived in Washington on Sunday ahead of the first US-Africa Leaders’ Summit, the largest event any US president has held with African heads of state and government.

Also in Zuma’s delegation are International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Transport Minister Dipuo Peters, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, and State Security Minister David Mahlobo.

The White House made the announcement that US President Barack Obama would host the summit in January, saying that he looked forward to “further strengthening ties with one of the world’s most dynamic and fastest-growing regions.

“The summit will build on the progress made since the President’s trip to Africa last summer, 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,” the White House said.

The three-day event, starting on Monday, includes one day devoted to business issues, as well as events focusing on food security, health and women’s empowerment.

There will also be meetings of US and African CEOs, as well as an African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) ministerial meeting, both aimed at strengthening trade and investment between the US and Africa.

Agoa, which enables 39 eligible sub-Saharan African countries to export most products duty-free to the United States, has seen total African exports to the US more than quadruple, and US exports to sub-Saharan Africa more than triple, since its inception in 2000

In August, US Trade Representative Michael Froman told a two-day forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that the US was looking to work with African experts and leaders on forging an improved “Agoa 2.0” before the expiry of its current version in 2015.

Some members of the US Congress have questioned whether South Africa, being relatively developed in Africa, should continue to be included in Agoa.

Speaking to journalists in Pretoria last week, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said South Africa would push for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) to be extended for a 15-year period when its current period expires next year, and for its own inclusion in the programme’s rollover.

Some observers have suggested that the conference was aimed at ensuring that Obama leaves a stronger relationship with Africa when his term in office comes to an end in 2016.

Speaking to SAnews on the weekend, Shadrack Gutto, head of the Centre for African Renaissance at the University of South Africa, said the summit was historically significance because Obama was be the first US president to bring African leaders together.

US policy on Africa has changed over the years, Gutto said, adding it was significant that Obama had decided to call the summit in his last term in office.

“It is my view that Obama, as a person of African descent, wants to say he cares about Africa and wants to show that in practice. I think he will use this opportunity to begin to invest more in Africa.”

However, Gutto said, the direction this week’s summit took would also depend on the agenda of the African leaders who had been invited to be part of the meeting.

“The question will be whether these leaders are going there as school children who are called to the headmaster’s office, or will they actually set the agenda. We will see. Africa’s agenda ought to be clear, the leaders need to come to the summit with a clear message that the continent needs to industrialise and the US can play a role in that.

“It is a question of whether the US can prove itself as a good partner in the development of Africa and the quest to industrialise. Already Nepad the New Partnership for Africa’s Development demands that the donor-recipient relationship must come to an end. I therefore think it will therefore be important that this does not come across as just another talk shop.”

SAnews.gov.za and SAinfo reporter