US to host Africa summit amid concern over China's influence

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 11:48pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 January, 2014, 3:29am


US President Barack Obama will invite 47 leaders to a landmark US-Africa summit in August, countering Chinese inroads on the continent with offers of wider US trade, development and security ties.

Obama will send out invitations to all African nations that are currently in good standing with the United States or are not suspended from the African Union - meaning there will be no place for states like Egypt or Zimbabwe. Obama will hold the talks on August 5 and 6, seeking to cement progress from his trip to Africa last year.

A White House statement said the trip would "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 idea for the summit, which takes place with Washington increasingly aware of China's attempt to enhance its own diplomatic profile in Africa, was first announced by Obama in a speech in Cape Town in June.

Obama cautioned last year against the idea that a new proxy cold war with China could play out in Africa.

"This is not a zero-sum game. This is not the cold war. You've got one global market, and if countries that are now entering into middle-income status see Africa as a big opportunity for them, that can potentially help Africa," the president told reporters during a visit to the continent.

At the same time, however, he cautioned that nations that simply saw Africa as a source of raw materials would not serve Africans well. That was clearly a reference to resource-hungry China.

Egypt, which has caused the Obama administration to tread a fine line with an erstwhile ally after a military takeover, is not eligible to attend as it is currently suspended from the African Union.

The United States maintains sanctions against Zimbabwe over what Washington sees as politically motivated violence. Other notable absentees on the invite list include Sudan whose president, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court.

One notable inclusion is Kenya, where President Uhuru Kenyatta is currently awaiting a delayed trial at the ICC on charges related to violence after an election in 2007 that left 1,000 people dead. The indictment has been one of the reasons why Obama is yet to visit the homeland of his late father as president.

But Obama has spoken to Kenyatta on the telephone, and the Kenyan leader has enjoyed more interaction with the outside world since a massacre at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in September claimed by Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab insurgents.

The summit, together with Obama's trip to Africa last year, and a promised visit before he leaves office, might go some way to assuaging disappointment that he did not pay the continent more attention in his first term.