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It is quite evident that the much-hyped summit was not about how the US can help Africa, but rather how the US can reconstruct its relations with Africa for its own interests, especially in the light of the growing presence of the BRICS

President Obama’s US-Africa Leaders Summit came hot on the heels of the BRICS 6th Summit in Fortaleza Brazil where the new BRICS bank – New Development Bank – was formed, which is seen as a contemporary, if not a rival to the Bretton Woods institutions, that is IMF and the World Bank.

In the later bit of July we have seen the BRICS states commit to mobilizing a resource reserve of $50 billion as a start-up capital, which will be increased over time to $100 billion. The NDB is keen to be a lender for infrastructural projects in the developing and emerging worlds.

South African president, Jacob Zuma, while at the US-Africa Leaders Summit, was cited as saying that the NDB would assist any nation in need. He went on to say that the IMF and World Bank have no success story to speak of in the African continent and as such the New Development Bank would pursue a different policy approach that will seek to promote the well being of the States it partners with. (IOL , 2014)


The United States’ hand and agenda in the IMF and World Bank – the two institutions have been viewed as biased against the interests of the developing world especially with policies like the structural adjustment programme in Africa – have always been apparent in post-second world war global economy (Fiancial Times, 2012). This lends an interesting back story to the current geo-political arena, with China in the red corner and the West, synonymous to the US, in the blue corner; Africa is the title belt that is seemingly growing a mind of its own with every day.

Back in 2012 the BRICS had made a push for reform in the Bretton Woods institutions and was keen to change the weighted voting quota system, in which the preferences of the Western voters carries more weight than the preferences of the non-western voters; the BRICS were looking to safeguard the interests of developing countries and the emerging economies. (The Wall Street Journal, 2012) This move for reform was thwarted by the US Senate and so began the initial conceptions of the BRICS bank. Sub-imperial or not, on thing is for sure, the emergence of the BRICS is causing shifts in the attitude the West has historically held when engaging with Africa.


The ‘Africa rising’ narrative is steadily picking steam with every new statistic. In the last decade sub-Saharan Africa has experienced an annual economic growth rate close to 6 per cent – a performance it could easily sustain in the next decade. Such robust economic prospects are proving to be quite the incentives for others to cozy up to Africa for their own economic interests. (Wiseman, 2014)

Africa’s potential has not gone unnoticed by China and, again, Africa has increasingly viewed China as a more appealing trading and development partner – amiable, non-interfering and cost effective – vis a vis the US. China’s trading volumes with Africa have overtaken those of the US (and the EU). In fact, China’s trading volumes have surpassed those of the United States for much of the world. (Business Insider, 2012)

US trade and investment volumes seem to have stalled between 2010 and 2012 whilst Chinese and EU investment went up by 68 per cent and 8 per cent respectively over the same period. (Firsing, 2014; Wiseman, 2014) Africa is important to both China and the US not just for its wealth of natural resources, but also for its 1 billion strong population with an expanding income and purchasing power.

The US has sought to secure its stake in Africa by initiating Africa-focused programmes in the recent past like the Power and Trade Africa and the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and now the US-Africa Leaders Summit. (Firsing, 2014)


The US-Africa Leaders Summit clearly makes a statement about Africa’s global positioning; Africa is definitely not in a catch-22 situation where it has to choose one ‘good’ trading partner at the expense of the other. Africa indeed has the opportunity to vigorously negotiate for its own best interests and to reassert itself as a firm collective whose development agenda is not subject to external voices.

It is quite evident that the Leaders Summit was not about how the US can help Africa, but rather how the US can reconstruct its relations with Africa for its own economic and perhaps geo-political interests. Global trade and investment with Africa has never been motivated by a sense of charity or altruism; it certainly is not the case too with the $37 billion and other piecemeal tokens the US wants to put into Africa through private investments. (Oluka, 2014)

The truest gain that Africa has made, or could leverage from the Summit, is one of a global bargaining power – economically and geopolitically. This is not a freely given gain to the continent, but rather, it is an opportunity. This is an opportune time in history that the governments of Africa need to seize wisely.
Africa is crawling out from the backwaters of global insignificance and our leaders need to play their cards right, casting away the subservient image the continent has worn since the advent of globalization.


Of course, there are legitimate nuances to make about this US-Africa Leaders Summit; for instance, the summit was observed to be nothing more than an elaborate and grandiose PR show. The sole purpose of the summit according to the State Department was to reaffirm the US friendship and partnership with Africa. (Pace, 2014) Second, the summit structure perpetuates the ludicrous assumption that the needs and interests of the represented African states are homogenous, which clearly is not the case. It was made clear that Obama was not going to have private audience with any of the African heads of state – other than the 90 seconds photo-op quickies – not even the two largest economies in the continent were give exceptions, Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan and South Africa’s Zuma were denied that sort of arrangement.

When China and Japan hosted their versions of African Leaders Summit, their presidents personally interacted with each and every African leaders in attendance. But then again, diplomatic etiquette is a matter of splitting hairs in the greater narrative of a self-asserting and self-determining Africa.

There is also Obama’s quest for legacy by making historical precedence in US-Africa relations. And how does he do it? By summoning African head of states by the dozen into his courts for a dress-up party, cocktails, caviar, 4-course dinners and some Lionel Richie, reminiscing over the good old days before China the ‘home-wrecker’ and the emerging economies came to mess things up.


1. Business Insider. (2012, December 02). In 5 Years China Has Overtaken The US As A Global Trader Read more: (B. Insider, Producer, & AP) Retrieved August 05, 2014, from Business Insider:
2. Fiancial Times. (2012, April 02). Fiancial Times. (F. Times, Producer, & Fianancial Times) Retrieved August 05, 2014, from
3. Firsing, S. (2014, July 30). US-Africa Leaders Summit: Changes now and to come. (SAIIA, Producer, & SAIIA) Retrieved August 05, 2014, from South African Institute of International Affairs:
4. IOL . (2014, August 05). Business Report. (IOL, Producer, & IOL) Retrieved August 05, 2014, from
5. Oluka, B. H. (2014, August 08). Why Obama rolled carpet for Africa’s good, bad and ugly . (T. Observer, Producer, & The Observer) Retrieved August 08, 2014, from The Observer:
6. Pace, J. (2014, August 05). Yahoo: Obama: US companies to invest $14B in Africa. (Y. News, Producer, & Yahoo) Retrieved August 05, 2014, from
7. The Wall Street Journal. (2012, March 29). Wall Street Journa Business. (T. W. Journal, Producer, & The Wall Street Jouranl) Retrieved August 05, 2014, from
8. WISEMAN, P. (2014, August 06). Out of Africa: US companies have fallen behind China, Europe as region's economy expands. (G. Reporter, Producer, & Greenfield Reporter) Retrieved August 07, 2014, from Greenfield Reporter:

* Edwin Rwigi is Programme Associate, Tuliwaza, Fahamu Networks for Social Justice, Nairobi, Kenya.



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