President Joe Biden hailed cooperation with Africa and said he looked forward to visiting the continent soon as he endeavors to expand ties in a region where China and Russia have been making inroads.
Speaking at the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, Biden announced billions of dollars in new commitments on financing and bolstering democracy, and affirmed he supported a permanent seat for the African Union at the Group of 20.
He sought to dissuade the impression his promises could be short-lived, naming a top diplomat to ensure the summit’s commitments are executed. And he said a host of Cabinet officials – along with his wife – would also soon visit Africa to demonstrate American interest there.
“I’m eager to visit your continent,” Biden said to the nearly 50 leaders attending the conference. “Some of you invited me to your countries. I said, ‘Be careful what you wish for because I may show up.’”
“I’m looking forward to seeing many of you in your home countries,” he said.
Biden is hosting this week’s summit hoping to build more robust ties with African nations, stressing US desire to work together instead of simply sending aid and assistance.
“The United States is all in on Africa and all in with Africa,” Biden said Thursday. He said “African voices, African leadership, African innovation” were all necessary to addressing a host of global challenges.
“Africa belongs at the table in every room, in every room where global challenges are being discussed and every institution where discussions are taking place,” he said, noting his support for a seat for Africa both at the G20 and the United Nations Security Council.
“It’s been a long time in coming but it’s gonna come,” he said.
It’s not the first time African leaders have heard a similar message from an American president. President Barack Obama held his own US-Africa Leaders Summit in 2014, complete with gala dinner under a tent on the White House South Lawn. He promised then to take action to help build more prosperity and security in Africa.
But his predecessor former President Donald Trump largely ignored Africa, never visiting the continent and even rudely disparaging certain African nations in a 2018 meeting as “shithole countries.”
Meanwhile, other nations have made inroads on the continent. China has worked to grow trade relations with African nations and has developed major infrastructure projects there. Russia has expanded its military influence, including through mercenaries like the Wagner Group.
Biden avoided specific mention of those countries in his remarks, but he alluded to China’s creeping influence in Africa when discussing new US efforts at providing financing to “build sustainable and inclusive economies” with saddling nations with “back breaking debt payments.”
He said he was working alongside Congress to announce a total of $55 billion for investment in Africa in areas as diverse as rural development and collaboration in outer space.
He said the US would remain focused on leading with values, including support for democracy, respect for the rule of law, commitment to human rights, and emphasizing responsible government.
Earlier this week, Biden met with leaders from several countries holding elections in 2023 to emphasize the importance of free and fair voting.
“We see over and over again that our greatest power is our people,” he said Thursday, announcing $75 million to strengthen transparent government, voter registration and constitutional reform.
He said Ambassador Johnnie Carson, a former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, would lead efforts to “make sure we translate our commitments on paper to progress.”
And he said he was looking forward to going to Africa himself. Biden hasn’t visited Sub-Saharan Africa since taking office.