As US-Africa Leaders Summit Concludes, Focus on Security and Governance Gathers Momentum
The US-African Leaders Summit closed yesterday with President Obama promoting his vision of partnership between the US and Africa. At the morning press conference on Wednesday, August 6, he said that “Africa’s rise means opportunity for all of us—including the opportunity to transform the relationship between the United States and Africa…a partnership of equals that focuses on African capacity to solve problems, and on Africa’s capacity to grow.”
This resurgent message on African solutions to African challenges echoes remarks by King Mohammed VI at a business forum in Ivory Coast this year. They have become a core message for how Africa, made up of 54 countries that do only 12 percent of their trade among themselves, should advance locally, regionally, and internationally.
The President noted the clear purpose of the Summit. “We are here to take action—concrete steps to build on Africa’s progress and forge the partnerships of equals that we seek; tangible steps to deliver more prosperity, more security, and more justice to our citizens.” The Summit sessions on peace and security, youth empowerment, trade and investment enhancement, and good governance produced recommendations and proposals that will serve as the US agenda with Africa through the end of this administration. How this will play out in the coming months was the topic of meetings, think tank programs, and media events occurring throughout the week.
Security, governance, and trade and investment challenges dominated the agendas of most of the public events. From the Corporate Council on Africa and the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings, among others, events emphasized stronger business ties, changing perceptions, and enhanced security cooperation. The Initiative for Global Development premiered a multi-part video series on Investing in Africa dealing with issues of misperception and understanding the business environment. And the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center hosted two events: the first focusing on the release of a paper on Morocco’s role as a gateway to Africa and the second, a panel exploring how to develop sustainable African solutions to security challenges in West Africa.
What is the Bottom line?
In his closing press conference, President Obama reflected on the discussions held during the day. “We agreed that Africa’s growth depends, first and foremost, on continued reforms in Africa by Africans.” This theme was repeated several times, as corruption, lack of opportunity, marginalization of women and youth, and lack of reforms were mentioned as barriers to a healthy and prosperous Africa. The President made reference to commitments by leaders to “pursue reforms that attract investment, reduce barriers that stifle trade…and to promote regional integration.” There will also be an “action plan to promote the transparency that is essential to economic growth.”
The US announced several cooperative initiatives to support young entrepreneurs and empower women across Africa a well as a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition that “aims at lifting 50 million Africans from poverty.”
On the security front, the US is launching a “new Security Governance Initiative” to train self-sufficient security forces beginning with six countries, and a “new effort [in West Africa] to bolster the region’s early warning and response network and increase their ability to share information about emerging crises.”
Interestingly, Obama said that there was agreement that the Summit would be a recurring event, while some pundits question if this effort will survive his administration. In the post-Summit press conference, it should be no surprise that there was only one question related to the outcomes of the Summit, as political events elsewhere dominated queries from the media.
How Does Morocco Measure Up?
The Moroccan delegation worked hard during this visit to raise the visibility of Morocco’s Africa agenda among US and African policy makers and businesses. Throughout the three days of meetings, programs, and events, Morocco demonstrated that it is in fact part of the solution to moving Africa ahead. On the issue of reforms, Morocco continues to work to make its emerging parliamentary democracy an effective vehicle for implementing the reform agenda in the 2011 Constitution. As regionalization brings more decision-making power to local citizens and their public officials, as civil society is strengthened through more consolidation and access to resources, and as greater respect and protection of human rights is promoted through the realization of reform programs, Morocco’s “best practices” provide examples for others to consider.
With respect to trade and investment promotion, encouraging entrepreneurism, and supporting job creating functions in the informal economy, Morocco is making good headway. The Casablanca Finance City, continuing capital reforms, energized Casablanca Stock Exchange, networks of banking, telecoms, transportation, and IT services throughout west, central, and Atlantic Africa countries, and expanding efforts to build sustainable solutions for youth and women employment, are signs that it is headed in the right directions.
Morocco’s push for enhanced regional cooperation is strengthened by more than 50 preferential trade agreements with key markets in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. It provides scholarships for African students in Morocco; supports training for men and women engaged in religious activities to promote moderate and harmonious Islamic practices; has extensive ties for security training and cooperation; and works at the UN and other forums to encourage stability, cooperation, and justice.
On Thursday, the US and Morocco signed a bilateral “Framework for Cooperation on Training for Civilian Security Services,” which will enable the two parties to “develop mutual expertise in the areas of crisis management, border security, and terrorism investigations.” The agreement will enable Morocco to develop its training expertise for civilian security and counterterrorism training throughout the region.
According to Morocco’s delegation, their time this week in Washington, DC was well spent, as it was for the other African participants, confronting US perceptions that continued to divide Africa up according to stereotypes based on out-dated notions of race and geography. Morocco and emerging Africa want to be recognized for their aspirations and their achievements. The Summit programs made it clear that this can be a concrete opportunity for the US to rebuild its foreign policy successes around shared values and notions of respect, opportunity, and dignity.