In the course of his interactions with African leaders, the president unveiled a series of initiatives, including an agreement aimed at encouraging the formation of a continent-wide free trade area which has stalled over the past few years. He pledged to help African countries do more to transition to clean energy and enter the digital economy, in contrast to China, which has focused much of its investment in Africa on building roads, bridges, airports and other physical infrastructure.
Mr. Biden said in his keynote address that the goal was not to “create political commitment or foster dependency” but to “spur shared success,” a phrase he said characterizes his approach. “Because when Africa succeeds, the United States succeeds,” he said. “Honestly, the whole world also succeeds.”
The Biden administration has sought to deflect the perception that its efforts this week were aimed at competing with China, which has overtaken the United States in trade and economic cooperation with Africa.
But the focus on Africa was a tacit acknowledgment that the United States had no choice but to commit to the continent, which is expected to account for one in four people by 2050 and is rich in resources needed to combat climate change and transition to clean energy, such as vast forests and rare minerals used to power vehicles. electrical.
Mr. Biden’s challenge has been convincing African leaders that he is serious about wanting to trade with them. Many were openly skeptical. At a side event in Washington hours before Mr. Biden spoke, Rwandan President Paul Kagame shrugged his shoulders when asked if anything had come out of the inaugural African-American leaders’ summit Mr. Obama hosted in 2014.
“Well, at least we had a good meeting,” he replied, to the laughter of the crowd.
Mr. Biden plans to return to the summit at the Washington Convention Center on Thursday for a session on the African Union’s strategic vision for the continent. Vice President Kamala Harris will host a working lunch, and Mr. Biden will close the meeting by discussing food security.
The COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine provided Mr. Biden an entry point for African leaders, reminding them that the United States has provided 231 million vaccines to 49 African countries.
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