Sunday, 10 August 2014

US-Africa Summit: Gains And Reality For Nigeria

Many would think that the just-concluded US-Africa Summit in Washington DC was a huge waste of resources as a result of the fat delegation that went with President Goodluck Jonathan, while some would see it as a fulfillment of President Barack Obamas electioneering promises for Africa, but little would they understand about what Nigeria stands to gain from the well-attended summit which ended last Wednesday.

Obamas election in 2008 as the first African American President sparked huge expectations in Nigeria and the entire Africa, and there was a strong expectation that the son of a Kenyan academic who through his writings demonstrated some emotional attachments to the continent of his root would have a strong policy on Africa.
By the time his first term ended, some African academics were openly expressing their disappointment with Obamas attitude to Africa. By 2012, the EU and China had formalised regular contact with Africa. The Chinese had established a regular annual forum for contact with Africa known as the Forum on China and Africa China-FOCAC. The EU-Africa regular summit had been established since 2000. Indeed, the fourth EU-African Summit in Brussels this year adopted a roadmap for Africas development 2014-2017. By the time Obamas first term expired, the only major contact with Africa was the visit in 2009 to Ghana.
As the Head of Africa programme at Washington Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jennifer Cooke observed Many other global players, including China, Malaysia, Brazil, India, Europe are making big plays in Africas commercial and trade domain, and the U.S. is being kind of slow to catch up to that.
A school of thought believes that Obamas lack of action in Africa should be understood within the context of the reality of American economic and political situation in 2008. The country was in the midst of an economic crisis, a deep fiscal crisis, and tremendous domestic wrangles over healthcare, Iraq and Afghanistan. Apart from that, Presidential historian, Allan Lichtman said Obama wanted to be seen as an American President rather than as an African-American President. He very much wanted to be seen as the President of all the people and not only as a president concerned with issues of particular interest to African-Americans. The belief in many quarters was that if Obama had demonstrated too much interests and concern in Africa, his problem with the conservative right would have been much more complicated. He might have had a more difficult road to re-election.
But in spite of the above factors, the African blood in Obama coupled with the need to have a safe, secured and stable Africa as an important component of a peaceful world tended to have made Obama to be thinking of an active African policy during his tenure and even after. This is reinforced by the apparent paradigm shift in global attitude towards Africa.
The international community now sees Africa as the next frontier for investors. Over the past decade, six African countries including Nigeria were among the worlds top 10 growing economies with most of them not even relying on natural resources.
Despite the global melt down, Africa grew by about 4% on average in 2013 compared to 3% for the global economy. Growth in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to be about 5.8% in 2014. Within a decade, Africa turned from unpromising overly risky continent into a rising one.
The coming to Washington of about 45 African leaders in response to President Obamas invitation is the clearest evidence of Obamas commitment to security, peace and prosperity of the continent.
The US-Africa Summit, the first of its kind in the history of Americas relations, was a high water-mark in United States relations with Nigeria and other African countries.
The summit came as an avenue for President Jonathan to clear some controversies surrounding how his administration had handled the security situation of the country, most especially the issue of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls.
Ever before the August summit, it had been in the media severally that the United States government would be withholding its bilateral assistance from Nigeria as a result of what was termed slow federal governments response to the fate of the victims of terrorist attacks in the country.
The said bilateral assistance include regional security, Niger Delta issues, electoral process, infrastructure and many others.
But the summit provided an opportunity for the president to inform the US government and other US arms of government on the positive roles that his administration had played to downplay the activities of terrorists in the country.
It would be recalled that Dr Goodluck Jonathan had told the US Vice President, Mr Joe Biden, during a bilateral meeting between the duo at the White House that his government had done all it could and would still do more to secure the release of the kidnapped students.
It could easily be understood that President Jonathans explanations on the security issues during the summit will go a long way in making the US to rescind its decision to withhold its assistance from Nigeria. That is if there was such decision as reported in the media in the first place.
During the summit, President Obama and his Deputy assured the American government would not forsake Nigeria despite its challenges. They made mention of the fact that Nigeria is the most strategic partner of their administration in the entire African continent.
The four-day meeting which included a civil society forum with discussions on investment in health, women, food, security and power also provided a high-octane conference to stimulate trade and investments in Nigeria and its counterparts in Africa.
Another gain that Nigeria will benefit is the fact that President Jonathan and his team were brought in contact with American companies chief executives who intensively discussed investment opportunities in Nigeria.
Power Africa, a privately funded plan to bring electricity to 20 million households across sub-Saharan Africa which was pushed by the White House, is another importance that the summit has on Nigeria.
It would be recalled that six African countries have been selected for the project; Nigeria is first on the list. Companies have pledged $9 billion.
Apart from the announcement of the White House to provide more support for Africa as regards Power Africa initiative, Obama also announced to African leaders his new initiative for African youths which is currently known as the Washington Fellowship for African Young Leaders. It is designed to give 500 young leaders from sub-Saharan Africa leadership training at American universities, as well as the chance to meet with government officials, entrepreneurs and civil society members from the United States.
Out of the 500 fellows selected for participation from 50 African countries, Nigeria alone has 45 participants. They were received by the embassy two weeks ago.
Apart from this, the summit afforded discussions on peace and security where Nigeria made some important contributions to the debate.
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