President Joe Biden called Wednesday for a long-term partnership with Africa rooted both in trade and good governance as US businesses unveiled billions of dollars for the continent where China has become a top player.
Addressing a summit that brought 49 African leaders to the Washington cold, Biden avoided uttering China’s name but made clear the United States would take a different approach.
At the first such gathering since Barack Obama invited African leaders in 2014, Biden said the United States sought “partnerships — not to create political obligation, to foster dependence, but to spur shared success and opportunity.”
“When Africa succeeds, the United States succeeds. The whole world succeeds,” Biden said.
The Biden administration is laying out more than $55 billion in support over the three-day summit and on Wednesday welcomed US and African businesses, which promised more than $15 billion in trade deals.
In an implicit contrast with China, which takes a hands-off approach in countries where it invests, Biden told the leaders that good governance was critical to trade.
“Africa’s economic transition depends on good government, healthy populations and reliable and affordable energy,” he said.
Biden announced a $100 million aid package for clean energy and the White House announced another $800 million in public and private financing for digital development in Africa.
China in the past decade has surpassed the United States on investing in Africa, mostly through highly visible infrastructure projects, often funded through loans that have totaled more than $120 billion since the start of the century.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday warned African leaders that both China as well as Russia were “destabilising” the continent, saying Beijing’s mega-contracts lacked transparency.
Investing in technology
In one of biggest corporate announcements, credit card leader Visa said it would pump $1 billion into Africa to develop digital payments an area in which China has emerged as a global leader.
Cisco and partner Cybastion said they would commit $858 million to bolster cybersecurity through 10 contracts across Africa, addressing a vulnerability that has held up online development.
The ABD Group said it would commit $500 million starting in Ivory Coast to adopt cloud technology through data centers that can work with major US technology firms.
Technology leader Microsoft said it would employ satellites to bring internet access to some 10 million people, half of them in Africa, hoping to bridge a digital divide that has held back the continent.
The project will prioritize internet access in parts of Egypt, Senegal and Angola that have not had access to the internet, often due to unreliable electricity.
Microsoft president Brad Smith said that the company has been impressed by its engineers in Nairobi and Lagos.
In Africa, “there is no shortage of talent, but there is a huge shortage of opportunity,” Smith told reporters.
-Putting standards on aid
China denies US accusations it is imposing a “debt trap” in Africa and in turn has accused the United States of turning the continent into a geopolitical battlefield.
The United States has made much of its infrastructure aid conditional on democratic standards.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken took part in the signing of a $504 million compact with Benin and Niger under the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which funds projects in countries that meet key standards on good governance.
The deal aims to connect Benin’s port of Cotonou with landlocked Niger’s capital Niamey, with the United States estimating benefits to 1.6 million people.
“For a long time we’ve considered this to be our natural port,” Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum said.
He hailed the partnership with the United States and promised “institutional reforms” to support trade.
In a veiled allusion to China, Blinken said that the deal will not “saddle governments with debt.”
“Projects will bear the hallmarks of America’s partnership. They’ll be transparent. There’ll be high quality. They’ll be accountable to the people that they mean to serve,” Blinken said.
Blinken later met with Tunisia’s President Kais Saied and pressed him for free elections, amid wide criticism at home of polls planned this weekend.