Jun 11, 2014

Sponsor: NED

Conversation about the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit

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This August 5th and 6th in Washington, DC, the United States government will be hosting the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit to focus on issues of trade and investment, democracy and governance, and to strengthen the partnership between the U.S. and the continent of Africa as a whole.

In preparation for the upcoming Summit, the National Endowment for Democracy hosted an event on June 11th for top administration officials from the White House, Department of State, and USAID to have a conversation with the African advocacy community about the nature of the Summit and its desired outcomes, and to welcome input from the advocacy community on the event.

With the inclusion of members of the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) and civil society organizations, there is an emphasis on engaging with the younger generations in Africa to create opportunities in civic leadership and entrepreneurship for future generations, as well as making commitments to support open space in civil society today. Additionally, there will be a focus throughout the Summit on issues relating to women and girls in Africa – women’s economic empowerment and girls’ education in particular.

More than 40 heads of state from African countries have been invited to the Summit in order to, according to Grant T. Harris, Senior Director for African Affairs at the White House National Security Council, engage in an informal and candid dialogue with each other about problem solving and lessons learned from experiences to date relating to issues of development, peace and security, and other issues of mutual concern. In response to concerns that some invited heads of state are not always known for respecting democratic values, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, highlighted the importance of engaging all African leaders:

We are having an historic summit where we will have African leaders, and we have who we have. We have the leaders who are there in Africa now, and we are going to engage them on all of these issues that you are raising today. We could decide not to have a summit and not raise these issues, but this is an opportunity for us to have a dialogue and a discussion that will allow us to share our views, to make sure that they’re understood, to let other leaders share their views as well, and put pressure on individuals where there are problem countries.

Thomas-Greenfield continued, “You cannot change people if you do not engage them. You have to engage them, and this will be that opportunity.” The Summit is the largest event that any administration has organized on Africa with the goal of creating momentum to move forward beyond the Summit itself and take the suggestions from all of the participants to launch action-oriented initiatives in the days, months, and years that follow.

“I do hope that one of the things that will come out of this Summit is that the United States will be a country that has a foreign policy and global engagement that includes the entire world, including Africa,” noted Gayle Smith, Senior Director for Development and Democracy at the White House National Security Council. “And that the American people and people across the African continent will see that our relationship is part and parcel of our global engagement and not just something that comes in after the fact.”