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USA/Africa: A Dubious Summit

AfricaFocus Bulletin
July 29, 2014 (140729)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Starting August 4, the Obama Administration will host a mini replica of an African Union (AU) summit. As many as 40 heads of state from the continent will be on hand for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, a conference that will look at ways to boost trade and investment in the continent, tap into Africa's burgeoning youth population, and promote good governance. ... Unfortunately, unless a major change is made, the summit risks simply becoming an AU heads of state road trip with a photo-op at the end to confirm that they visited Washington before returning home." - Adotei Akwei, Amnesty International

With less than a week before the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit convenes, it is still not clear how many of the 50 invited leaders will decide to attend. The primary emphasis of both the Summit and side events, it is clear from pre-summit publicity, will be on trade and investment, although civil society groups have won inclusion of a Civil Society Forum which will highlight some other issues. And, on economic issues, it is possible that discussion of the "Power Africa" initiative will allow for greater emphasis on clean energy off-thegrid power solutions as well as the big fossil-fuel and hydroelectric projects of primary interest to large American companies (see

Many civil society groups, including Amnesty International as well as many African human rights groups, are focusing on the dubious records of many of the heads of state invited and on calling for human rights accountability. Particularly noticeable as missing, as well, are likely to be global issues on which both the United States and African countries are falling far short of their obligations - global challenges such as climate change and tax evasion though financial flows across borders, and failures of countries such as the United States, South Africa, Kenya, and many others to respect refugee rights.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is a co-sponsor of the Empowered Africa Dialogue, initiated by the US-Africa Network (USAN; ( This dialogue will specifically feature such vital but marginalized issues, in a gathering of progressive activists, to be held at Howard University on August 4.

There are still spaces open for registration: if you are in Washington, DC or close enough to come for the day, please register at

If you are not able to participate, please consider supporting the event by making a contribution to the Indiegogo campaign ( to cover the costs of bringing key activists from Africa, such as Mithika Mwenda of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, Alvin Mosioma of Tax Justice Network - Africa, and Brenda Mofya from the Oxfam International Liaison Office with the African Union.

As its contribution to the US-Africa Network dialogue, AfricaFocus has prepared a set of talking points, with links to relevant AfricaFocus Bulletins, on critical issues marginalized at the Leaders Summit and featured in the USAN Dialogue (

Today's AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the talking points and recent AfricaFocus Bulletins on economy and development, as well as two commentaries, by Adotei Akwei of Amnesty International and Ian Gary of Oxfam America, calling for inclusion of African civil society in the official U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, and stressing the need to highlight human rights and democratic participation in contrast to the overwhelming emphasis on trade and investment.

For official information on the Leaders Summit

Note that the official Summit twitter hashtag is #AfricaSummit. Some are also using #USAfricaSummit. The US-Africa Network, AfricaFocus Bulletin, and other groups (see links below for more resources) are encouraging the widest possible expression of alternative views in social media, particularly in the period immediately around the Summit (August 1-7). By using #AfricaSummit or #USAfricaSummit in addition to other relevant hashtags and links to your own blog or website, you can ensure that your input is included in the same twitter stream as official releases from the U.S. government.

For AfricaFocus talking points and references on critical issues marginalized at the official summit, visit

Additional commentaries and social media opportunities, "How to get the U.S.-Africa Summit Right"

Compilation of non-official commentaries

J. Brooks Spector, "US-Africa Summit: Big opportunity or just another talk-shop?" Daily Maverick, July 28, 2014

Useful summary including official details and additional comment

Alemayehu G. Mariam, "Cirque d'Afrique: 2014 U.S-Africa Leaders Summit," July 28, 2014

Scathing critique by Ethiopian-American blogger and human rights activist Al Mariam.

Diaspora African Womens Network (DAWN), with FEMNET and Oxfam America, "U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Social Media Guide" / direct URL:

Detailed social media guide with sample tweets & other resources. Suggested hashtag #TheAfricaWeWant

U.S.-Africa Civil Society Forum, "Recommendations," June 18-20, 2014

Call for inclusion of African Civil Society. Plus recommendations on the rule of rule, corruption and transparency, and discrimination against marginalized groups. Suggested hashtag #WeAreAfrica

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Missing Guests - The U.S. Africa Summit

By Adotei Akwei

June 30, 2014 direct URL

Adotei Akwei is Managing Director, Government Relations for Amnesty International US

Starting August 4, the Obama Administration will host a mini replica of an African Union (AU) summit. As many as 40 heads of state from the continent will be on hand for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, a conference that will look at ways to boost trade and investment in the continent, tap into Africa's burgeoning youth population, and promote good governance.

The idea for such a summit is laudable, considering the critical issues that will be discussed - issues that will continue to be key challenges for both Africa and U.S. policy towards the continent and as part of addressing the chronic need to raise educate the public about the realities of the different countries that make up Africa, unknown success stories and it's untapped economic potential.

Unfortunately, unless a major change is made, the summit risks simply becoming an AU heads of state road trip with a photo-op at the end to confirm that they visited Washington before returning home.

One reason for this concern is the absence of the voices of ordinary Africans in what could be critical debates and goal-setting opportunities for the African governments, as well as for the United States on issues that will impact the lives of millions of ordinary Africans.

Let's start with who is on the possible guest list:

There's Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has been President of Angola since 1979. Who wouldn't want to invite a man who continues to suppress the press, attempting to prevent the publication of newspapers or articles potentially critical of the government?

There's Denis Sassou Nguesso, who served as President of the Republic of the Congo twice - once from 1979 until 1992, and again since 1997. Under Nguesso's administration, nearly 300 Congolese refugees were forcibly returned from Gabon, being left vulnerable to ill-treatment by Gabonese authorities. Now that would make for interesting dinner conversation!

There's also Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia since 2012. Under his authority, prisoners are often tortured, being punched, slapped, beaten with sticks, handcuffed and suspended from the wall or ceiling, deprived of sleep, electrocuted, and mockdrowned, among other methods of torture. With such evident creativity, Desalegn will assuredly be a great conversationalist.

Paul Biya, the President of Cameroon since 1982, would also surely make great dinner company. Security forces under Biya's administration threatened human rights defender Maximilienne Ngo Mbe with rape, and then abducted and raped her niece due to Mbe's antigovernment activities.

How about Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda since 2000? Kagame is a role model in disabling civil society by prohibiting the registration of some political parties, harassing, intimidating, and imprisoning members of political opposition and clamping down on the activities of human rights advocates.

Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda since 1986, is also currently on the guest list. Museveni's has been leading the way in discriminating against and otherwise violating the human rights of LGBTI people and trampling other fundamental rights in the process. One of his recent innovations is the 2014 Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, a law that toughens penalties against LGBTI people, including life prison sentences for designated homosexual acts.

Another member of the guest list is Mswati III, King of Swaziland since 1986. Under Mswati, Swaziland has reconfirmed its rejection of U.N. recommendations to allow political parties to participate in elections and refuses to ratify the Optional Protocol to the U.N. Convention against Torture.

Last but not least, there's Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea since 1979. Over the past decade, more than 1,000 families in Equatorial Guinea have been forcibly evicted from their homes. President Obiang and his family have presided over a country that is ranked in the top 12 of the world's most corrupt states by Transparency International while his administration is regularly called out for systemic human rights violations by the U.S. Department of State.

It is safe to question the likelihood that any of these potential guests to the White House "dinner" either make new commitments to the rule of law and human rights or report back to their citizens on any commitments made at these meetings. This is even more worrisome because of the fact that there will be no independent eye and ears to even take note of any commitments they make.

Last month, over 100 hundred democracy and human rights groups wrote to the Obama administration urging that civil society groups be officially part of the summit agenda. Currently, civil society organizations in several African countries are seeing the political space for them to operate freely severely undermined and restricted while others are facing questions about their legitimacy to exist.

However, addressing Africa's challenges and unlocking its full potential will benefit from input from all segments of the populations of these countries - government and civil society alike. Modeling civil interaction with civil society advocates as legitimate and valuable partners during the official conference as opposed to at side events may be the most powerful step the Obama administration can take. It could be the difference between adopting sustainable initiatives that benefit the ruling elite or their surrogates and initiatives that will strengthen the independence of political institutions and the rule of law.

The summit must forcefully address corruption and build transparency and force African governments to move beyond lip service to take measurable, accountable actions to end discrimination against marginalized groups. If the summit does this, it could be the difference in hosting a one-time photo op and the start of an ongoing dialogue committed to genuine change and improvement between the United States and Africa that must continue.

There is a saying that politics makes strange bedfellows. President Obama may not have much leeway in who he dines with when it comes to official engagements, but he can decide what his guests should talk about.

For the 1.1 billion people in Africa who will not be coming to Washington, let's seriously hope that the deliverables of the conference are not who sat at which table and who wore what. The African people deserve better than that.

A tale of two summits: African civil society at the AU and US-Africa summits

Ian Gary

Oxfam America, June 26, 2014

Shut out of Malabo this week and Washington DC in August? / direct URL:

African heads of state are participating in the African Union (AU) Summit this week in the capital of the oil-rich dictatorship of Equatorial Guinea. At a controversial $830 million complex built outside Malabo replete with beach front villas and an 18-hole golf course, these heads of state will be discussing "food security" and other important themes. All this is taking place in a country of less than 1 million people, most of whom are dirt poor despite a per capita income - thanks to oil wealth - higher than that of Portugal.

Equatorial Guinea as the host, really AU?

As a place to showcase political, human rights, and broad-based economic progress in Africa, Equatorial Guinea is an awful choice. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has been in power for 35 years, elections are a farce, and the press and local civil society groups are severely restricted. The State Department describes "disregard for the rule of law … denial of freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association; and widespread official corruption." President Obiang's son is under investigation in France for money laundering and the US has seized a luxury jet and other assets as part of a corruption investigation. To top it off, Equatorial Guinea is one of the few countries ever to have been dropped from the voluntary Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

At a time when donors and the AU are focused on converting Africa's natural resources into economic development and progress against poverty, Equatorial Guinea is basically the poster child for everything that can go wrong with sudden resource wealth.

Ensuring space for civil society engagement

Civil society groups in Equatorial Guinea operate under severe restrictions and the government has made it difficult for CSOs from the rest of Africa to visit the country during the Summit. When the AU held its summit in Equatorial Guinea in 2011, it did not include a parallel gathering of civil society groups and no explanation for this was given. This is exactly the wrong signal that the AU should be sending regarding the importance of citizen participation and engagement in important public policy decisions.

The Obama administration has frequently spoken out about the importance of governments engaging with their own citizens and civil society groups. President Obama, in his landmark 2009 speech in front of the Ghanaian parliament, said:

"In the 21st century, capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success - strong parliaments and honest police forces; independent judges and journalists; a vibrant private sector and civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in peoples' lives."

Since that speech, there's been a growing clamp down on civil society space across Africa as noted by USAID, watchdogs such as the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, the International NGO Training and Research Centre, and others.

Will civil society at the US-Africa Leaders Summit have it any better?

Obama will have a chance to put 2009 rhetoric into practice. The USAfrica Leaders Summit will virtually shut down Washington DC the week of August 4 with more than 40 African heads of state in town. To get invited was relatively easy as long as you're in power, you're a member of the AU in good standing, and you aren't subject to US sanctions. Congratulations, President Obiang - you're in! And so are many other countries with atrocious human rights records.

Initial signs that African CSOs will have any more luck getting a seat in the table when they come to Washington than in Malabo are not encouraging. The State Department is planning a side event with African and US civil society groups with Secretary Kerry on August 4. However, there is no indication that African CSOs will be allowed to participate in the official heads of state summit on August 6 in any way, nor in the planned US-Africa Business Forum being organized by the Department of Commerce, which will feature a keynote by President Obama.

At a recent event at the National Endowment for Democracy, White House officials refused to commit to including African civil society groups in these events. Capacity is not the issue. To note, the US will be hosting 500 young people from Africa in the US as part of the State Department's laudable Young African Leaders Initiative the week before the summit.

Grab the chance, White House

It's no surprise that trade and investment will likely dominate the US-Africa Leaders Summit, to the detriment of human rights and democratic participation. But it would be a huge missed opportunity if the White House doesn't demonstrate what citizens engaging with their leaders looks like in practice. The White House should include select African civil society leaders in both the official summit on August 6 and the business forum on August 5.

Meanwhile, President Obiang has more than a group photo opportunity to look forward to when he visits Washington. He'll be "honored" at a gala dinner being organized by the Corporate Council on Africa on August 7.

I'm sure the Equatorial Guinean human rights group EG Justice - whose leader is exiled in the US - is still awaiting his invitation.

AfricaFocus Bulletin, July 29, 2014

Economy and Development

Talking Points

  • Politicians and investors speak of creating good jobs. In practice, they most often promote a market-fundamentalist development model that sheds jobs while increasing profits for the 1%.

  • The "Africa Rising" narrative celebrating rapid economic growth in many African countries contains a partial truth. New investment in extractive industries to serve world markets is growing, and there is rapid growth in information and communication technology as well.

  • But most Africans, whether in the rural areas or the burgeoning cities, have little access to the wealth created. Jobs in the formal sector do not come close to keeping up with expansion of the labor force. And government policies marginalize the interests of workers and small farmers.

  • Sustainable development depends on public investment in health, education, and infrastructure, but these investments fall far short of what is needed.

  • Significant change in economic policies, in Africa and around the world, will only come if there is active transnational mobilization for economic justice for the 99%. Such action must include not only political groups, but also unions, farmers' organizations, human rights groups, churches, and others in all sectors of society.

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AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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