When Barack Obama and Africa are mentioned together, there are always plenty of superlatives tossed around. That applies even more for the current summit taking place in Washington D.C. between the first African-American U.S. president and the leaders of almost 50 African countries. Although America’s rival for regional influence China already arranged such a meeting years ago, there has been plenty of talk that this “historic summit” represented turning point in the United States’ strained relations with Africa. At the same time, it would shower investment worth billions of dollar onto a continent that has fallen too far behind the rest of the world. The expectations for economic cooperation are accordingly high.
Whether the summit fulfills these hopes is questionable. This time, Africa itself has namely a duty first to itself. After all, the continent has wholeheartedly and completely uncritically embraced China since the turn of the millennium. At same time, it has neglected old ties to America, causing trade with the United States to shrink to $60 billion in the last ten years. In contrast, Africa’s exchange of goods with China has drastically increased since 2000 from just $10 billion to now $180 billion.
A reason for this development is doubtless due to the fact that Mr. Obama came into office at the start of the serious financial crisis in the year 2009 and that meant Africa was lost from focus for a long time in Washington. Until recently, this practically gave China free reign in its search for new raw materials sources for the development of its own economy. Furthermore, it was well received by the African elites, that Beijing does not hold any moral sermons on democracy and transparency, but rather, carries a brisk trade with even the continent’s worst dictators.