Ebola Outbreak Casts Pall Over U.S.-Africa Summit

Obama Administration Still Touts Trade and Partnership with Africa

Stacy M. Brown | 8/9/2014, 11 p.m.
President Barack Obama used the three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit as a platform to strengthen ties with African nations as 50 ...
Cameroon President Paul Biya and wife Chantal arrived at the Joint Base Andrews Naval Facility in Maryland ahead of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. (Courtesy of PRC.com)

Those who did attend the summit, including women dressed in brightly colored African clothing, crowded hotel lobbies and buses throughout the District. Pickup trucks carrying signs with messages like, “End Dictatorship in Ethiopia,” cruised downtown streets.

Many crowded foreign embassies and dined at local restaurants to the delight of merchants and their employees, who benefited from tips and other gains.

Traffic snarled each day and streets were closed around event sites.

Obama used the summit to state his commitment to renewing the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), that’s set to expire next year.

“AGOA has made it possible for Ford Motor Co. to export engines duty-free from South Africa, where Ford has invested over $300 million so they can supply engines worldwide,” Secretary of State John Kerry told the Associated Press. “And, the efficiencies of that operation have allowed Ford to create 800 new jobs at their Kansas City plant as part of the global production line,” Kerry said.

South Africa President Jacob Zuma said he wants to see AGOA renewed for another 15 years, with the inclusion of South Africa, whose exports to the United States were worth $3.6 billion in 2013, according to the American Chamber of Commerce.

“Almost 95 percent of South African exports receive preferential treatment under AGOA,” Zuma said in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We strongly believe that by endorsing the extension of AGOA, the U.S. will be promoting African integration, industrialization and infrastructure development.”

The U.S. competes in Africa with China, which surpassed America in 2009 as Africa’s largest trading partner. China has increasingly invested in natural resources projects in Africa, and Chinese leaders reportedly make frequent trips to the continent.

During the summit, Obama also emphasized an inclusive all-Africa approach to diplomatic relations.

“We are determined to be a partner in Africa’s success, a good partner, an equal partner and a partner for long term,” Obama said. “We don’t recognize Africa simply for its resources.”

Obama said America’s interest in Africa’s citizens runs deep because the people of Africa are the continent’s greatest resource.

“We don’t simply want to extract minerals from the ground for our growth,” Obama said. “We want …to [spur] economic growth that creates economic opportunities for all our peoples,” he said before announcing commitments by U.S. government and industry totaling $33 billion.

The president said he doesn’t just want the momentum sustained; he wants to “up our game.”

He said he’s working to pass an extension of the AGOA before it expires.

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said America’s approach to the summit was to view Africa in the way in which the continent views itself in terms of its political organization. “In other words, we didn’t simply do a sub-Saharan African summit,” Rhodes said. “We invited all of Africa.”

Perhaps the red carpet reception and traditional dances from Cameroon will count among the most memorable for Obama, who, along with his wife Michelle, greeted Cameroon’s President Paul Biya and his wife, Chantal Biya, as they landed on the tarmac of the Joint Base Andrews Naval Facility in Maryland on Saturday, August 2.

The Obamas greeted the African president and First Lady and all were accompanied by the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment, which provided full military honors to the distinguished guests.

Official state dinners were held on Monday and Tuesday and included political and Hollywood heavyweights such as former presidents George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and actors Robert DeNiro and Chiwetel Ojiofor.

Motown legend Lionel Richie performed a number of his biggest hits including, “Easy,” “All Night Long,” and “Dancing on the Ceiling.”

“Clearly the conference [wasn’t] being painted by Ebola,” Foote said. “The main focus was trade and investment and Obama announced some [$33] billion in deals.”