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Historic U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Convenes

Stacy M. Brown | 7/30/2014, 3 p.m.
Officials are set to convene a three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit on Capitol Hill beginning Monday.
Audience members listen as President Obama speaks during a Young African Leaders Initiative town hall at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in D.C. on July 28, 2014. (Pete Souza/The White House)

Karen Bass has looked closely at America’s relationship with Africa and finds the facts to be a bit disconcerting.

Bass, a U.S. Congresswoman from California, noted that the U.S. has gone from a leading trade partner with Africa to sorely lagging behind the European Union (EU), China and other countries.

“I’m hoping when the various leaders come to the United States, they are actually able to make connections that will lead to an increase in trade and business deals between our companies here and those there in Africa,” said Bass, 60, who has a long history of trying to help change how Americans think about and engage African nations.

As officials set to convene a three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit on Capitol Hill beginning on Monday, Aug. 4, Bass said she’s keenly aware that the United States’ $60 billion in total trade with Africa falls shy of the $200 billion in trade between the EU and Africa last year.

It’s also a far cry from the $170 billion Africa negotiated with China.

“I’m hoping for a reset of U.S. and African relations because I do know that Africa has been front and center on the president’s agenda, but I don’t think it has been on the public’s agenda,” said Bass, who also noted the importance of focusing on the soon-to-expire African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 2000 with an objective of helping to facilitate Africa’s integration into the global economy.

With the theme, “Investing in the Next Generation,” officials said the summit will host nearly 50 African leaders.

Many of the discussions are expected to center on how progress in key areas can be made that Africans define as critical for their future, including expanding trade and investment ties, engaging young African leaders, promoting inclusive sustainable development, expanding cooperation on peace and security, and ensuring a better future for individuals on both continents.

“Everyone must understand that Africa isn’t looking for someone to come and save [it], [Africans] are looking for someone to partner with,” said Melvin Foote, a pioneer in the field of African Affairs who founded the Constituency for Africa, located in Northeast, nearly a quarter of a century ago.

Erastus Mwencha, the deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission, said everyone’s eagerly looking forward to discussing issues like investing in the continent’s future and in peace and security.

“Africa and the United States share a lot in common, in heritage and cooperation in many areas. Many who are of African descent live in the United States, so this is a good occasion for Africa to chart a new paradigm in terms of cooperation,” Mwencha said.

Faith Muthambi, the African Union’s communications minister, said the summit should be an “encouragement of regional integration on the continent.”

Patrick H. Gaspard, the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, said all participants have expressed an eagerness for the summit to begin.

“It will be my great [pleasure] to represent the United States in our efforts to partner with the South African government as it strives to improve the economic conditions of its citizens and as it helps to lead efforts throughout the continent to increase security and prosperity for all,” said Gaspard, 47.