Jimmy Carter and Andrew Young

On January 30, 1977, President Jimmy Carter nominated Atlanta Congressman Andrew Young as the 14th and first Black U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. After The Senate’s confirmation, Ambassador Young met with the President prior to embarking on his first journey to the continent in his new position. 

As a Member of Congress, Young had traveled to Kenya with the U.S. Treasury Secretary George Shultz, during the Ford Administration. Additional trips to the African continent were made to attend conferences hosted by The Africa-America Institute (AAI) and with tennis legend Arthur Ashe for tennis matches in South Africa.

As he met with Carter in the Oval Office that morning, the President handed him a note that simply said, “I want you to ask African leaders what they would expect of this administration.” Ambassador Young later recounted, “We didn’t try to tell Africa what it must do. Instead, we asked: Africa, how can we help you? That same spirit remains the key to unlocking opportunity today.”

U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit

Last week, President Joe Biden convened the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit here in Washington, D.C. Forty-nine African Presidents and their respective delegations were in attendance for high-level discussions with Administration officials, Members of Congress, the African Diaspora, and business leaders from across the United States. 

Why Now?

When a White Official was asked by The Washington Informer “why now” for such a convening in a background briefing, the response was, “It has been eight years since the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. President Biden came in on day one with the determination to revitalize our partnerships with African countries. He gave an address to the African Union virtually, really quite early in the Administration. 

And so, it has been our intent from the beginning to do this – to bring together African leaders and civil society and businesses and meet their counterparts here…. Nothing is a better demonstration of our renewed engagement than three days of interaction and conversation.”

In a follow-up question of what the criteria was for extending invitations to African Heads of State, the official responded, “In terms of the rubric in terms of who we invited, we started with countries that are in good standing with the African Union. So, there are four countries that have had unconstitutional changes to the government that have been suspended from the African Union: Guinea, Sudan, Mali, and Burkina Faso. And then we do not have full diplomatic relations with Eritrea, so they were not invited as well.”

I commend the Biden Administration for bringing African leaders to Washington. Indeed, the timing is always right to not only ask Africa, “How can we help you?” but more importantly, to listen. However, the United States must also begin asking Africa, “How can you help America?”

Summit Highlights

For me, a highlight of the Summit was sitting in the U.S.-Africa Business Forum’s Deal Room at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Wednesday, December 14th. Prosper Africa is a White House initiative operated out of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) designed to bring together services of the U.S. Government and assist companies and investors to facilitate business here and in African markets. The Deal Room, an ongoing Prosper Africa initiative, connects American investors with African businesses seeking capital. The deal opportunities showcased at the Summit, and otherwise, have been curated by on-the-ground experts.

During the course of the day, a host of multimillion-dollar investments were announced to increase African exports, boost infrastructure and private investments, as well as accelerate innovation across the continent. Over the course of the Summit, the Biden-Harris Administration announced plans to invest at least $55 billion in Africa between now and 2025.

Next Steps

Longtime American diplomat and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson has been named by the President as the Special Presidential Representative for U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Implementation. During his distinguished thirty-seven-year career, Ambassador Carson has also held diplomatic posts in Botswana, Mozambique, and Nigeria, in addition to being a Peace Corp volunteer in Tanzania.

Ambassador Young, at age 90, continues to believe that strengthening ties between the United States and Africa can be mutually beneficial to both continents. Listen to Africa, America.

References:

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/12/15/biden-backs-african-union-becoming-permanent-g20-member


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