Ahead of this week’s summit, USIP’s Joseph Sany says the United States has shifted its approach toward the continent: “Long gone are the days where America will come and dictate solutions. This time around, we are willing to listen and support African solutions for African problems.”

U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.


Julie Mason: Dr. Joseph Sany is vice president of the Africa Center at the United States Institute of Peace. He has been working at the forefront of peacebuilding with civil society, government, business and international organizations in Africa for over 20 years. Here to give us a preview of the big Africa Summit here in Washington, DC. Dr. Sandy, good morning.

Joseph Sany: Good morning, Julie. Thank you for having me.

Julie Mason: So, a 50-year agenda for Africa. Tell us what that looks like.

Joseph Sany: Yes. So, first of all, I would like to commend the Biden administration for taking on this summit. You know, the first one took place eight years ago, under the Obama administration. At the center of the summit, I mean, the core of the conversation will be around the AU Agenda 2063, which is a development, a 50-year-old development, agenda designed and led by Africans. And so, this summit is actually the Biden administration together with Africans. You know, long gone are the days where America will come and dictate solutions. This time around, we are willing to listen and support African solutions to African problems. And I think this is a pivotal shift in the relationships.

Julie Mason: Well, it does seem like for a long time, Dr., that Africa writ large has been disappointed to not be more of a priority for the United States.

Joseph Sany: You are right, you are right. And it is true. I think, again, that's why this summit is so important because it comes, as we know, President Biden, Secretary Blinken, have said, "Africa is a geostrategic actor." And this summit is an opportunity, really, for Africans to say, "Okay, you say we are a geostrategic actor. This is the agenda we are putting forward, the AU 2063 agenda, which covers a vast array of issues from trade, climate change [and] infrastructure. Now, let us sit down and see how we can move this partnership forward." And this is the commitment.

And I think that both partners will really have to demonstrate that they are committed to moving this partnership forward. And we will see. We will see, I mean, we will see, but there is a change in the tone and approach. And we are hopeful, again, where, as we say in French, you judge the missile under the war, right? That's when it's, yes. And so [inaudible] will be so important in understanding. If you notice, that means business when they say they are willing to work with Africans as equal partners.

Julie Mason: Of course, the U.S. is on very high alert for China's investment and influence on the continent.

Joseph Sany: Definitely. China is not mentioned in the agenda, but we know China is in the background. Our [inaudible] not to make this about China, but to make it about Africa and the U.S. relationship. And so, of course, China has been present on the continent. China's investment in Africa really dwarfed U.S. investment. We have been losing ground. However, there are critical assets that the United States brings uniquely to the table.

Julie Mason: More than money? That seems like a big asset.

Joseph Sany: Yes, yes. Yes, of course. One thing the U.S. and the African countries and African citizens, civil societies, share, have something in common, are the values. Values of accountability, transparency, the rule of law. And also, let us not forget the vast and dynamic African American diaspora. We don't have that same diaspora in China, for example, or Russia. And these are people who are committed to the development of the continent, who are willing, who understand the continent. These are cultural translators who are willing to navigate in the continent and willing to invest and so, and in the summit, they have this. So, there is a forum on the diaspora to see how the U.S. can leverage the power of the African American diaspora to invest on the continent. So, and the U.S. brings some technological innovations, as well, that Africa needs in climate tech, FinTech, biotech, all this technological innovation in the creative industry that we can leverage.

I mean, yes, the United States is behind China, but the United States has tremendous assets to address African priorities. And let us also add, the dawn of this new partnership. It is important. We cannot underestimate the importance of a dignifying partnership, which starts with listening and understanding where African countries are coming from. And also valuing African solutions. I was very impressed with the theme of the discussion between President Biden and African leaders. This is the AU-Africa Summit. No other major power has focused on this AU agenda as much as the United States. And that's an important, it's an important factor.

Julie Mason: So, Dr. Sany, what is the 50-year plan for Africa? What are the objectives?

Joseph Sany: So, the 50-year plan, the AU Agenda 2063...For the first time in 2013, African countries sat together and said, "Okay, what do we need? What solutions can we put forward to address the development, the developmental needs of the continent?" So, they came up with this roadmap, a 50-year roadmap with 15 flagship projects, from peace and security [inaudible] to infrastructure, high speed railway system, the African seat with the continental free trade areas, now being implemented. And for example, on that, all estimates point to the fact that way, if fully implemented, we leave millions of African, if that trade area is fully implemented, we leave millions of Africans out of poverty. So we have 15 flagship projects, from climate change, infrastructure, etc. that African countries came up with. And now, the summit gives both the United States and African countries the opportunity to sit down and see how the U.S. can contribute to that 50-year plan.

Julie Mason: Really, really interesting stuff. Dr. Joseph Sany, vice president of the Africa Center at the United States Institute of Peace. Thank you so much for joining me this morning.

Joseph Sany: Thank you for having me.

Julie Mason: It's great to talk to you. Take care.

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