Background Press Call on U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit

The White House

Via Teleconference

MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. This call will be on background for attribution to “senior administration officials.”

For awareness, not for reporting, on the line are [senior administration official] and [senior administration official]. The contents of the call will be embargoed until the conclusion of the call.

And, [senior administration official], I’ll hand it over to you to get us started.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks so much, [senior administration official]. And good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us. I just wanted to give sort of an overview on the toplines for — regarding the summit, and then I’ll turn it over to [senior administration official], and then we’ll take your questions.

So, the President has invited 49 African heads of state, as you all know, plus the AU Chair Commissioner to Washington, D.C., for a three-day summit, really to highlight how the United States and our African partners are strengthening our partnerships and advancing shared priorities.

This summit is really a reflection of the U.S. strategy towards Sub-Saharan Africa and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, both of which emphasize the critical importance of the region in meeting this era’s defining challenges.

Some of the aims of the summit that we hope to achieve are deepening and expanding the long-term U.S.-Africa partnership and advancing our shared priorities; amplifying African voices to collaboratively meet this era’s defining challenges; and leveraging the best of America, including our government, our private sector, and civil society, to uplift and empower African institutions, citizens, and nations.

The summit is really rooted in the recognition that Africa is a key geopolitical player and one that is shaping our present and will shape our future.

As Secretary Blinken underscored during one of his recent trips to the continent this year, Africa will shape the future not just of the African people, but of the world. Indeed with one of the world’s fastest-growing populations, largest free-trade areas, most diverse ecosystems, and one of the largest voting — regional voting groups in the United Nations, African contributions, partnerships, and leadership are essential to meeting this era’s defining challenges.

We are committed to expanding and modernizing U.S. partnerships in Africa, working together to find innovative solutions to new and longstanding challenges, harnessing new research and technologies, and investing in long-term sources of strength while meeting immediate needs. We will focus on what we will do with African nations and people, not for African nations and people.

And lastly, again, a robust partnership between the United States and African nations is really vital to achieve our shared priorities, and whether that’s recovering from the pandemic or preparing for future ones by strengthening health systems; creating broad-based economic opportunity both in Africa and the United States; addressing the climate crisis, expanding energy access, and a just energy transition; revitalizing democracies; and strengthening the free and open international order.

So, with that, I would like to turn it over to [senior administration official] to see if he has anything to say, and then we can take questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, thank you so much, [senior administration official]. And thanks, everyone, for joining us.

I’ll just reiterate one point, which is that I think this is an opportunity for us to listen to and meet African aspirations. It’s the reason why we’re really focused on what Africans want for themselves and for our partnership and to have a dialogue about that.

As [senior administration official] said, this is also about defining a global agenda together where are the opportunities where Africans should, will, must sit at the table and help us work through some of the most difficult challenges in this consequential decade.

And finally, as [senior administration official] said, we’re going to bring the best of America to this summit. And I think that that will showcase the longstanding ways in which we work with the region but also highlight how we intend to do things differently or more expansively as we move into the future.

And with that, we welcome questions.

Q Hi there. Thanks for doing this call. A question that probably won’t surprise you: How does this contrast, if it does, with efforts by other countries? I’m thinking mainly of China, which has courted countries in recent years in Africa. Do you see this as a very different initiative?

And also, when it comes to Russia, to what extent do you think you’ll be looking for support from African countries vis-à-vis the situation in Ukraine? Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you for the question. I’ll start off and then invite [senior administration official] to add after in a second.

But I think, one, this summit is really about our relationship with the continent. It’s not about other countries and their engagement. We have — the United States has a long and enduring partnership with the continent going back to President Kennedy when many African nations gained their independence, and the Peace Corps, to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and battling the HIV/AIDS crisis on the continent, but also the enduring partnerships — cultural and exchange partnerships, from Fulbright to the International Visitor Leadership Program.

Under President Obama, there was the Young African Leadership Initiative to really speak to the moment in terms of the large demographic youth population and partnering to provide them the skills that they need to be leaders, to be the next generation to lead the continent.

So we have, both from a governmental perspective but also educational, cultural, and historic ties to the continent. And this summit will be an opportunity to celebrate those, to showcase those ties. In particular, we have an African Diaspora and Young Leaders Forum on the first day of the summit, which will really be about that: about focusing on the youth and how we engage our large diaspora community, many of whom hail from countries across the continent, and engage them in strengthening our bonds and partnering and working together on matters of policy, but also lifting up and celebrating the ties that we have in the creatives industry, in fashion, in television, in film, and art and music; but also how we partner, again, working with educational institutions on the continent, creating those partnerships with our educational institutions here; and looking at how we work with young people across the continent who are — sees with this crisis of climate change and how the lessons learned that they can take back from our diaspora here and our young leaders here.

So, it really is about looking at our points, our shared priorities — our points of connection and commonality and working to improve those relationships — or that relationship in various sectors. And the Young African Leader Diaspora Forum is just one manifestation of that during the summit.

You mentioned Russia as well. Obviously, many countries on the continent, unfortunately, have been impacted by the Russian aggression in Ukraine and the impact that that has had on fertilizer and wheat exports from Ukraine. And so, we are looking to have discussions with our partners around those iss- — around that issue and around the issue of strengthening food systems resilience, not just addressing the immediate crisis, but also looking at medium- and long-term solutions with our African partners.

I don’t have anything else. But maybe, [senior administration official], you have something to add on that point?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. Let me just put a sharper — a sharper point on this summit.

As [senior administration official] said, this is about our relationship with Africa and what we do with Africans.

But I do think there are some unique elements to our strategy and to our summit that really defines America’s approach, and that’s who participates from Africa. Right? This is not just governments or ministers; this is private sector. These are civil society activists, journalists, people who are working in the health sector. It’s about who we bring to this conversation, not just the President and the Vice President or most of the Cabinet, but also our leaders, civil society, our cultural icons, as [senior administration official] mentioned, our mayors and other officials across the United States.

And finally, it’s different because it’s about what we want to talk about, which is what Africans want to talk about. This summit is rooted in what Africans are asking us to be on the agenda.

And uniquely, what we’re also talking about is just, in general, the future of our international system. We believe it’s a decisive decade, and the way in which the world is going to be ordered is going to be determined in the coming years.

And so, what are the rules of the road on trade and economics, cybersecurity and technology? African voices are going to have to be a part of that. So, this is about, you know, elevating the conversation to address global issues, as well as the ones that are democracy, governance, and health and investments and development.

Thank you.

Q Hi, thank you for taking my question. I just — I wanted to — I mean, the last speaker just talked about setting the rules of the road for trade and other stuff, and I cover trade, so that’s what I’m particularly interested in. Will there be any message — will the Biden administration be sending any message on the future of the African Growth and Opportunity Act at the summit next week? That expires in 2025. I know that’s some time off, but, you know, people are already talking about it would be nice to have an early renewal of that, et cetera, so that there’s no gap.

At the same time, there’s been questions raised about whether that’s really the appropriate program for all countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly for some of the bigger economies.

And then I just wondered: On another call last week, an official from the State Department, in response to a question, said, yes, there would be a major policy announcement at the end of the summit. I just wondered if that major policy announcement will involve trade or economic relations in any degree.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: [Senior administration official], do you want me to jump on this one?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. And I can talk about the AGOA portion of the summit after you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. Well, maybe we’ll overlap just slightly. But I would say that there are going to be major deliverables and initiatives to announce throughout the summit which will touch on a wide range of issues that we care about. So, stay tuned for that next week.

And I’ll let [senior administration official] talk a little bit about the context of the AGOA conversation, but there’s been a number of robust conver- — robust engagements around sort of what is the future of AGOA, and our partners in the region are clear that this is an important program to them, and it has been the bedrock of our trade relations since the legislation was passed in 2000.

It’s a conversation that has to be done in conjunction with Congress, but I think that we first believe that there’s more we could do to optimize the use of this legislation between the United States and many African countries.

I also think that it’s really important at the summit to hear from Africans about where they think the future of this landmark legislation should go. So, I think it’s going to be a really robust conversation that will provide useful inputs on the future of our trade relationship.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [senior administration official]. And just to add, one, regarding the actual AGOA legislation, obviously, as you’re aware, you know, that is prerogative of Congress to determine the future of that legislation.

But, you know, as [senior administration official] said, you know, during the summit, Ambassador Tai will be hosting a ministerial-level discussion on AGOA and looking at really providing this opportunity to address some of the issues that our partners have and that they have raised, but really also to reaffirm the partnership with the continent.

It will also be a platform to discuss AGOA implementation and how to work together to improve, for example, AGOA utilization rates, strengthening economic cooperation, expanding to a trade and investment, and, of course, support regional economic integration.

Q Hi. Good morning, [senior administration official] and [senior administration official]. I have two questions. One, why now? Why do the summit now? And two, what was the criteria for the selection of head of state invitees to the summit? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, I’ll jump in. So, why now? It has been eight years since the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. President Biden came in on day one with a 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 really the beginning to do this — to bring together African leaders and civil society and businesses and meet their counterparts here.

And there’s nothing more catalytic than an event like this — nothing that is more of a forcing function, nothing that is a better demonstration of our renewed engagement than three days of conversation and interaction. So, we think this is a powerful way to build on the release of the Africa strategy in August of this year and to bring more flesh to President Biden’s policy towards Africa in a way that will be meaningful and concrete for our partners.

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.

Q Thank you for taking my question. And thank you, [senior administration official] and [senior administration official], for doing this one more time. Apart from those countries that you just mentioned — Eritrea, Somaliland, Mali, Sudan, Guinea, and Burkina Faso — is there any other African countries or territory that was not invited by President Biden to this U.S-Africa Summit?

Second, since we are just days away to the summit, has any bilateral meeting been scheduled between President Biden and any African leaders? And if not, what message do you think that sends to — that sends that President Biden will have 49 governments in D.C. and don’t have time to meet with any of them? Does he see Africa as a bloc or individual countries? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: [Senior administration official], do you want to take that one? Have we lost [senior administration official]?

OPERATOR: [Senior administration official]’s line should be still connected. Could you check your mute feature on your phone?

Just one moment, please. We’ll double check this. We do show [senior administration official]’s line still to be connected, however, they are not responding.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, why don’t I take the question from Simon then. Apologies for the delay.

So, Simon, the African Union recognizes — sorry, let me restate that. We don’t have diplomatic relations with the Western Sahara — the territory of Western Sahara — so they have not been invited.

In terms of bilat and engagements, there are going to be a number of interactions between the President and the invited heads of delegations throughout the summit. We’ve curated a number of, I think, substantive and special moments where they can be in dialogue with each other on substantive issues. But we don’t have any bilats to preview at this time.

Q Hi, there, guys. Thanks for taking my question. I was wondering — I have two questions.

First, on the security side, could you help me understand how the United States plans to project its — where it can help with security in Africa? I’m thinking particularly of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

And then, secondly, could you talk a little bit about any state-based efforts that might be part of this conference — working with churches in African countries — to provide the support the United States wants to provide? Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you for that question. It looks like we are having technical difficulties with the [senior administration official]’s team here. And so we’re going to have to come back to the group because we want to be able to get all of your questions and have the benefit of having [senior administration official]’s insights, as well as mine.

So, we will work with you to reschedule as soon as possible. Apologies for the technical problems on our end, and thank you for your patience.

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