by Aly Jonas

Türkiye, China, Russia, United States… What are summits in Africa for?

Turquie, Chine, Russie, Etats-Unis… A quoi servent les sommets en Afrique ?

After Russia, Turkey and China, it is the turn of the United States to resurrect the USA-Africa Summit, the last edition of which dates back to 2014. Have these meetings become a means for world powers to forge a link with the continent?

Last Friday, during a speech in Abuja, Nigeria, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced preparations for a high-level summit bringing together the American administration and African leaders. The US-Africa Leaders Summit, whose first and only edition took place in 2014, took place during the last year of Barack Obama's presidency.

A high-level summit which serves, without saying it, to compete with other foreign powers who have made Africa, for some of them, their playground. This is the case of France, which revised the format of its Africa-France summit by excluding heads of state from the program, but also from China, Turkey or Russia.

Antony Blinken announced the American summit on the eve of his arrival in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, which will host the China-Africa Cooperation Forum (FOCAC) in the coming days. The next Russia-Africa summit has been postponed for the moment. For its part, Turkey will organize the third Turkey-Africa partnership summit, starting on December 17.

What are these cooperation summits called? And what do African countries have to gain from these events?

The United States, too little, too late

For world powers, bringing out the heavy artillery to organize these summits is a question of image. If relations between African countries and their former colonies are starting to crack, it is a real opportunity for new partners. It is also a question, for the States of the continent, of highlighting their assets to attract new investors. And the trend is towards “win-win”: emerging powers, like China, are offering commercial partnerships without interfering in politics.

It is not a question of imposing Western culture on the continent, warns Antony Blinken. In Nigeria, “everywhere, people listen to Afrobeats, they read Wole Soyinka and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, they watch Nollywood films, they encourage Nigerian athletes, they eat jollof rice,” summarizes the American Secretary of State. And foreign powers have every interest in not trying to erase that.

The fact remains that, on the American side, investments in Africa are still timid. Especially last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa fell by 16% in 2020, to $40 billion.

At the start of the year, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari appealed for American military, economic and health aid. The American response therefore arrives nine months late, accompanied by an abstract “development aid agreement of 2.1 billion dollars which supports collaboration in health, education, agriculture and good governance” . But in this country of 207 million inhabitants – for 440 billion dollars of GDP – is this agreement not more symbolic than anything else?

The Nigerian case is a textbook case. This country already has a functional infrastructure, the second best internet penetration on the continent, etc. In addition, democracy is firmly established there. It is now a matter of the United States trying to sign other partnerships, in other countries.

China, unbeatable in Africa?

Is the United States a credible rival to China in Africa? In the first nine months of this year, the volume of Chinese trade in Africa reached a record high: $185.2 billion, up 38.2% compared to 2020. China's direct investment in Africa across all sectors recorded an increase of $2.59 billion, an increase of 9.9%. China thus exceeds its own record for direct investment in Africa by 3%.

And the Middle Kingdom does not stop at simple trade. Xi Jinping's country has succeeded in integrating highly coveted markets in Africa: infrastructure - roads, hospitals, schools -, new information technologies (NICT) through mobile telephony, satellite connection in landlocked countries... And the Chinese influence is also evident in the textiles, hydrocarbons and energy sectors. A breakthrough that China sometimes owes a lot to its debt policy.

During FOCAC, Chinese entrepreneurs therefore arrive with a very positive assessment. And, above all, they show that Sino-African relations have only gained momentum during the pandemic, where other powers are, half-heartedly, accused of having “let go” of Africa.

Realpolitics in Africa: Russia, France and Türkiye

While the United States and China are waging this economic battle in Africa, the French, Turkish and Russian summits devoted to Africa are relying much more on realpolitics. A proper reissue of the Cold War.

It has been years since France was pushed out of certain African countries, French-speaking in this case, by Russia and Turkey but also by African leaders themselves. And if Paris continues its conquest of natural resources, relying on its military presence in African countries, its two competitors have adopted different strategies.

For Russia, it is mainly about the empowerment of the armed forces of countries unloved by the West. And, for several years, Moscow has supported “problem” African countries up to the highest diplomatic levels. Moscow is today the first, if not the only, arms manufacturer of Ethiopia, Algeria and the Central African Republic, and seems well on its way to conquering the Malian and Angolan markets, among others.

For Turkey, the watchwords are trade and diplomacy. Ankara has captured a large part of French territory, and European territory in general, whether in North Africa or in the countries of the Gold Coast.

Therefore, cooperation summits organized by France, Russia or Turkey often turn into a communications war. But on the side of African countries, some find themselves torn between old, sterile alliances and new alliances, sometimes even if it means exchanging one neocolonialist power for another.

Regardless, high-level meetings today remain an opportunity for African leaders to standardize their relations with world powers. International relations are becoming vital to improve a socio-economic situation which continues to deteriorate.