President Joseph R. Biden Jr. did not invite the embattled Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed Ali to the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit taking place in Washington D.C. December 13-15. Rather, the invitation was extended to the country’s ceremonial President, Sahle-Work Zewde.
A White House National Security spokesperson told Today News Africa in an email on Sunday that “President Biden invited the Ethiopian head of state,” not the Prime Minister who was elected by the Ethiopian people and is the person with real power.
A source told this publication that the Biden administration’s policy was to extend invitations to countries’ heads of state, and that in some cases, the heads of state passed their invitations to others who could represent them.
While in most African nations, the head of state is the leader of the country, in Ethiopia, the Prime Minister is the head of government, the person with real power who takes decisions and can send the country to war.
Today News Africa had first reported that the Prime Minister of Ethiopia was invited by President Biden after multiple sources told us that the leader of Ethiopia received an invitation from the White House to attend the summit.
Following conflicting information on Sunday evening, a White House National Security Council spokesperson clarified that the leader who was invited from Ethiopia is President Sahle-Work Zewde, and not Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali.
Tigrayans who blame Abiy for the two-year war and the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Tigray and elsewhere would have greeted him with protests in Washington, although many other Ethiopians have put the blame squarely on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
On November 22, United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Abiy on the phone and both leaders discussed efforts to bring about lasting peace in northern Ethiopia.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that during their phone call, Secretary Blinken “underscored the importance of immediately implementing the cessation of hostilities agreement, including withdrawal of all foreign forces and concurrent disarmament of the Tigrayan forces.”
“Secretary Blinken recognized ongoing efforts by the Ethiopian government to work towards unhindered humanitarian assistance and restoration of basic services in the Tigray Region as well as in the neighboring Afar and Amhara Regions,” Price said. “He noted that the United States remains committed to supporting the African Union-led process, including the AU monitoring and verification mechanism.”
While the decision not to invite Abiy Ahmed may be very controversial, the snub comes as Amnesty International on Thursday criticized the November 2 peace accord signed in South Africa by the government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) over war crimes in Tigray and elsewhere.
The human rights organization said that the agreement “fails to offer a clear roadmap on how to ensure accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and overlooks rampant impunity in the country, which could lead to violations being repeated.”
It called on the African Union to “put pressure” on the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali to fully cooperate with local and international human rights experts.
“The African Union must urgently pressure the Ethiopian government to fully cooperate with both regional and international investigative mechanisms on human rights to ensure justice for victims and survivors of violations — especially sexual violence,” said Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes Region.
“The Ethiopian authorities must urgently allow unfettered access to the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights to enable investigations to take place, and ultimately to ensure those responsible for atrocities in Ethiopia’s two-year conflict face justice,” added Mwangovya.
In an opinion piece, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo acknowledged that although the peace deal was not perfect, implementation should go ahead for peace to return to Ethiopia.
“Any pessimist can dig holes in the agreement, undermine it and try to prevent it from being implemented. But no agreement between two belligerents for peace will ever be regarded as perfect by all because it must, necessarily, be based on compromise,” Obasanjo wrote.
He added, “We can, however, strive for perfection in the implementation of the agreement in order to achieve the objectives of peace, security, constitutionality, stability, welfare and well-being, development, and progress of all concerned, especially the ordinary people of Ethiopia no matter where they live.
“The agreement must be implemented in good faith, on the basis of peace with honor and dignity, constitutionality and stability. Peace deals function on building trust, and that trust has to be nurtured, layered and reinforced from inside and outside.
“All leaders of Ethiopia and all Ethiopians with their neighbors, partners and friends must join hands and accept the truth that there is ‘no victor, no vanquished’ if the possibility of peace, common security and shared prosperity, development and progress for all concerned is to be realized.
“The peace agreement and its implementation must be owned by the leaders and people of Ethiopia. The panel and the observers are mere facilitators, there to provide a guiding hand if needed.”
Who else will attend the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ summit?
Special Assistant to President Biden and National Security Council Senior Advisor for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, Dana Banks, told reporters during a news conference on November 22 that Mr. Biden invited 49 African heads of state, excluding those from Burkina Faso, Guinea, Sudan, and Mali, four countries currently suspended by the African Union. He also invited the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat.
All the four countries not invited by President Biden are currently run by strong men who took power by the guns.
As of Wednesday, forty-five African heads of state and government had confirmed attendance to the U.S. Africa Leaders’ Summit. The White House has not released information about those who have confirmed attendance and those who have not.
Such information is often released days to the event as there does not seem to be a deadline for reservation.
Banks and U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs, Robert Scott, who briefed reporters on Tuesday during a teleconference about the upcoming U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit’s agenda said the event is meant to strengthen U.S.-Africa relations and highlight the U.S. commitment to the African continent.
Last week, the White House National Security Council disclosed to Today News Africa the process President Joseph R. Biden Jr. used to invite African governments to attend the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.
In an email to Today News Africa, a White House National Security Council spokesperson said that President Biden used three criteria to invite African governments to the Summit.
“President Biden invited all sub-Saharan and North African governments that 1) have not been suspended by the African Union, 2) of states the U.S. Government recognizes, and 3) of states with which we exchange Ambassadors,” the official said.
The official added that “President Biden looks forward to hosting leaders from across the African continent,” adding that “Our goal is to host a broadly inclusive Summit.”
Several African countries have been sanctioned by the African Union as a result of coups and counter coups, especially in West Africa where democracy has been tested in recent months, with coups and coup attempts in Burkina Faso, Mali and elsewhere. The United States on its part recognizes most African nations, except a few like Western Sahara.
What’s the full agenda of the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit?
At their press briefing on Tuesday, November 22, U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs, Robert Scott, laid out the full agenda for the three days of the conference.
He said, “The first day is our widest aperture day. We’re having a series of forums – an African and Diaspora Young Leaders forum; a civil society forum; a peace, security, and governance forum. There will be discussions on climate as well as on health.
“The second day is dedicated to the U.S.-Africa Business Forum, and a full day of opportunities for African and U.S. businesses to come together and to meet with delegations from the continent.
“And the third day is the leaders day, obviously, with President Biden and heads of delegation, heads of state from the continent involved.
“Let me just focus a little bit on the first day. I think what we’re seeing here is an opportunity to have as many players as possible involved in the discussion. One of the events which I think is extremely interesting and important, and one that has generated some interest I’ve seen from your questions online, is the African and Diaspora Young Leaders Forum. And let me go through that quickly.
“As you know, the African Union has identified the African diaspora as the sixth region of the African Union. And we also see the diaspora as a huge resource and opportunity for engagement here. So this event on the first day will bring together youth leaders, civil society, political actors, creatives, and folks involved in climate and other areas. I think what we’re seeing is a lot of interest in the event. Let me just point out that one of the areas – there’ll be a breakout session on education, a breakout session on creatives, and a breakout session on climate and energy.
“The one that I’d just focus on quickly is on creatives. As you know, the creative industry is becoming a more and more important part of GDP on the continent and here in the United States. And bringing actors from the continent together with their counterparts here in the U.S. is a wonderful opportunity to synergize and to get these groups working together and collaborating on music, on fashion, on culture. And that’s a huge outcome that we see from that event.
“The second one, real quickly, is the civil society forum. Again, we’re fully aware of the fact that the – we call it the megaphone of governance – isn’t just that held by governments, but rather by civil society actors, NGOs. A lot of voices are involved in that. And this event will allow policymakers to come together with members from labor, from civil society, in order to talk about how do you strengthen institutions and reduce corruption, an important support also for the AU’s Agenda 2063.
“Finally, let me wrap by just mentioning the peace, security, and governance forum. The idea here is again to look at the linkages between democratic institutions and governance and how they impact long-term peace and prosperity. We will see our secretaries of State and Defense and administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development coming together with a set of African leaders to talk about these inter-linkages.”
The Summit, only the second of such event of its kind in Washington D.C., will be the biggest U.S.-Africa engagement in Washington D.C. since former President Barack Obama hosted African leaders in 2014.
The gathering in the American capital aims to advance shared priorities and foster stronger ties between the United States and Africa. It will also provide an opportunity to advance the Biden administration’s focus on trade and investment in Africa, highlight America’s commitment to Africa’s security, its democratic development, and its people, as well as emphasize the depth and breadth of the United States’ commitment to the African continent.
The Biden administration has said that the Summit “will demonstrate the United States’ enduring commitment to Africa, and will underscore the importance of U.S.-Africa relations and increased cooperation on shared global priorities.”
“Africa will shape the future — not just the future of the African people, but of the world. Africa will make the difference in tackling the most urgent challenges and seizing the opportunities we all face,” the administration added.
President Biden has held several other summits since he was inaugurated in January 2021. On December 9-10, 2021, President Biden held the first of two Summits for Democracy, which brought together leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector in a shared effort to set forth “an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today through collective action.”
The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit comes just months after Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken unveiled the new U.S. policy for Africa in South Africa last August.
The new policy says that the United States will pursue four main objectives in Africa. The four objectives in the new strategy are fostering openness and open societies, delivering democratic and security dividends, advancing pandemic recovery and economic opportunities, and supporting conservation, climate adaptation and a just energy transition.
To realize its ‘openness and open societies’ objective, the U.S. will promote government transparency and accountability, increase the U.S. focus on the rule of law, justice, and dignity, and assist African countries to more transparently leverage their natural resources for sustainable development.
For democracy and security dividends, the U.S. will focus on “working with allies and regional partners to stem the recent tide of authoritarianism and military takeovers, backing civil society, empowering marginalized groups, centering the voices of women and youth, and defending free and fair elections, improving the capacity of African partners to advance regional stability and security and reducing the threat from terrorist groups to the U.S. Homeland, persons, and diplomatic and military facilities.”
To advance the pandemic recovery and economic opportunities for Africa, the U.S. will focus on “prioritizing policies and programs to end the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and build capacities to increase preparedness for the next health threat, supporting manufacturing initiatives for vaccines and other medical countermeasures, Promoting a stronger growth trajectory and debt sustainability to support the region’s economic recovery, including through the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII), Prosper Africa, Power Africa, Feed the Future, and a new initiative for digital transformation and partnering with African countries to rebuild human capital and food systems that were further weakened by the pandemic and Russia’s war against Ukraine.
And to advance the conversation with Africans, climate adaptation and a just energy transition, the U.S. will focus on “partnering with governments, civil society, and local communities to conserve, manage, and restore the continent’s rich natural ecosystems, supporting countries in their efforts to minimize and adapt to the impacts of a changing climate, including enhancing community, economic, and supply chain resilience, working closely with countries to accelerate their just transitions to a clean energy future, energy access, and energy security, and pursuing public-private partnerships to sustainably develop and secure the critical minerals that will supply clean energy technologies.”
The new strategy begins by acknowledging that “Sub-Saharan Africa plays a critical role in advancing global priorities to the benefit of Africans and Americans,” and that it “has one of the world’s fastest growing populations, largest free trade areas, most diverse ecosystems, and one of the largest regional voting groups in the United Nations (UN).”
It asserts that “It is impossible to meet today’s defining challenges without African contributions and leadership,” especially because “the region will factor prominently in efforts to: end the COVID-19 pandemic; tackle the climate crisis; reverse the global tide of democratic backsliding; address global food insecurity; promote gender equity and equality; strengthen an open and stable international system; shape the rules of the world on vital issues like trade, cyber, and emerging technologies; and confront the threat of terrorism, conflict, and transnational crime.”
“Building on the Biden-Harris Administration’s actions and commitments to deepen our engagement and partnerships in Africa during the past year, the strategy articulates our new vision for a 21st Century U.S.-African Partnership. It recognizes the tremendous, positive opportunities that exist to advance shared interests alongside our African partners,” it says. “At the same time, we acknowledge that Africa’s potential will continue to be challenged as long as deadly conflicts divide societies, corruption impedes economic progress, food insecurity heightens the risk of famine and malnutrition, and repression stifles human rights and democratic expression.”
The new strategy acknowledges that as President Biden noted in his address to the African Union last year, “none of this is going to be easy but the United States stands ready now to be your partner, in solidarity, support, and mutual respect.”