February 8, 2023

U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit: Biden will call for African Union to permanently join G-20

President Joe Biden delivers remarks at a Medal of Honor ceremony, Tuesday, July 5, 2022, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
President Joe Biden delivers remarks at a Medal of Honor ceremony, Tuesday, July 5, 2022, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will announce during the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit he is hosting in Washington D.C. next week the U.S. support for the African Union to become a permanent member of the Group of 20 nations, said Judd Devermont, the White House National Security Council’s senior director for African Affairs. The African Union is made up of 55 states in the continent.

“It’s past time Africa has permanent seats at the table in international organizations and initiatives. We need more African voices in international conversations that concern the global economy, democracy and governance, climate change, health, and security,” Devermont said in a statement.

The Washington Post argued that joining the G20, an influential forum for the world’s most powerful economies, is “a step that would give African nations a long-sought prize and could make it easier for Biden to secure their cooperation on issues like Ukraine and climate change.”

South Africa is currently the only member from the continent. The group is made up of members from Europe, Asia and the Americas.

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is not expected to have a one-on-one meeting with any of the 50 African leaders attending the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit he is hosting in Washington D.C. December 13-15, a senior administration official told reporters on Thursday.

The official added that although the White House has “curated substantive and special moments” for interactions, no bilateral meeting between President Biden and any African leader has been scheduled during the summit.

“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,” the official said.

The official also disclosed for the first time that Western Sahara, a disputed territory on the northwest coast and in the Maghreb region of North and West Africa, has not been invited to the summit. About 20% of the territory is controlled by the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, while the remaining 80% of the territory is occupied and administered by neighboring Morocco.

“We don’t have diplomatic relations with the Western Sahara — the territory of Western Sahara — so they have not been invited,” the official said during a teleconference that had in attendance another senior administration official.

In all, President Biden did not invite Western SaharaEritreaSomalilandSudanGuinea, Mali and Burkina Faso to the 2022 U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit.

He invited 49 African heads of state and the chairperson of the African Union Commission to Washington, D.C., for the three-day summit starting on Tuesday. Those countries are all in good standing with the African Union, have diplomatic relations with the United States and share ambassadors with Washington.

The summit is to “really to highlight how the United States and our African partners are strengthening our partnerships and advancing shared priorities,” one of the two officials said, adding that “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.”

Two other senior administration officials explained on Wednesday why President Biden did not invite Eritrea and Somaliland to the summit.

Currently, Somaliland and the United States do not have official diplomatic relations. And while Somaliland operates a representative liaison office in Washington, D.C., it does not have formal diplomatic status under the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

In the case of Eritrea, although the United States established diplomatic relations with Eritrea in 1993, following its independence from Ethiopia, and was one of the first countries to recognize Eritrea’s independence, relations have been frosty over government detention of political dissidents and prisoners of conscience, including religious minorities, the closure of the independent press, limits on civil liberties, violations of religious freedom, and reports of human rights abuses. They worsened in the past two years over the war in Tigray.

Biden did not also invite Sudan, GuineaMali and Burkina Faso because they are currently suspended by the African Union following coups and counter coups in the West African nations, Mary Catherine Phee, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State, and Judd Devermont, Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council, told reporters at a teleconference on Wednesday to preview the summit.

“On countries that we did not invite, as Molly (Marry Catherine Phee) said, countries that are not in good standing with the Africa Union were not invited.  So that includes Mali, Sudan, Guinea, and Burkina Faso. We also did not invite countries where we don’t have diplomatic relations, such as Eritrea. We do not have diplomatic relations with some of the territories that you named, so they’re not invited as well,” said Devermont.

Phee and Devermont said President Biden is thrilled about the event and that everyone in Washington DC is excited about it as well.

“Everybody in Washington is excited – think tanks, Congress.  We, Judd and I, receive emails every day from folks wanting to participate and engage and meet with Africans who will be visiting us.  So I know that Secretary Blinken believes that this is an opportunity to consolidate his working relationships with his peers, and also to really deepen our discussions on issues that are priorities for Africans and for Americans.  And those issues include climate change, food security, health security,” Phee said during the briefing.

Devermont added that the three-day summit is “an opportunity for us to deepen our longstanding partnership and to focus on new areas and topics that will really define the challenges and opportunities of today and tomorrow.”

Devermont added that the three-day summit is “an opportunity for us to deepen our longstanding partnership and to focus on new areas and topics that will really define the challenges and opportunities of today and tomorrow.”

He said, “One of the animating themes of the summit is building 21st century partnerships.  We believe that this is a decisive decade.  The way in which the world will be ordered will be determined in the coming years, and President Biden and Secretary Blinken believe strongly that African voices are going to be critical in this conversation.

“So throughout the summit, we’re going to talk about some of the most pressing challenges in the world, from the pandemic and climate change and the negative consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to issues that affect all of us – democracy and governance, security, trade and investment, and development.  We are going to spend those three days listening, learning, engaging, discussing, and I’m confident at the end that we’ll have a stronger partnership that we can build on as we move into 2023.”


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