The White House National Security Council on Monday explained why President Joseph R. Biden Jr. invited autocrats and human rights abusers to the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit he is hosting in Washington D.C. December 13-15.
“This Summit is an opportunity to advance some of our most pressing issues, both regionally and globally, with leaders from the continent,” A White House National Security Council spokesperson told Today News Africa in a statement. “We took an inclusive approach toward invitations in close coordination with the African Union. Our approach toward invitations followed similar invitation criteria from the 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.”
The 49 African heads of state who were invited by Biden include Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, the longest serving president in the world who has been in power for 43 years and has just won another mandate with 94.9% of the vote.
His party won all 100 seats in the National Assembly, all 55 seats in the Senate and all 588 municipal seats, according to results published on Saturday night by the National Election Commission.
The Biden administration cast doubt on the results, writing in a statement last week that “We have serious doubts about the credibility of the announced results.”
“The United States commends the people of Equatorial Guinea who exercised their right to vote on November 20. We note, however, that international election observers, civil society groups, and opposition parties have made credible allegations of significant election-related irregularities, including documented instances of fraud, intimidation, and coercion,” the U.S. government said in a statement.
It added, “These allegations include restrictions on the ability of representatives of political parties to access polling stations, repeat voting, pre-filling of Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) ballots, non-secret voting booths, and heavily armed soldiers within 20 meters of voting booths.
“We are also concerned by irregular counting practices that favor the party in power, including the counting of unopened ballots in favor of the PDGE and the counting of ballots without all political parties represented. These irregularities would violate Equatoguinean law. Given the scale of irregularities observed and the announced results giving the PDGE 94.9% of the vote, we have serious doubts about the credibility of the announced results.
“Elections are an opportunity for a government and political parties to tangibly demonstrate their commitment to democratic principles. We urge Equatoguinean authorities to work with all stakeholders – including the full spectrum of political organizations and non-partisan civil society organizations – to fully address these credible allegations of voter fraud and to take steps to permit the expression of diverse political perspectives.”
Still the former military officer who has served as the second president of the central African nation since August 1979, is not the only one raising eyebrows. President Paul Biya of Cameroon, who has been in power for 40 years since 1982 has also been invited to the attend the summit in Washington.
President Biden also extended an invitation to Sahle-Work Zewde, the head of state of Ethiopia, where a devastating war has left thousands of people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
There are many others, including the President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt who is accused of gross human rights violations.
Just last month, Human Rights Watch lamented that Egyptian authorities arrested dozens of people for calling for protests and restricted the right to protest in the days leading up to the COP27 climate summit.
The authorities added security measures in Sharm El-Sheikh, the resort town where the conference was held, including mandating the installation of cameras in all taxis, allowing security agency surveillance of drivers and passengers. The authorities also imposed an unduly complicated process for registration for the so-called Green Zone outside the COP venue, which at previous summits was open to the wider public to engage on climate issues and allow interaction with summit participants.
“As participants are arriving for COP27, it is becoming clear that Egypt’s government has no intention of easing its abusive security measures and allowing for free speech and assembly,” said Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Egyptian authorities should not be extending its human rights crackdown into the summit space.”
On November 1, 2022, Egyptian media reported that since the beginning of October, Egyptian authorities had arrested dozens of people for calling for anti-government protests on November 11, during the conference. Some of those arrested reportedly face charges of “misusing social media” and “joining a terrorist group.” The number of those arrested is rising every day, local media reported.
On October 31, Egyptian authorities detained an Indian climate activist, Ajit Rajagopal, as he set off on an eight-day walk from Cairo to Sharm El-Sheikh to call attention to the climate crisis. The authorities released him the next day after international outcry.
According to local media, in the days leading to COP27, Egyptian authorities stepped up police checkpoints in downtown Cairo and around vital streets in the city, arbitrarily stopping people and forcing them to give up their phones for unconstitutional checks into their social media content. The authorities have repeatedly set up such checkpoints around major events in recent years, resulting in dozens of arbitrary arrests.
Despite concerns over their invitations to attend the summit, a White House National Security Council spokesperson said, “Our approach toward invitations was intended to create an opportunity for the President to make progress on U.S- Africa policy through engagement.”
The official added that President Biden’s foreign policy “is rooted in values – values like promoting human rights. Human rights will always be on the agenda, and the President will not shy away from raising these issues with any foreign leader anywhere in the world.”