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Monday, 21 July 2014

U.S-Africa Summit: Obama Rules Out Meeting With Jonathan, Others

      by Laolu Akande,New York      

Barack-Obama-UNITED States president, Mr. Barack Obama, has ruled out the traditional one-on-one meetings with any of the African leaders, including Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, just as the US government prepares for an unprecedented meeting between the American leader and 50 African heads of state early next month in Washington DC.
   There has been a debate in the last few weeks within and outside US official circles on the diplomatic risks involved in the US bringing African presidents to the capital without according them the respects and courtesies of having a one-on-one meeting with their American counterpart.
   Even some African intellectuals abroad are worried that African leaders are being “herded” back and forth from China to Europe, instead of what they consider a dignified one-on-one meeting on basis of mutual respect.
    Some of the suggestions considered by the US government, according to sources, included having President Obama meet one-on-one with, at least, two top African leaders — Jonathan and Jacob Zuma (of South Africa), or meet individually with heads of the regional groups like ECOWAS and also the leadership of the African Union.
   But the US government has now rejected any individual meeting of any kind, citing lack of time and unwillingness to meet some African leaders and not others.
   Instead, US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Ms. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, announced last week that President Obama will spend time with all the African presidents together during the US-Africa summit from August 4 to 7 in Washington DC.
   While African Ambassadors are yet to speak out on this, the decision has not gone down well with some US business network with interests in Africa and also some Washington DC policy wonks.
   Specifically, one of the leading American business groups on Africa, Corporate Council for Africa, CCA, based in the US capital has been trying unsuccessfully to ensure that Obama holds one-on-one meetings with African presidents just like the Chinese President did when a similar Africa summit was held in Beijing.
    Indeed in 2007, for instance, China hosted 48 African presidents and the Chinese President held individual meetings with them one by one.
    Policy wonks in Washington DC, based on foreign policy think-tanks, including the Brookings Institution, also proposed the idea of Obama meeting at least some of the African presidents. An article from the think-tank suggested that Obama should hold individual meetings with the leadership of Africa Union, AU and heads of the regional economic communities, which represent each of the five regions of Africa.
    According to CCA President, Stephen Hayes, when China hosted Africa leaders “nearly every African head of state flew to Beijing and met Chinese leadership one-on-one and dined at a state dinner in the Great Hall. No leader of Africa was uninvited and the Chinese entertained the leaders lavishly and made commitments towards the development of most of the countries attending. A $20 billion commitment of aid to Africa was made, and that has since been supplemented by another $10 billion.”
   Besides the US government’s decision not to entertain any of the African leaders for one-on-one bilateral sessions, leaders from Zimbabwe, Sudan and Eritrea have not been invited. Even though the US decision not to invite these three African presidents caused a little stir within the African Union Secretariat, the US government explained that it was not hosting the US-Africa summit on the basis of AU but on the basis of US relationships with each of the invited leaders and their countries.
   Speaking last week on the US government plans for the summit, and the decision that Obama will not hold individual meetings, US Assistant Secretary of State, Ms. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said “trying to figure out what – to try to determine who the President should meet with among the 51 if he couldn’t meet with all 51 is a very, very difficult decision, and I wouldn’t want to make that decision.”
    According to her, “I think we’ve come up with the best solution that we think will work, and that is having the President engage throughout the summit.  And there will be lots of time for leaders to engage with the President.”
   But she said categorically, “we’ve made the decision that there will not be one-on-one bilaterals between the President and the heads of state.  There are 54 of them, and what the President plans to do is spend a tremendous amount of quality time during the three days of the summit.”

   She disclosed that on the day of the actual leaders’ summit on August 6th, the US President will be at that event for all three sessions.  He will be also participating in other events during the prior two days, in addition to hosting a dinner at the White House for all the heads of state.
  The exclusion of personal meeting between Obama and Jonathan is particularly significant because the US president had concluded an African trip last year without a stop in Nigeria, causing some diplomatic tension in US-Nigeria relations.
   Then hopes were expressed that Obama would later invite Jonathan to the White House. But Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States, Prof Ade Adefuye said over the weekend that the decision of the US government not to hold one-on-one meetings with any of the African leaders during the US-Africa summit is understandable as that may lead to a controversy if he met some leaders and left out others.
   Adefuye, however, argued that the more important consideration is for the US to come up with quality offers of trading and investment with Africa, conceding that indeed the “Americans are coming in late, but they can bring quality and that is our challenge to them.”
   However, some American observers including journalists and policy analysts do not like the decision not to hold individuals meetings, pointing to how not only the Chinese, but the Europeans and the Japanese governments which had held such large Africa summits ensured that there were one-on-one meetings between their leaders and their African counterparts.
   In his press release, for instance, the CCA President noted that when Japan hosted a similar summit, “ Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave each of the 46 African leaders a 15 minute meeting over a three-day period.”
The CCA leader is interpreting the refusal of Obama to give African leaders a one-on-one meeting as a break of protocol.
   Said he, “the White House has told African ambassadors and others that no African leader will be given a one-on-one meeting with President Obama during the August summit, a fact that has caused some African leaders to ask what is the utility of the trip. This breaks all protocol tradition as the Africans know it.”
 Continuing, Hayes added that instead of a one-on-one meeting what the African presidents received was an invitation to “an interactive dialogue” with the American president on August 6.
   Querying that stance, he said “what, many ask, is an interactive dialogue? There will be a state dinner on the White House lawn for all presidents the evening before, but once the interactive dialogue is concluded the next day, so too is the summit. There is to be no final document, another break with protocol. No doubt Obama will shake the hand of each president, but there will be little substantive dialogue.”
   According to the CCA President, “the African leaders have been asked to come to Washington for at least three days, with a Monday morning program focusing on civil society and an afternoon with Congress, organized by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, Chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Africa. Currently, the White House has asked various cabinet secretaries to host African heads of state for private dinners that evening. This, too, is a very different approach to diplomacy.
    Continuing he said “Cabinet secretaries and African government ministers rank below heads of state, of course, and protocol-sensitive heads of state may seriously question whether they should attend. Furthermore, who is hosted by the secretary of state or the secretary of defense will be noted by those hosted by less.”
    The US-Africa summit opens on August 4 and continues until the 7th with several events and sessions in the US capital city including one that involves the wives of the African leaders meeting with Mrs. Michelle Obama.

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