Why Wasn't the U.S.-Africa Summit Held in Africa?

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 7 2014 1:45 PM

Why Wasn't the U.S.-Africa Summit Held in Africa?

Was8856275
Obama and Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete.

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Wednesday marked the last day of U.S. efforts to strengthen ties with Africa through the first-ever U.S.-Africa summit, for which nearly 50 African heads of state traveled to Washington, D.C. While the summit seems to have gone smoothly, some have asked an uncomfortable question: Why wasn't a meeting of 50 Africans and one American president held in Africa?

In March, Kenyan political columnist Mukoma Wa Ngugi compared Barack Obama to a father summoning his children; the White House’s invitation, he said, was an insult and the only way to right this condescension would have been for all the heads of states to boycott the summit and have Obama attend an African Union meeting instead. Ngugi may have been alone in asking that the leaders snub the White House, but he’s not the only one that noticed the dynamic at play. Sudanese-British telecommunications tycoon Mohammed Ibrahim expressed similar sentiments at a U.S.-Africa Business Forum panel:

Everywhere in Africa there are Chinese businesspeople, there are Brazilian businesspeople. None of us went to Brazil, or to Asia or to China to tell them, look, come and invest in Africa. They found out themselves and they come and invest. That’s how basic business people behave. Why do we need to come and inform these misinformed American businesses? You know, you guys invented Google. Use it please.
Advertisement

With countries like China beating the U.S. in the new scramble for African trade (China’s trade with Africa exceeded $200 billion in 2013, more than doubling the America-Africa total) the summit looks like the Obama administration’s crash course in building up relations with a region that—as of last year— was home to 11 of the world’s 20 fastest-growing economies. For now, African leaders apparently decided that the benefit of potential American connections was worth whatever face they lost by traveling to American soil. But as the continent looks to shift its narrative from “Africa needing” to “Africa rising,” maybe more decision-makers will begin to bear Ngugi's point in mind: “One cannot demand equal trade on bended knee, beggar’s bowl in hand.”

Irene Chidinma Nwoye is a writer and former Slate intern in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 19 2014 1:10 PM Ascension Island: Home of Lava Fields, a False Forest, and the World's Worst Golf Course
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 3:07 PM Everything Is a "Women's Issue"
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.