US – Africa engagements: All protocols Observed?

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By: Aaron T. Manaigo

In less than sixty (60) days African presidents representing some forty or more sovereign nations are slated to arrive in Washington, DC, having been invited by U.S. President Joseph R. Biden. On its face this proposed meeting of leaders can be viewed as a positive direct engagement to improve U.S./Africa relations. Hold on, not so fast. The reality of the situation casts a much differing perspective, one which requires laser precision to dissect.

So, lets take a closer look and unpack the various aspects of this potentially history making endeavor. First, the question that is on most diligent observers’ minds is, what is this meeting actually about? I know, I know, we can all project what we want or think should happen onto this situation, but that would not necessarily make it so. The obvious topics such as—increased trade, creating two-way economic opportunities, cracking down on terrorism and the elephant in the room, curtailing China’s belt in road initiative within the continent immediately comes to mind. However, with no proposed or set agenda as yet, any one of the aforementioned topics could consume a three-day meeting. Especially when there are forty or more expected presidential delegations.

Second, the term “All Protocol Observed” has become a familiar and somewhat widely used parlance to reflect the notion that attention and respect both are being acknowledged towards dignitaries and other prominent individuals at a gathering. In the case of this scheduled meeting between President Biden and African heads of state, besides a formal letter of invitation, I must ask, what other protocols are rightfully being observed, with respect to a meeting between sovereign heads of state convening on equal grounds. Here is what I mean, if President Biden were going to meet with Xi Jinping of China, or any leader of the G7 or G20 nations, several things would have either already occurred or be currently in process. The first of which would be clearly defined intentions and clearly defined anticipated outcomes. Additionally, several rounds of advanced meetings and discussions would have occurred or be currently underway in an effort to resolve any issues or impediments to the overall goals of the meeting prior to the principals getting together. To my knowledge and to the chagrin of African heads of state this has not taken place. The question that must be put forward is why? Why, is this the case with African leaders, certainly standard protocols are not being exercised.

Third, I would be remiss if I did not apply some accountability onto the African heads of state for not placing their own, respective set of criteria in place for a meeting of such magnitude to take place. Respect is earned and even demanded. Where there is no respect, there will be no successful or beneficial outcome between two or more negotiating parties. History is replete with examples of disastrous weakly negotiated undertakings. Such was certainly not the case when in 2018 fifty-one African leaders were on hand for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which took place in Beijing. Trade/Aid and investment expectations were clearly defined well ahead of the meeting. Perhaps, therefore, as a matter of fact, more African heads of state participated in that meeting that attended the UN General Assembly meeting just weeks before.

Again, I will ask what is the agenda for the Biden meeting, what are the expected goals, and what role is the private sector, civil society, and government expected to play in this timely and long overdue meeting? I submit to you the reader; these are not the questions to be asked and deliberated during the meeting. These questions should be fully explored prior to the said meeting and to whatever degree resolved.

In conclusion, I for one am desirous to see this proposed sovereign head-of-state meeting be successful and mutually beneficial for all parties involved. However, it is clear to me that in order for this meeting to realize short- and long-term success, more must be done leading up to the gathering. Actionable, agreeable, and achievable goals must be part of a mutually consented agenda with reasonable follow-up and follow-through mechanisms put in place to support fruitful outcomes.

Friends, mine are just the thoughts of one crying out into the wilderness hoping to catch the ear of those good shepherds eager to lead us away from harm and towards the right direction.

Respectfully submitted, with “All Protocols Observed.”

Mr Manaigo is a political analyst based in Washington DC and can be reached via Email:

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