The African Union and the United States have rekindled relations after a relative two-year hiatus induced by the Covid pandemic — and despite the war in Ukraine. The two sides launched intensified cooperation programs in the areas of health, climate, economic development, and peace and security at a high-level meeting in Washington this month.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken – taking a break from his intensive diplomatic efforts to stop the fighting in Ukraine – hosted a large AU delegation led by Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission.
The focus of the engagement was a memorandum of cooperation that Blinken and Faki signed to advance the partnership between the United States and the Addis Ababa-based Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
The Africa CDC – under the leadership of its able Director, Dr. John Nkengasong – has been widely praised for the manner in which it has led Africa’s response to the Ebola outbreak and in particular the Covid-19 pandemic. 19. President Joe Biden has appointed Nkengasong to lead the U.S. Pepfar program that fights HIV/AIDS around the world. The appointment has yet to be confirmed by the US Senate.
Jessye Lapenn, US Ambassador to the AU in Addis Ababa, said Daily Maverick that Faki had intense engagement with U.S. leaders in Washington, also meeting with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, and the Democratic and Republican heads of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“So it was very wealthy. And corporate America hosted a dinner for him,” where business leaders highlighted the need for greater peace and security to enable trade and economic development, Lapenn said. .
Cooperation in health and disease control
Health was at the heart of the high-level engagement between the AU and the United States. The United States has been deeply involved in the Africa CDC since its launch in January 2017 and its “extraordinary growth in capacity” since then, as Lapenn put it. Faki praised the United States for being at the forefrontbefore supporting Africa CDC in the fight against Ebola and especially Covid-19.
Lapenn said the memorandum Faki and Blinken signed on cooperation between the United States and the Africa CDC would further strengthen U.S. involvement, ensuring that all relevant U.S. agencies — including the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and the President’s Malaria Initiative – working together.
Lapenn stressed that the goal was not to give control to US agencies, but to make sure the AU knew what the US was doing and vice versa.
The memorandum of cooperation included U.S. support for the operationalization of Africa CDC’s five Regional Collaborating Centers (RCCs) in Egypt, Gabon, Kenya, Nigeria, and Zambia. These serve as hubs for Africa CDC’s surveillance, preparedness and emergency response activities.
Lapenn said the RCCS has been part of the Africa CDC since its inception, but the headquarters in Addis Ababa was built first and the RCCs are now being strengthened.
“For Southern Africa, the RCC is in Lusaka. And so over the last year we have also been doing work to get the health teams from all of our embassies in the region to connect to the RCC in Zambia. ”
“We just want to make sure that whatever the structures of the AU are, we connect in order to follow their lead and how they are structured. We want to collaborate at all levels.
Lapenn said the RCCs were really important for connectivity between national governments on one side and policies, themes and discussions in Addis Ababa on the other.
Strengthening of the Agoa agreement
The Faki/Blinken statement also declared the commitment of the United States and the AU to “improve AGOA beyond its current framework.” Agoa is the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, a US law that since 2000 has allowed most exports from eligible African countries to enter the lucrative US market duty-free – without African countries having to surrender the concession.
Agoa is due to expire in 2025, although it can be extended. Faki said after meeting Blinken that Agoa had been a good thing. “Perhaps it should be broadened and perhaps deepened. But I believe that past, present, and future relationships with the United States and Africa demand that we go beyond AGOA.
“A continent of 30 million square kilometers with enormous resources, natural resources, with a young population – women in the majority and very enterprising – needs support and needs investment. We have removed this development aid from our vocabulary.
So Daily Maverick asked Lapenn if the US and the AU were aiming to ending AGOA in 2025 and replacing it with conventional, reciprocal free trade agreements with African regional economic communities – such as SADC – or an FTA with the whole continent through the Free Trade Agreement -African Continental Exchange (AfCFTA) which is being implemented.
Lapenn said there were “conversations” going on, including in Congress, about what to do about Agoa, but did not elaborate. However, she said the United States was looking for ways to stimulate and collaborate with Africa on the AfCFTA, as the United States believed it would boost intra-African trade and improve the continent economically.
“And we also believe it will create a user-friendly and useful framework for American businesses, because you will have consistent and transparent rules of conduct across the continent.”
The war in Ukraine
Lapenn confirmed that Blinken and Faki discussed the war in Ukraine, though she didn’t say whether they had agreed on how to respond to the war — beyond confirming that the United States “greatly appreciated” the statement by Faki and the current AU rotating chair. , Senegalese President Macky Sall had made just after the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops, calling for Russia “will imperatively respect international law, territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Ukraine”.
“We talked a lot about our vision of Russia’s war of choice, of Putin’s very violent aggression against the Ukrainians. And really the principles behind the American vision, which are sovereignty, territorial integrity, commitment to peaceful conflict resolution. All this coincides perfectly with the AU Charter.
“Also the significant implications of Russia’s war for the continent. The economic impact is already being felt and will continue to be felt. And so we have real concerns about that. In the joint statement, the United States agreed to help Africa specifically to address food shortages caused by the war in Ukraine – and to worsen the already high pressure on African economies caused by Covid-19.
After meeting Blinken, Faki also urged the United States and African countries more broadly to allow them to develop fossil fuels, especially gas, as a transition to renewable energy. Lapenn did not say whether the United States specifically supports or opposes the call, but said the United States is looking for ways to help Africa manage and adapt to climate change. She noted that Africa would host the annual UN climate conference this year, COP 27 in Egypt, which would create a platform for increased conversation and engagement with Africa on the impact of climate change. .
The US-AUC joint statement noted – regarding Faki’s call for a pass on gas – that Africa’s priorities for COP27 include “just transitional and sustainable funding.”
Faki also noted that the intervention of foreign forces – including presumably Americans – had not produced results in African conflict zones like the Sahel where American, French and foreign troops are helping African governments fight Islamist insurgents. For years.
He said Africa was ready to mobilize its own troops, but needed help from the United States and others with intelligence-sharing training, materials and equipment. Daily Maverick asked Lapenn if the United States accepted the offer.
She replied that there had been no specific deployment agreement, but that the two sides had had “really intense and meaningful consultation on matters of peace and security” including the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, which had been particularly helpful.
And on all the issues on the table, Lapenn said that after two years of Covid isolation, the personal, human and diplomatic interaction between the United States and the AU had been “intense, warm and so constructive”. .
“From the US perspective, the AU chairperson has great ideas because he talks to African heads of state all the time.
So she said the exchange had been helpful in informing American thinking ahead of the US-Africa leaders’ summit that the White House had announced would take place later this year. DM