As the first ever U.S. African Leaders Summit held in D.C. concluded on Wednesday, 50 African heads of states walked out of the three-day summit with trade and investment deals, but did little regarding issues pertinent to democracy, governance and some of the most urgent humanitarian crises.
In the face of China’s growing prominence in Africa, a $14 billion investment pledge was made during the event by the U.S. companies, and another $3 billion from the Export-Import Bank of the United States. Most are optimistic to see a shift from the aid-oriented partnership to a private investment strategy, which is similar to China’s approach.
In addition to business investment, defense contractors and human rights groups fiercely debated each other over how to develop Africa’s security infrastructure.
Amidst recent incidents, including possible genocide in Central Africa, and the incessant conflicts with the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), Paramount Group, the continent’s largest privately owned defense contractor, asked the international community to lift the discouragement they impose on African countries in building their own militaries.
Ivor Ichikowitz, the executive chairman of the Paramount Group, said that African governments have not been able to allocate budget for intelligence services or arms for fear that the West might cancel aid money. He acknowledged the fact that the continent is awash with small arms equipment that has fallen into the hands of abusive forces, a residual result of the Cold War. However, it is exactly all the more reason to strengthen the legitimate forces in order to protect the fragile democracies that the continent is in the process of building.
Ichikowitz’s view was criticized by human rights groups, which accused such suggestion as shortsighted. What Africa lacks in development is a “long term security approach for rule of law,” said Daniel Bekele, the executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China’s share of major arms delivered to sub-Saharan Africa grew from 3% of total volume between 1996 and 2000, to 25% from 2006 to 2010. China has invested heavily in Africa, where a number of Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies are located. On November 14, 2013, the Gambia broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan, ostensibly to improve relations with China.
(Feature photo of South African troops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by Miriam Asmani on Wikicommons, CC BY-SA 2.0)