Charles Onyango-Obbo of The East African, a Kenyan daily, joined a growing number of writers and scholars questioning the aims of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Where, he asked, were the wives?
“Africa’s Big Men but none of its Big Women made it to the meeting,” he observed in a wrap-up of the ballyhooed three-day affair that brought more than 40 African heads of state and staff to the U.S.
Uchenna Ekwo of the New York-based Center for Media and Peace Initiatives faulted the U.S. press. “Nothing exemplifies the ignominy of Africa in international policy agenda than for the president of the United States to hold a press conference to discuss the outcome of a three-day summit that literally uprooted Africa to Washington, D.C., only for reporters to divert the attention of the president to other issues.
“Only one question by Nairobi’s Standard newspaper specifically referenced Africa and the summit that necessitated the press conference in the first place,” said a steamed up Ekwo. “All other questions focused on Israel-Palestine, the Ukraine-Russia imbroglio, immigration reform and other domestic policy issues.”
Reporters who travelled from Africa filed out in disappointment and despair, he said, while two senior journalists from Nigeria’s Channels Television and Cameroon’s Radio Television shrugged it off, saying the summit was for the benefit of America.
Among the topics to get short shrift were women’s issues. One highly billed event featured presidential wives Michele Obama and Laura Bush on the stage at the Kennedy Center engaged in friendly banter. African first ladies were seated in the audience—they barely filled the first two rows—alongside a grinning ex-President George Bush posing for pictures with the women.
Jill Biden, the wife of the vice president, was the summit pick for a keynote speech on women’s empowerment and education. Several news articles focused on her African print dress.
Despite a letter signed by more than 600 African and U.S. groups pleading for “official space during the summit for participation by African civil society activists,” there was no room at the inn, except at a parallel summit held Monday. The letter signers had urged President Barack Obama “to send a strong and clear message that the U.S. considers these independent voices to be an equally vital part of the conversation.”
Signers included centers of democratic studies in Uganda, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Mali, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Guinea, Angola, Malawi and South Africa.
Among those officially wined and dined were President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia, whose toxic remarks on gays had been condemned in Washington; President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the head of the oil-rich yet impoverished Equatorial Guinea; and Swaziland’s King Mswati III, Africa’s last monarch in a country where political parties may not take part in elections. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and Sudan’s leader Omar el-Bashir were banned.
“Beyond the investment deals and moneys,” wrote Onyango-Obbo, “a new pragmatism is beginning to set in. If Africa is to continue on its growth path, it must be polygamous in the way it does business. It should trade with the East, West, North and South—and with devils and angels, in appropriate measure.
“Secondly, it should look to Africa. The next China-Africa, EU-Africa, India-China or U.S.-Africa summit should take place, where else, in Africa.”