Africa and Summit Diplomacy – Global Powers Turn On the Charm

The question is less about whether summits work and more about how to make them work for Africa.

The upcoming Russia-Africa summit in July is the latest in a long list of gatherings by global powers aimed at ‘winning friends and influencing people’ across Africa. It follows last year’s United States-Africa Leaders’ Summit, the European Union-African Union (AU) Summit, the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, and the 2021 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).

In the wake of COVID-19, ‘Summit Diplomacy’ has become an important tool to advance geopolitical aspirations. These developments, though not new, have become more important as competition among global powers has intensified. But apart from pomp, pageantry and PR, do they work?

Historically, summits have been viewed in a dim light – they have been criticized for Shortage of substance and for ever unbalanced Power dynamics. But lately there’s been a clear attempt to move beyond the cosmetic into something more tangible. What is driving this change?

Africa has emerged as a theater of geopolitical competition where global powers are actively selling their visions of the future. in this formNew The Cold War’s summer – exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – powerful nations are working fervently to establish allies and adversaries.

Africa’s demographic profile, mineral resources and increasing integration make it too large and influential to ignore. One in four people in the world are likely to be African 2050, realized the need to align the major powers with Africa. Summits are being used to build relationships, primarily to advance economic and military cooperation.

Past summits have been criticized for lacking substance and perpetuating unbalanced power dynamics

Summits differ from regular diplomatic efforts in that they blur the lines between the symbolic and the real. They show a government’s commitment to an issue and help build trust – arguably the key currency in today’s New Cold War.

Effective summits focus on messaging, optics and credibility. Typically, this is reflected through commitments, new initiatives and announcements about a new chapter in African relations. The resolutions are carefully crafted to demonstrate the comparative advantage of each global power, prompting African leaders to delight in their generosity.

Recent examples confirm this pattern. The EU-AU summit was marked with a major investment plan for Africa, as part of Europe’s Global Gateway project. FOCAC, impressive in its breadth and depth, looked at significant vaccine and funding pledges in 2021. The highlight of the US-Africa Leaders Summit was the announcement of US$55 billion in investment in Africa over the next three years.

In the midst of such fierce competition, what agenda are the world’s top and middle powers driving?

troubled by rising dragonbears alliance, Western countries are doubling down on efforts to make up lost influence in Africa. America has Stressed on Humility and sharing, an effort to listen rather than lecture. This change, though not welcome convincing many African leaders who remain Attention being used to further American interests.

The European Union, some of its leading members still battling a colonial hangover, needs to diversify its energy suppliers and African gas is firmly among its sights. Paradoxically, while Europe should be tapping Africa’s young labor force for economic stimulus, African migration is considered politically distasteful.

Emerging powers India, Turkey and the Gulf countries are also engaging African countries more actively. Their reach in the commercial and diplomatic spheres gives Africa options beyond those of the great powers. Summits have also been used, although with less intensity. The third Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit was to be held in 2021, and the last India-Africa Forum Summit was held in 2015.

Summits are being used to build relationships, primarily to advance economic and military cooperation.

China’s approach has appeal because of its laissez-faire policy, although recent controversies have turned the tide of an offensive assured African allies. Meanwhile, Russia is seizing on Africa’s lingering distrust of the international system to propel itself forward appeal, Russia’s equal partnership and the promise of African Leadership reverberates across the continent in a new multipolar world order.

In addition, African states are weary of the West’s charades around Russia and China, saying Western countries are more concerned than they are their rival than to advance the interests of Africa.

Undoubtedly African countries would rather become kingmakers than get caught in another proxy war. Spreading these powers for maximum benefit is a smart approach – eschewing ideology and idealism, and prioritizing pragmatism. This has largely informed the neutral stance of many African countries on the Ukraine conflict.

Global powers clearly need to make an impact from the summits, but what’s in it for Africa?

To gain, African countries must define their collective positions and needs. This will require smart negotiations to strike a bargain in the best interests of the continent. Leaders and officials cannot blindly attend summits without a clear agenda. This criticism has been leveled before, notably at FOCAC, where attention was paid to the need for Africa to be more proactive and negotiate from a position of strength.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. Building a consensus among 55 countries is ‘complex, politically tense and difficult’, Bankole Adoye notes in his Analysis of the Common African Positions of the AU. Lack of institutional capacity, resources and ownership hold back progress. While the remedy is clear – more communication, consultation and co-ordination – the nature of the beast means progress will be slower.

Leaders should use the summit to iron out the complexities of international relations and exercise their bargaining power

But that may be changing. At last year’s EU-AU summit, a reassessment of power dynamics was evident. Africa’s outspoken approach may be attributed to the EU’s lack of moral authority on vaccines hoardingtravel ban and double standards on decarbonization. Plus, with more strategic partners, Africa now has options. Most important, however, was a firm and coordinated pan-African strategy.