There may be better ways to disrespect African leaders than President Joe Biden’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit earlier this month, but if there are, they do not readily come to mind.
Summit diplomacy is a term characteristically used to describe face-to-face negotiations between heads of state; for example, the 1961 summit talks between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy in Berlin. Addressing 50 heads of state collectively — and not for the purpose of negotiations — is not summit diplomacy, even if Biden insists otherwise to stroke their egos.
The Africa Leaders Summit compares unfavorably with Biden’s rolling out the red carpet to host French President Emmanuel Macron on Dec. 1, like the difference between flying first class and coach. Biden placed certain topics at the Africa summit off limits, i.e., China and Russia. Its venue of Washington seemed out of place. It would be expected that an Africa summit would be held in Africa, as a European summit would be held in Europe. But the insulting anomaly is no novelty. The United States Africa Command is headquartered in Germany, as startling as would be locating NATO headquarters in Niger, rather than Belgium.
Less than one week before the African summit, Biden negotiated a prisoner swap of Viktor Bout, a Russian convicted of serial international arms trafficking, for Brittney Griner. Among other things, Bout sold weapons to compound violent upheavals in Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Algeria and Sudan. Yet Biden did not ask any of these countries’ leaders for their views about releasing a villain who had helped to cause them so much death and misery.
The Africa summit concluded with no joint statement, no modern “Marshall Plan,” no true negotiations between equals. Is there any better evidence that Africa is the stepchild of Biden’s foreign policy?
Africa must heal itself. You know something is profoundly wrong when a Black Washington Post journalist, Keith Richburg, writes in his book, “Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa,” after witnessing chronic strife, grisly torture and murder on the continent: “I am quietly celebrating the passage of my ancestor who made it out (enslaved) … Had my ancestor not made it out of there … maybe I would have been one of those bodies, arms and legs bound together, washing over the waterfall in Tanzania. Or maybe my son would have been set ablaze by soldiers. Or I would be limping now from the torture I received in some rancid police cell.”
African nations should consider four fundamental reforms to end or ameliorate the evils that Richburg chronicled.
They should reexamine boundaries inherited from European white supremacists with no African input or consent. They were informed by the General Act of the Berlin Conference on West Africa, summoned by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, to set the ground rules for the colonial vivisection of the continent.
The boundaries characteristically mix combustible, heterogenous tribal, ethnic, religious, cultural and language groups under one sovereign umbrella. Constant conflict is inevitable as the rival political factions jockey to capture control of the government, to loot the public treasury and control the security forces.
African nations should consider splitting into smaller sovereign units with greater homogeneity and commonalities that facilitate peace, unity and trust. Czechoslovakia peacefully divided between the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic in 1992 to diminish internecine conflict.
But setting boundaries, without making more changes, is insufficient. South Sudan separated from Sudan in a 2011 referendum, and Eritrea voted to separate from Ethiopia in 1993. But all four countries continue to suffer internal strife and malgovernance, as do other African nations whose boundaries are not problematic.
A common constitutional defect is the concentration of limitless power in the executive branch and the relegation of the legislature and judiciary to being echo chambers of the heads of state. There is no separation of powers — the cornerstone of liberty and the rule of law by checking ambition with ambition. Politics in Africa attracts many sociopaths, who must be pitted against one another like Roman gladiators and lions, to save countries from tyranny.
African nations should consider abolishing their armed forces as Costa Rica did in 1949. Article 12 of the Costa Rican Constitution provides a template: “The Army as a permanent institution is abolished. There shall be the necessary police forces for surveillance and the preservation of the public order. Military forces may only be organized under a continental agreement or for the national defense; in either case, they shall always be subordinate to the civil power: they may not deliberate or make statements or representations individually or collectively.”
Military coups in Africa are chronic. Burkina Faso witnessed two coups in 2022 alone. These must end for African nations to attain the stability and peace that’s necessary for legitimate trade, business and the rule of law.
Finally, African nations must downsize their governments to give the private sector breathing room to innovate and prosper and to diminish the economic incentive for electoral fraud. Governments in most, if not all, African nations dominate the economy with legally protected, bloated, stagnant and corrupt monopolies. Private entrepreneurs are squeezed out or crushed by government lawlessness, including arbitrary licensing or taxation. African nations should take heed of Adam Smith’s timeless wisdom in “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”: “Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice: all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things.”
Africa’s deliverance from poverty, conflict, corruption and instability must come from within. The United States is not the continent’s savior.