January 20, 2023

Rebooting US-Africa Ties

Biden Administration Tapped Smith’s Lemma Senbet to Help Shape the US-Africa Leaders Summit

Lemma Senbet speaking during a gathering in preparation for the US-Africa Leadership Summit, with The Honorable Dana Banks, special assistant to the President and director for Africa, National Security Council.

Africa will shape the future — not just the future of the African people, but of the world. Rooted in this recognition that Africa is a key geopolitical player…President Biden believes U.S. collaboration with African leaders, as well as civil society, business, diaspora, women, and youth leaders, is essential to unlocking the potential of this decisive decade. –The US Department of State on the impetus for the recently concluded U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit.

The December 13-15, 2022, gathering in D.C. of leaders from across the African continent produced a Biden Administration pledge to invest at least $55 billion in Africa over the next three years. The goal is to affect the likes of food security, health, climate, trade and investment, economic growth, education, peace and security, and democracy.

Among those behind the scenes: Lemma W. Senbet, The William E. Mayer Chair Professor of Finance at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business and former head of the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC).

In the summit lead up, the White House National Security Council senior staff summoned Senbet among five experts on Africa to participate at the summit preview presentation by the NSC and to provide his further input into the emerging US-Africa partnership. Also prior to the summit, he was consulted by the House and Ways Committee senior staff on evolving bipartisan legislation for the future of the US-Africa trade relations. In addition, Senbet was a featured speaker at an African diaspora meeting with the Chief Biden representative for the summit, The Honorable Dana Banks, special assistant to the President and director for Africa, National Security Council. The meeting was hosted by the Constituency for Africa.

“It should be underscored that the summit is for a transformational and mutually beneficial US-Africa partnership,” says Senbet. “The $55 billion investment is not aid, but seed investment with payoffs to the US, which also benefits the continent. It is particularly targeted toward the realization of the African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063 and support of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the recently established and largest trading block in the world (in terms of number of countries – 54).”

President Biden, in addressing the African leaders at the close of the summit, said the days of China monopolizing trade and investments in Africa are over, as American companies will have access to 1.3 billion people through the African Continental Free Trade Area.

In response, Senbet told Voice of America that the United States, over the years, has built a variety of economic pillars in the continent that are at the center of the summit. “So, Africa is the next frontier. It is globally getting renewed attention, and the U.S. definitely cannot be left behind. But Africa has a myriad of challenges [including] issues of food security, healthcare and poverty. On the bright side, pre-Covid, [Africa has] seven of the 10 fastest growing countries in the world, sustained over two decades. There are tremendous opportunities for investment and growth. The question is how we get there.”

The summit, Senbet adds, “was an historic initiative to unlock these opportunities in a big way through the mutually beneficial arrangements that were announced,” including:

  • U.S.-Africa Business Forum promoting new economic engagement to strengthen regional and global health; promoting food security; responding to the climate crisis; and strengthening ties across Africa and its diaspora.
  • U.S.-Africa Diaspora Forum -- as introduced by Vice President Kamala Harris in announcing the President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement in the United States to be established by the Secretary of State.
  • Digital Transformation with Africa Initiative -- in line with the African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy and the U.S. strategy toward Africa.
  • U.S-Africa Space Forum highlighting the U.S.-Africa space partnership and cooperation to address 21st century challenges and opportunities, reinforcing U.S.-African scientific and commercial space cooperation.

In addition to his AERC role, Senbet has been a member of Brookings AGI Distinguished Advisory Group, member of the Independent Council of Economic Advisors (Prime Ministerial appointment - Ethiopia) and member of Advisory Panel for the G20 Compact with Africa. Regarding the latter, Biden during the summit also pledged U.S. support behind the African Union getting permanent membership in the G-20, along with the current EU membership.

“This is serious. Not a media opportunity,” Senbet said in a Tweet during the summit in response to a question of the Biden Administration’s motive for the G-20 announcement and pledges during the summit more broadly. “Africa matters to the globe. The spillover of dramatic Chinese engagement with Africa is peer pressure. The revitalization of US engagement is not accidental.”

The summit, Senbet adds, “leveraged the best of America -- all the tools and instruments across the government, private sector and civil society toward a broader aim to partner with and support African institutions, citizens and nations to advance our shared goals.”

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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