Biden’s Democracy Summit Missed an Opportunity to Engage With Africans

Biden’s Democracy Summit Missed an Opportunity to Engage With Africans
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the White House during the opening of the Democracy Summit, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, looks on, Washington, Dec. 9, 2021 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

Leaders from government, civil society, journalism and the private sector in 17 African countries have been invited by U.S. President Joe Biden to join their counterparts from nearly 100 other nations at a two-day virtual summit on democracy. While campaigning for his party’s presidential nomination, Biden made the defense and promotion of democracy at home and abroad a cornerstone of his agenda. In particular, Biden pledged to host a summit for democracy in his first year in office, a promise this gathering fulfills. 

Biden administration officials described the summit as offering an “affirmative agenda for democratic renewal” focused on three major themes: promoting respect for human rights, defending against a rising tide of authoritarianism and mobilizing anti-corruption efforts. A second, in-person summit is reportedly planned for next year to follow up on commitments made this week. 

Among the 17 African countries represented at the summit are several nations regarded as the continent’s democratic standard-bearers, including Ghana, Senegal, Botswana, Mauritius, Cabo Verde and Zambia. Traditional U.S. partners like Kenya, South Africa and Liberia likewise made the cut. But also on the invitation list—and perhaps controversially so—include leaders from Niger, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, leading many observers to question the criteria for selecting attendees. Among the more understandable exclusions were leaders from Mali, Guinea, Chad and Sudan, where in recent months military rulers have seized power unconstitutionally; Cote d’Ivoire, where President Alassane Ouattara circumvented constitutional term limits to secure a contentious third term; as well as Ethiopia and Egypt, where a bloody civil war and issues of human rights abuses, respectively, would have made the optics of inviting their political leaders untenable.

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