An Africa summit that we could all support: The recent rise in Africa-focused summits is to be welcomed, but as long as delegations focus on narrow deals for their own countries the needs of the continent will not be met, argues Gyude Moore.

Author:Moore, Gyude
Position:Opinion - Viewpoint essay

Unless affected by cascading cancellations due to the global coronavirus pandemic, France will hold the 28th France-Africa Summit in June. It will be the second such summit this year, following the UK-Africa Investment Summit in January.

That summit came on the heels of the Russia-Africa Summit in October 2019. Not to be outdone, Malta entered the world of African summitry when, in early January 2020, it launched a public consultation on its Africa policy. The document presents Africa as a strategic partner for trade, development and diplomacy over the next five years, and calls for a greater role for Maltese businesses in Africa.

This renewed interest in Africa is driven by radical changes--representing both opportunities and challenges--in global economic conditions. These changes include a declining labour force in developed economies, Africa's growing population and rapid urbanisation, its rising middle class, and an increasing global demand for high-value agricultural products. These trends have enhanced Africa's attractiveness as both a market and destination for investment. For many Africans watching this trend, the discussions are a welcome departure from traditional narratives of the continent in the global media.

Unflattering media portrayals rooted in uniformly negative stereotypes--stories of war, disease, extreme privation, instability --previously characterised discussions around Africa.

This portrayal largely ignored what Howard French, journalist, author, and professor at Colombia University, calls "the dynamism and change" on the continent. The rise in summits about Africa is a welcome shift from the old narrative.

Unsatisfactory outcomes

It is, however, unclear if these summits simply reinforce existing power and economic asymmetries between Africa and the rest or present a new opportunity for African development. The driving motivation of many of these summits seems to boil down to Malta's stated objectives--a greater role for its firms in African markets.

As if to confirm this, in February German building contractors met with the country's foreign ministry to discuss how to counter the growing domination of the African construction market by Chinese firms. Their concern was about their loss of market share in Africa. It was not about, and will probably never be about, the growth potential of Africa's domestic construction industry.

The measurement of success at these meetings has tended to focus on transactional...

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