Pssst! Here’s a Cheat Sheet for the US-Africa Leaders Summit

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

Need some talking points? Make reference to China’s influence, the unrest in South Sudan and Libya, and be sure to throw in, “Did you hear what Hillary said?!” and you’ll be all right.

By Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele

This article was published at The Root on August 4, 2014.

Africa’s coming to town.

And in a big way. Africa’s movers and shakers are in Washington, D.C., this week to chop it up with President Barack Obama about trade and investment opportunities, politics and the U.S.’s interests in the region’s stability. The 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit is the largest gathering of African presidents and leaders ever to meet with a U.S. president.

If you’ve got your eyes on the international stage, then this initiative should be of no surprise. China has been making a killing in Africa. The Chinese had the insight to take Africa seriously as an economic partner when a lot of nations saw the continent more as a humanitarian charity case. Now that Africa’s influence is becoming increasingly important to a lot of countries’ bottom lines and GDPs, Western nations are looking at the Motherland through a new lens.

The festivities start on Monday. Here are some topics to keep in mind when gabbing about the summit at the watercooler or during happy hour as you take in the news reports that’ll trickle out of this three-day affair:

1.) South Sudan’s civil war is ongoing.

United Nations peacekeepers patrol a road in Malakal, South Sudan, as internally displaced South Sudanese people go about their daily routines.

United Nations peacekeepers patrol a road in Malakal, South Sudan, as internally displaced South Sudanese people go about their daily routines.

The civil war in South Sudan is not looking like it’s getting any better. The 2013 fallout between its warring ethnic groups—those loyal to the current president, Salva Kiir of the Dinka tribe, and those loyal to a deposed vice president, Riek Machar of the Nuer tribe—is picking up steam again since the meetings that were supposed to take place last week to drum up solutions were delayed. Apparently both sides are still engaged in off-the-record conversations about the state of the transitional government. South Sudan is a fairly new country—it split from Sudan in 2011 and has been embroiled in ethnic fighting stemming from that succession ever since. That there’s still fighting going on in one of its northern states is not helping move things along.

The United States and Europe threw down the gauntlet by freezing important assets in the country and told both sides that they have until mid-August to form an interim government that has a clear plan for maintaining the peace.

2.) Ebola is refueling Africa’s “image” problem.

Members of Doctors Without Borders put on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, Guinea, where people infected with the Ebola virus are being treated.

Members of Doctors Without Borders put on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, Guinea, where people infected with the Ebola virus are being treated.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, primarily Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have people on edge. In fact the leaders of Liberia and Sierra Leone will be skipping the summit in order to tend to the Ebola outbreaks in their countries. Within the past two weeks, more than 100 new cases were reported in these countries, and two American health care workers who were working in Liberia contracted the virus. Besides the obvious health concerns, one point that is not being discussed, which ought to be, is how this recent outbreak is unraveling the years of work it took to undo the perception that Africa is a diseased continent and that travelers going there should beware.

Unfortunately, for many parts of West Africa, that perception is now a reality.

3.) Libya’s power vacuum has taken a turn for the worse.

Libyans take part in a demonstration in the capital, Tripoli, on July 31, 2014, calling for international intervention to protect civilians.

Libyans take part in a demonstration in the capital, Tripoli, on July 31, 2014, calling for international intervention to protect civilians.

The summit, like most initiatives about Africa, will likely focus on the continent’s sub-Saharan countries, but Libya, an African country that is typically brought up during discussions relating to the Middle East, ought to be on everyone’s minds as well.

Getting rid of a dictator is typically a good thing but the power vacuums that emerge often create bigger problems. It’s been nearly three years since Libya’s former leader Moammar Gadhafi was disposed. But in that time, the interim government has not been able to reign in the various law-enforcement groups that have vied to fill that slot and provide security. The situation has gotten so bad on the ground that several embassies were evacuated—including that of the U.S.—and the United Nations no longer has a strong presence in the region.

There’s been chatter that this is the West’s problem, since Gadhafi’s ousting was heavily influenced and backed by Great Britain and France. Some say the enthusiasm to hold Libya’s hand as it transitions to a sound democracy hasn’t been there, and that lack of support is causing a lot of violence, unrest and confusion on the ground.

Pages: 1 2