(CNSNews.com) – A day after acknowledging to gathered African leaders the “imaginable cruelty” of the transatlantic slave trade – describing it as “my nation’s original sin” – President Biden on Thursday announced his administration would work with Congress to commit $55 billion in aid to Africa over the next three years.
Addressing a session of the three-day U.S.-Africa Summit, Biden also reiterated the administration’s support for permanent representation for Africa on a reformed U.N. Security Council, and on the Group of 20.
The remarks on slavery came at a dinner on Wednesday evening, where Biden spoke of “the deep and profound connection that forever binds Africa and the United States together.”
“We remember the stolen men and women and children who were brought to our shores in chains, subjected to unimaginable cruelty,” he said. “My nation’s original sin was that period.”
“We honor their descendants, who our generations have – for generations have helped build this country and propel it to higher heights, leading the charge, blazing new trails, and forging a better future for everyone in America,” Biden said.
In his Thursday comments, Biden said the $55 billion in aid would “advance the priorities we share” and support an African Union (A.U.) initiative known as “Agenda 2063.”
Launched in 2013, Agenda 2063 it aims to “transform Africa into the global powerhouse of the future” by the year 2063. Its five “aspirations” are sustainable economic development; political integration; good governance, democracy and justice; peace and security; and strengthening cultural identity, values and ethics.
“We want to work with you on these issues that matter most to our people’s lives,” Biden said. “And we’re looking to increase our collaboration in every area, from rural communities to urban centers, to cyber space to outer space.”
‘Countering democratic backsliding’
The president turned to the question of democracy, respect for the rule of law, and commitment to human rights.
These were all “part of our DNA” in the United States, he said, then added, “That doesn’t mean we always get everything right – we surely don’t. And the work of democracy is never finished or never guaranteed. It’s about consistent and constant self-improvement.”
Biden said that among the commitments he was highlighting was a $75 million (over three years) “investment in countering democratic backsliding” – an initiative to strengthen accountable governance, facilitate voter registration, and support constitutional reform.
The summit is being attended by the presidents or prime ministers (or in a few cases, foreign ministers) of almost every country in Africa.
The only countries not invited were Mali, Sudan, Guinea, and Burkina Faso, which have been suspended by the A.U. since 2020 after military coups. (The U.S. has no formal ties with Eritrea, Somaliland, and Western Sahara, and they too were not invited.)
Many of those that are attending are autocracies with poor human rights records.
Of the 49 presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers attending the events, only eight represent governments that are ranked as “free” by Freedom House in 2022.
The Washington-based democracy watchdog evaluates countries every year and, based on scores for political rights and civil liberties, grades them as “free,” “partly free,” or “not free.”
The eight “free” countries represented at the summit are Botswana, Cabo Verde, Ghana, Mauritius, Namibia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles, and South Africa.
Twenty of the 49 countries score poorly in the Freedom House assessment, and are graded “not free”: Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gabon, Libya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.
The remaining 21 fall into the “partly free” category. They are Benin, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, and Zambia.
(Of the seven African countries not invited to the summit, Eritrea, Guinea, Mali, Sudan, and Western Sahara are “not free.” Burkina Faso and Somaliland are “partly free.”)
At a State Department press briefing, principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel was asked about the fact many African countries have poor records on corruption and upholding human rights.
“How can you verify that the money that the president announced will be spent in a transparent way and it’s not going to be diverted to the pockets of those in government?” a reporter asked.
Patel said that in organizing the summit, “we took an inclusive approach toward invitations in close coordination with the African Union.”
“The president’s approach to foreign policy is rooted in values, values like promoting respect for human rights,” he said.
Patel said both Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken “will not shy away from raising these issues with any foreign leader in the world, including here over the course of this summit.”
‘Africa belongs at the table’
In his address on Thursday, Biden voiced support for greater African representation on the U.N. Security Council and at the G20.
“Africa belongs at the table in every room – in every room where global challenges are being discussed and in every institution where discussions are taking place,” he said.
With five veto-wielding permanent members and 10 rotating ones holding two-year terms, the Security Council’s makeup largely reflects the global balance of power as it was at the end of World War II.
Efforts to reform it have dragged on for decades, stymied by political differences and regional rivalries.
Among proposals raised over the years have been for one or two permanent seats for African countries on an expanded council, with regional heavyweights South Africa, Nigeria, and Egypt usually seen as contenders; or alternatively, one or two seats earmarked generically for Africa, with individual countries rotating on and off.
The G20 currently comprises 19 countries plus the European Union. South Africa is the only member from the African continent. Biden is proposing that the A.U. become a permanent member, like the E.U.
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