What will EAC leaders tell Obama?

Our region’s leaders are among the over 50 African heads heading to Washington for the Africa-USA summit on August 4-6, but what will they tell their host, Barack Obama?

Our region’s leaders are among the over 50 African heads heading to Washington for the Africa-USA summit on August 4-6, but what will they tell their host, Barack Obama?

Will they look him straight in the eye and speak frankly as equals; after all, they’re all presidents?

As the centre of global power, Washington can be quite intimidating, but the agenda is calming: It starts tomorrow with leaders discussing food security, investing in women, peace and prosperity as a forum on Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) and on Tuesday, the US-Africa business forum will be held.

But August 6 will be perhaps the most important day as African leaders and President Obama will engage in dialogue that will discuss investing in Africa’s future, peace and regional stability, and governing for the next generation.

Rwanda goes to the meeting at a time when relations with USA are on a high while for neigbours Uganda; Friday’s constitutional court ruling that struck down that country’s controversial anti-gay law will serve President Museveni as a blessing in disguise. The law had threatened Museveni’s relations with Obama and the development will be welcomed by Washington…if it’s upheld.

Relations between Obama and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta have been frosty since the later assumed the presidency; a loud irony given the former’s paternal background but the fact that Kenyatta is among those invited to Washington means that all three allies in the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ (CoW) will be present at the highly anticipated dialogue, not forgetting Tanzania and Burundi.

With that, the quorum is clearly met, so what will the region front for discussion? This is likely to depend on the speaking order arranged by the host. Given their large number, not every one of African heads will have a chance to speak and a mechanism to get through some collective message is most likely to prevail.

For East Africa, that appears to have been settled in a Thursday meeting held in Nairobi, where Presidents Museveni, Kenyatta, Salva Kiir and Ethiopia’s Premier Desalegn held a consultative conference on the Lamu Port Southern Sudan -Ethiopia Transport Project (LAPSSET).

Infrastructure development is most certainly going to dominate—a view that seems to be shared by many African leaders today.

During the Nairobi summit last Thursday, according to a statement released afterwards, it was agreed that the regional leaders will speak as one and present joint projects that they want to develop. One such project is LAPSSET that was envisioned two years ago by regional states a venture that would include a port, an oil refinery and a railway network.

But like most good African dreams, they often lack the financial muscle to make them a reality and the Washington summit presents an opportunity for regional leaders to assume roles of salesmen in a bid to attract interest from the American Private sector to raise LAPSSET’s estimated budget of $24billion.

The CoW allies also have several projects together and they are likely to use the opportunity to network during the summit looking for potential investors willing to buy into their East African dream. To do this, a horde of business executives and negotiators is expected to accompany the presidents.

But there will be competition. African countries will be out to outsmart each other in a bid to attract American investments to boast their own national FDI stock. An opportunity is particularly to be found in Obama’s baby project, the Power Africa, a pledge he made in 2013 aimed at doubling access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.

Rwanda and her regional allies should particularly find this interesting. The region needs to multiply its power capabilities if they are to compete favorably in the race for most FDI. For Rwanda, power generation is a core element in the country’s EDPRS II targets whose deadline is 2018 and this Washington date could be significant.

Finally, I think African leaders should submit a stand on the ongoing bloodletting in Gaza. Both the UN and USA have been exposed as incapable of reigning in Israel even after a fatal attack of a UN school where kids were killed. A red line has clearly been crossed and world leaders need to speak out boldly.

Twitter: @KenAgutamba

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