WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden met with leaders of six African nations facing elections in 2023 and urged them to ensure that balloting is free and fair.
Biden held a private meeting at the White House on Wednesday with leaders from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Liberia, Nigeria, Madagascar and Sierra Leone to discuss elections and democracy in Africa, the White House said. The president was joined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The press was not allowed access to the meeting and the White House did not release a statement.
“I want to be clear that having a meeting about elections in 2023 is not about us raising the alarm bell or claiming we’ve got concerns and then solutions,” Sullivan said at a Monday press briefing. “It’s rather to say: There are important elections coming up, we would like to do everything we can to support those elections being free, fair and credible.”
Nigeria’s elections are threatened by a long-running Islamic insurgency in the northeast of the country, bandit attacks in the northwest and growing separatist agitations in the south. Liberia and Sierra Leone are still contending with fallout from past civil wars.
The meeting was held during the three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit which has brought together delegations from nearly 50 countries as well as the African Union. The Biden administration intends to reassure African leaders the U.S. is committed to working with them on trade and other issues, even as China and Russia deepen their economic and diplomatic ties to the continent.
Biden capped the second day of the summit with a White House dinner on Wednesday night.
Guests dined on roasted butternut squash bisque, seared sea bass and banana pudding, prepared by chef Mashama Bailey from Savannah, Georgia, who collaborated on the menu with White House executive chef Cris Comerford and pastry chef Susie Morrison. Bailey is the winner of the 2022 James Beard Outstanding Chef award, the first Black woman to receive the honor.
Gladys Knight, who was a recipient earlier this month of the Kennedy Center Honors, is performing.
Biden, in a toast, spoke about the need for African nations and the U.S. to work together to address global challenges. “I’ve never been more optimistic about our shared future,” Biden said. “Together we can deliver a world that is healthier and safer, more equal, more just, more prosperous and more filled with opportunity for everyone.”
“Our people lie at the heart of the deep and profound connection that forever binds Africa and the United States together,” he said.
“We remember the stolen men and women and children were brought to our shores in chains, subjected to unimaginable cruelty.”
Senegalese President Macky Sall, who is also chairman of the African Union, told Biden African nations “want to advance our common agenda with you and take our partnership to the next level in an inclusive approach, bringing together governments, the private sector, civil society and the African diaspora.”
With the summit, the Biden administration wants to counter perceptions that the U.S. has neglected Africa. The U.S. over the next three year plans to invest $55 billion in the continent, targeted at the economic, security and health sectors, according to Sullivan.
Biden earlier Wednesday spoke at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum, where he touted U.S. efforts to strengthen democracy on the continent and vowed to work closely on issues including climate, food security and public health.
“Africa’s economic transition depends on good government, healthy populations and reliable and affordable energy,” Biden said. “The United States is all in on Africa’s future.”
Biden said the U.S. is signing a memorandum of understanding with the secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area. The Africa-wide trade pact would be the world’s biggest free-trade zone by area when it becomes fully operational by 2030.
The president also said the U.S. would invest in African infrastructure, citing what he called the first-ever regional transport compact from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which would invest $500 million to build and maintain roads and implement policies to reduce transportation costs. Biden said he expected the MCC to commit an additional $2.5 billion in Africa over the next three years.
And Biden hailed projects from U.S. companies, including a collaboration between Microsoft Corp. and Viasat Inc. to bring internet access to 5 million Africans. Microsoft aims to bring access to 100 million people across the continent by the end of 2025. Cisco is working with the Biden administration to train 3 million more technology workers in Africa over the next 10 years.
After his remarks, the U.S. president stayed at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington to watch part of the World Cup semifinal match between Morocco and France before returning to the White House.
Biden is also throwing his weight behind an effort by the African Union to join the Group of 20 as a permanent member, and for the continent to hold a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. The White House is tapping Johnnie Carson, an experienced diplomat focused on African relations, to implement actions emanating from the summit.
A centerpiece of the summit will be discussions on “Agenda 2063,” a blueprint designed to advance social and economic development independently written by the African Union that is a priority for those leaders. Talks over renewing and expanding the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act, a law known as AGOA that allows expanded access to the U.S. market, are also expected to take center stage.
(Bloomberg staff writers Justin Sink and Anthony Osae-Brown contributed to this story.)
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