United States officials on Wednesday confirmed that the U.S. did not extend invitations to Eritrea and Somaliland as African leaders prepare to meet with President Joe Biden in Washington next week.
The second U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit will take place from Dec. 13 – 15 with the U.S. seeking to deepen ties with Africa and meet its pressing challenges.
Officials briefing the press confirmed that the U.S. did not invite Eritrea and Somaliland due to strained diplomatic relations and lack of recognition for the latter as a sovereign state.
“We’ve decided to be as inclusive as possible and consistent with the African Union and our own recognition of governments,” Judd Devermont, the National Security Council’s senior director for African Affairs, said in response to a VOA question about the exclusions of some African states.
Last week, Dana Banks, special assistant to the president and senior advisor for the summit, told VOA that 49 heads of state and African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat have been invited to the high-level meeting.
“Invitations were sent to countries who are in good standing with the Africa Union,’’ she said. “Currently, there’re four countries that have been suspended by the AU, and so they were not extended invitations” in addition to “two countries – one which we do not recognize and one with whom we do not share full diplomatic relations,” Banks said.
Mali, Sudan, Guinea and Burkina Faso have been suspended from the 54-nation African bloc because of political instability.
“We continue to work separately with those countries to encourage a return to democratic transition, so we’re in a better position to have a strong partnership with [them],” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee.
“We want to make sure that our vision aligns with the vision that Africans have for their continent,” Phee said adding that she hopes leaders leave the summit “feeling that the partnership with the U.S. makes a concrete difference in the daily lives of African people.”
The U.S. Statement Department says it does not provide bilateral assistance to Eritrea at its government’s request, but “maintains an enduring desire to build relationships with the Eritrean people, including through cultural exchange and other programs.”
But Marisa Lourenço, a Johannesburg-based political and economic risk analyst, told VOA that the decision to exclude some African states from the summit is unjustified, noting that it’s not entirely “surprising” considering bilateral tensions between the U.S. and the excluded countries.
The U.S. may be using the countries as “scapegoats,” she said, due to their strong alliances with states like Russia and China — and to signal that political instability and coups are not justified transitions in government.
“We don’t live in a bipolar world anymore,” she said. “We live in an increasingly multipolar world, and African countries know this. They know that they can effectively engage with a lot of governments, whereas before it was kind of picking a side, and that’s not really the case anymore.”
Discussions at the summit are expected to center on climate change, governance and security, food security and the impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Other areas of focus will include amplifying the voices of young leaders on the African continent, as well as an opportunity to announce increased trade and investment deals.