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Can the West Woo Africa?

In recent years, the West’s lack of engagement with Africa left behind a vacuum that China and Russia eagerly filled. The US and Europe can still repair relations – and, for the first time in a long time, seem determined to try – but only by playing to their strengths.

WASHINTON, DC – The United States is finally paying attention to Africa. But recent attempts at engagement – the US-Africa Leaders Summit in December and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s ten-day tour of the continent last month – have offered no indication that the US has anything close to a meaningful strategy for engagement with the continent. And the European Union is no better.

Renewed Western interest in Africa is long overdue. The continent plays an essential role in world affairs, not least because of its outsize importance to future global economic growth and the green-energy transformation, rooted in its accelerating urbanization, youth bulge, and abundant deposits of minerals and rare earths. All of this clearly merits sustained and consistent engagement by the West.

But Africa has drawn only sporadic engagement – primarily on security matters – from the US in recent years. The last US-Africa summit was held nearly a decade ago, and no US president has visited the continent since 2015. Donald Trump showed little interest in Africa during his term; in fact, his open disdain for the continent drove US-Africa diplomacy into the ground.