37th Annual African Union Summit: What to Expect

February 16, 2024 By Binta Jalloh

When African leaders convene for the 37th annual African Union (AU) summit on February 17-18 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the world will be watching for signs about the future of the global economy, security, and health, and the role Africa plays in all of this.  

Home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies, the fastest growing and youngest populations, rich human capital and natural resource markets, the future of Africa has so much to say about the future of the rest of the world. And while there is optimism about this future, the continent also faces several challenges that could stand in the way, including threats to rule of law, food insecurity, humanitarian disasters including droughts and floods, military led coups, threats to elections, and growing conflicts in East and Central Africa.  

Africa’s security and stability matter for the future of the continent and the United States, and the U.S.-Africa partnership could not be more important. Here’s what to watch for this week:

What is on the AU Summit agenda?

  • Education: The AU has named 2024 the Year of Education, which is fitting considering 86% of 10-year-olds in sub-Saharan Africa are unable to read and comprehend simple text. Educating the next generation has positive outcomes for stability, as H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Former Prime Minister of Chad and Chairperson of the African Union Commission stated, “educational reforms will reverse the trend towards poverty and enhance the attractiveness of Africa, in terms of investment and therefore, the creation of prosperity.” 
  • Integration and Economic Growth:  African leaders will discuss opportunities to advance sustainable development and growth and decrease sensitivities to external shocks, including the role of integration and trade such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the world’s largest free trade area worth more than $3.4 trillion. U.S. officials at the Summit will be looking to how AfCFTA can complement and strengthen the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the current U.S.-Africa trade policy, as it comes up for reauthorization in 2025.

  • Global Health: The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for Africa to spearhead and own the research, development, and implementation of public health solutions. In response, the AU launched “A New Public Health Order for Africa” through the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to strengthen the public health workforce, expand manufacturing of vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics, increase domestic resources, and form action-oriented partnerships. 
  • Peace and Security: Top of mind for many will be how to contend with the multiple conflicts and crises across the region that challenge peace and stability. Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and the Sahel have seen an uptick in conflict, resulting in mass migration and acute food insecurity, which can be destabilizing in an already fragile region. And 19 elections are expected to take place this year, several of which have already been delayed, and many of which are expected to be plagued by electoral mismanagement.

What happens to and with Africa’s population of 1.5 billion people has a significant impact on the world, with Africa’s economic growth, innovation, and creativity reverberating globally. In this same vein, humanitarian, economic, and security challenges on the continent will inevitably become global challenges, many of which could land on America’s front porch. That is why the issues to be discussed at the AU Summit are vital not only to the African growth agenda but are also priorities for the U.S. and America’s development and diplomacy engagements across the continent.

A 21st Century Partnership 

The U.S.-Africa Leader Summit held in December 2022 aimed to re-envision this critical partnership and employ a ‘whole of government approach’ to advance mutually shared interests. Already, over 20 Cabinet and senior Biden administration officials — from the Department of State’s Secretary Blinken to the Department of the Treasury’s Secretary Yellen — have visited nearly 30 countries across Africa to emphasize America’s commitment to the U.S.-Africa partnership. Most recently, Secretary Blinken made stops in Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Angola where he highlighted, among other investments, the Millenium Challenge Corporation’s infrastructure projects in Cabo Verde, global health partnerships in Nigeria, security partnerships with Côte d’Ivoire, and the Lobito Corridor project across Angola, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo under the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. “We’re here for a very simple reason, because America and Africa’s futures, their peoples, their prosperity, are linked and joined as never before,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken while in Abuja, Nigeria.  

In collaboration with African countries, the United States has expanded trade and investment partnerships, advanced food and health security investments, launched a digital transformation initiative, improved access to healthcare and education for girls, forged new security and good governance cooperations, and catalyzed diaspora-driven engagement. One such initiative, Prosper Africa, has brought together services from across the U.S. Government to help companies and investors do business in U.S. and African markets. Since its creation in 2018, Prosper Africa has helped secure 1,852 deals between the United States and African nations and generated $86 billion in new exports and investments across 49 countries. The USAID led initiative, Feed the Future, has improved agriculture-led growth, resilience, and nutrition in 16 countries across Africa. In countries where Feed the Future works, 23.4 million people now live above the poverty line and 3.4 million more children are free from stunting.  

From the launch of Feed the Future under the Obama Administration to the creation of Prosper Africa under the Trump Administration – America’s development and diplomacy programs are working in a bipartisan fashion and across Administrations to sustain the U.S.-Africa partnership and build towards our mutually shared interests. This unified approach is crucial as the world grapples with maligned countries and actors, and the U.S. and Africa are increasingly looking to smarter investments for development and security partnerships.  

As the summit gets underway this weekend, one thing is clear. From trade and economic growth, to global health and security, the U.S. and Africa will have ample opportunities for future engagement and partnership.