US President Barack Obama will welcome nearly 50 African heads of state at an unprecedented summit in Washington on Monday with all eyes on the continent as it battles the worst outbreak of the Ebola virus in history.
Forging stronger economic ties between the United States and Africa is the main aim of the three-day talks, with US officials keen to boost links with a continent projected by the International Monetary Fund to see 5.8 percent growth in 2014.
While the focus is on trade, with Obama last year describing Africa as "the world's next major economic success story", Washington has also vowed to ensure issues such as regional security, governance, democracy building, business investment and human rights are on the agenda.
The United States currently lags in third place in the trade standings with Africa, far behind the European Union in first and China in second.
Yet it is the public health crisis caused by the Ebola outbreak - which has left more than 700 people dead in west Africa - that threatens to cast a shadow over the summit.
Leaders from at least two affected countries have cancelled plans to travel to Washington: Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her Sierra Leone counterpart Ernest Bai Koroma.
Obama has said delegations from African nations affected by the outbreak will be subjected to precautionary health screenings upon arrival in the US, even if there is only "a marginal risk, or an infinitesimal risk" of exposure to the disease.
While no bilateral meetings are planned, with US officials citing logistical and diplomatic headaches, a lavish banquet will be held at the White House on Tuesday evening.
Peter Pham, Africa director at the Atlantic Council think tank, said the summit could provide an opportunity for Obama, the son of an American mother and African father, to reshape American attitudes toward the continent.
"There is a historic opportunity if the summit can begin to change [the] perception of Africa in the United States," Pham said.
From the start of his presidency, Obama has faced sky-high expectations from African leaders and U.S. policymakers, who hoped the son of a Kenyan would bump Africa up the White House list of foreign policy priorities.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)
Date created : 2014-08-04