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Biden announces trade deals with Africa and more involvement on the continent

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

President Biden is hosting African leaders this week during a summit intended to build stronger economic ties with the region, which has seen a lot of investment from China in recent years. In an address, Biden said yesterday his administration signed an agreement to support trade across the continent and invest in food, energy and health projects. He also announced new deals in the private sector totaling $15 billion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The deals we've signed, the investments we've made together are concrete proof of the enduring commitment we're making to one another.

MARTÍNEZ: The last U.S.-Africa summit was held in 2014, when President Obama also promised a stronger economic partnership. Joining us now is Mvemba Phezo Dizolele, who is director of Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. So let's start with, last night, President Biden saying the U.S. is all-in on Africa's future and announced several investments in Africa this week. That summit wraps up today. Mvemba, what do you think of the U.S. commitments? How do they stack up to you so far?

MVEMBA PHEZO DIZOLELE: A, this is a very important commitment on the part of the United States. The United States came to this summit with a trust deficit as far as Africa goes. This is a signal that the U.S. is committing itself to working with the people of Africa to move the relationship forward. As you know, the world is a multipolar world that we live in today, with various interests and various powers competing for resources in Africa. The U.S. was lagging a bit behind China, behind Turkey, Russia and others that are invested in Africa. So this is a good beginning.

MARTÍNEZ: You called it a trust deficit. What do you mean by that?

DIZOLELE: By that I mean the U.S. as a superpower has been engaging Africa for years - for decades, actually, I'd say - since before independence. However, that engagement has not always been consistent. If a country has some issue, the U.S. may suspend its relationship. The U.S. may reduce its relationship. The U.S. may leave totally. Where, in fact, African countries really have been thirsting for America's leadership and partnership, that has not always been there in the way, let's say, China has been consistent or. Even the French, who have a lot of difficult relationship with Africans, have been consistent. It's that consistency that has been lacking with the U.S. As you say, the last time it was eight years ago...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

DIZOLELE: ...2014. That's about two mandate, two presidential mandate. That's not acceptable.

MARTÍNEZ: And when you say partnership, economic partnership.

DIZOLELE: Economic and across the board. You know, the world is facing a number of contingencies, including demographic pressures, including climate change, as we're talking about these days. All of those contingencies will be determined by what happens in Africa. You know, Africa is the youngest continent. The median age in Africa is 19. The median age in the U.S. is 38, 39. The median age in Germany is 49. So the future of the world is in Africa. And the U.S. need to be present.

MARTÍNEZ: And China has invested in that future. They've spent - what? - $254 billion in trade with the African continent. How much of a challenge does China present the U.S.?

DIZOLELE: China present tremendous challenge to the United States in the sense that China is a rising superpower. It's just a question of years before they come, really, neck to neck with the United States. However, Africa is a big place - 54 countries, tremendous resources, tremendous needs. So there is room for both powers to be there. They can even collaborate. It doesn't need to be competitive. It's not the Cold War, you know? The Africans have been handling foreign powers for 500 years, so this is not new to them.

MARTÍNEZ: One more thing, quickly. What do you think the U.S. can offer to African countries that maybe China and other countries cannot?

DIZOLELE: It's the values that the U.S. has been pushing for over year - good governance, strong democracy, social contract support. Those are the issues where the U.S. has competitive advantage.

MARTÍNEZ: That is Mvemba Phezo Dizolele. Thank you very much.

DIZOLELE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.