The three-day U.S Africa Leaders’ Summit starts today amid concerns that African leaders are not fully prepared to meet U.S President Barack Obama and other American leaders at a time when Africa needs billions of dollars in foreign direct investment and help in curbing armed militant groups threatening to overrun the continent.
The exclusion of long-time Zimbabwean ruler, President Robert Mugabe, from the summit has worsened the situation with some observers saying the country is set to lose millions of dollars in potential youth projects and other investments.
At least 50 African leaders have arrived in the U.S capital for the summit whose theme is 'Investing in the Next Generation'.
Deliberations will center on catering for the needs of millions of young people in Africa and the strengthening of socio-economic and political ties between the U.S and Africa.
Some critics believe that African leaders did not properly plan for the event as they failed to come up with a common position on various core issues affecting the continent before attending the summit.
According to Professor Shadreck Guto of the University of South Africa, the African Union does not have a clear agenda at the summit.
"This has become a problem for African leaders as the African Union does not seem to be coordinating well for a common agenda. We do not have a clear agenda at the summit.”
Professor Guto says African leaders should have outlined a clear position based on its inclusive growth and development strategy dubbed Africa Agenda 2063.
"Everyone is looking at increasing trade between America and African countries but indications are that most African leaders are merely going to Washington for a photo session".
At its heart, this new African roadmap, emphasizes the rekindling of Pan-Africanism, a sense of unity, self-reliance, integration and solidarity that was a highlight of the triumphs of the 20th century.
Political analyst Dr. Ibbo Mandaza of the Southern Africa Political and Economic Series (SAPES) echoes the same sentiments, saying African leaders are not showing any signs that they will present a common position at the summit.
“We expected intensive consultations before the event but now it seems as if there is no common African position at the summit,” he said.
Independent political commentator Nkosilathi Khanye also believes that the lack of a common position will have a negative impact on rolling out empowerment programs for the next generation, set to dominate deliberations at the summit.
“Americans always make things happen and so if our president is excluded then we won’t be able to access funds for youth programs"
He further says it is embarrassing that President Mugabe has been left out of the summit together with leaders of Eritrea, Sudan and Central African Republic with a record of human rights abuses.
“President Mugabe would have learnt something from Obama and other American leaders,” said Khanye.
But Dr. Mandaza disagrees, saying the exclusion of Mr. Mugabe shows a high degree of intolerance by the American government towards Zanu PF.
“They must look beyond Mugabe. Mugabe is not Zimbabwe. Americans are the ones that are now left behind. They should have actually invited the country's foreign affairs minister or any other senior representative.”
He says President Mugabe's exclusion won't have any impact at all.
Professor Guto agrees, noting that the exclusion of President Mugabe is an irritation to the Zanu PF government.
For political activist Maureen Kademaunga of the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai, President Mugabe has become a political and economic liability for Zimbabwe.
MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR DEALS
She hopes that African leaders will strike multi-million deals with Americans for the benefit of the continent.
But Zanu PF spokesman, Rugare Gumbo, says the summit is a waste of time.
The United States imposed sanctions on Mr. Mugabe and his inner circle following reports of human rights abuses and claims of election rigging. The European Union, which also imposed the targeted measures, has since relaxed the sanctions though the president, his wife and a few members of his inner circle are still restricted from directly dealing with EU nations.
There are multi-billion dollar U.S investments in Africa, including Zimbabwe. At least 20 African nations have duty-free access to United States markets under the African Growth and Opportunity Act or AGOA, a U.S. law designed to assist economies of sub-Saharan Africa and improve economic relations. Africa sells over 7,000 products to the U.S worth $27 billion.
It still remains to be seen whether Africa will gain from the ongoing summit, the first of its kind held by an American president.