(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden sought to showcase the US’s commitment Africa as he hosted his Angolan counterpart, João Lourenço, a meeting that highlighted Biden’s unfulfilled pledge to visit the continent.
Biden has worked to revitalize US-Africa ties to counter growing Chinese and Russian influence. Yet Africa’s leaders still waiting for a presidential trip are concerned the continent is again taking a back seat to other geopolitical priorities.
“America is all in on Africa,” Biden said Thursday during his White House meeting with Lourenço, touting projects meant to help connect Angola to the global economy, spur clean energy and boost agricultural exports.
Biden last December hosted the US-Africa Summit, reviving the forum after nearly a decade. He pledged to visit the continent in a sign of its importance to Washington. “I’m looking forward to seeing many of you in your home countries,” Biden said at the time.
Despite a string of high-level visits, including by Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the White House has yet to announce formal plans for Biden himself to travel to Africa with only a month left in the year.
“I have been there and I will be back,” Biden said Thursday when asked by a reporter if he would visit Angola.
Earlier: Biden Says He’ll Visit Africa in Bid to Extend US Influence
Biden has been juggling twin global crises — which the White House has cited when other travel plans have been disrupted — Ukraine’s war to repel Russia’s invasion, and the conflict between Israel and Hamas. He visited Kyiv in February and went to Israel days after the deadly attack by Hamas, a US and European Union-designated terrorist group.
Biden also is skipping this week’s COP28 climate summit in Dubai. Harris is attending instead.
A senior US official said Thursday they had no travel to announce when asked why a Biden trip to Africa has not been organized. The administration has shown its commitment to the continent through 16 visits by Cabinet and agency heads and pledges to make billions of dollars of new investments, the official said.
With no visit in the offing, frustrations that the US is neglecting Africa have rekindled.
“There is a tremendous trust deficit between the United States and a lot of African countries,” said Mvemba Dizolele, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It should be self-evident that the US president needs to go visit and make his mark. Africa should not be begging for a visit.”
Last year’s African summit was a crucial step in assuring leaders the US was committed to staying engaged. Biden called for the African Union to join the Group of 20, which came to fruition earlier this year, and pushed for a permanent seat for Africa on the United Nations Security Council.
Harris’s trip was a standout moment in the effort to improve relations. She was greeted by crowds during a week-long tour of three countries, in which she visited sites laden with cultural significance for the African diaspora and Black voters at home.
At the heart of the new engagement is a desire to counter China’s clout in the region as Beijing offers countries loans to develop infrastructure projects and gain access to the critical minerals needed to produce clean energy and other high-tech products.
Read More: China’s Grip on Africa’s Minerals Sparks a US Response
Biden wants to present an American alternative to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, which he says saddles countries with mountains of debt.
Biden has made multibillion dollar commitments to invest in development banks and with Group of Seven leaders established the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment to offer countries access to infrastructure financing.
Biden and Lourenço on Thursday were planning to discuss ways to advance a partnership project intended to connect Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia to global markets via the port of Lobito, according to the White House.
Congo is the world’s largest cobalt producer, and Zambia is a key copper producer. Both the US and the EU are partnering with the three countries to accelerate the project, with Biden offering to contribute $250 million to its development.
Angola has had a rocky relationship with the US, especially during the Cold War, when the newly independent country relied on help from the Soviet Union and Cuba.
The country in many ways highlights the biggest issues facing Africa. It was one of the first countries where China began testing its development model, according to Assis Malaquias, academic dean of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
Angola is also the biggest African debtor to China and as the second-largest oil producer on the continent, is paying its loans back in part through oil shipments. Lourenço is likely to press Biden for investments to aid Angola’s struggling economy.
“The economy is in really bad shape,” said Florindo Chivucute, executive director of Friends of Angola. “His main focus will be trying to persuade the Biden administration to give incentives to private businesses to invest more in Angola.”
Since Lourenço took power, there’s been a marked change.
“While others in southern Africa are strengthening ties to China, President Lourenço is shedding Angola’s historic relationships with China (and Russia) in favor of a new and strategic partnership with the US,” his lobbyist to Washington, Robert Kapla, wrote to Amos Hochstein, Biden’s energy security adviser, in an April email. “This is a fundamental shift in Angolan foreign policy.”
--With assistance from Jenny Leonard, William Clowes, Matthew Hill and Jordan Fabian.
(Updates to add Biden remarks, comments from senior US official starting in 3rd paragraph.)
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