US-Africa Leaders Summit sparks online debate on development and climate

US Secretary of State John Kerry addresses climate change impacts at the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC. Creative Commons: USAID, 2014

US Secretary of State John Kerry addresses climate change impacts at the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC. Creative Commons: USAID, 2014

After the inaugural US-Africa Leaders Summit, the pressure is on to meet the demands of civil society organizations and support long-term development, including climate resiliency, for the African continent.

The summit, hosted by the White House, focused on strengthening bilateral ties through trade and investment in Africa in order to highlight “America’s commitment to Africa’s security, its democratic development, and its people.”

Civil groups and individuals took to social media throughout the summit, engaging with negotiators from the United States and Africa. Using the hashtag #TheAfricaWeWant, activists challenged summit attendees to concretely address ways to reduce systemic poverty and inequality, protect and uphold human rights, and strengthen bilateral and regional relationships.

“The [oil, gas and mining] companies need to be held accountable, and we would ask President Obama to also support us in this message,” said Ali Idrissa, a Niger-based anti-corruption activist and national co-ordinator of Publish What You Pay, an organization that advocates for transparency in the extractive industries.

Throughout the meetings, International NGOs such as Oxfam also encouraged transparency and citizen engagement, and pressured US leaders to empower Africans by shifting ownership of aid programs directly into their hands.

Climate change was prevalent topic of conversation throughout the summit as it directly relates to Africa’s future security and development. Extreme weather has already begun to threaten the livelihood of many coastal African communities and climate change impacts will continue posing a high risk on vulnerable populations

One of the solutions proposed was the The Global Resilience Partnership, a $100 million fund backed by the Rockafeller center “to help protect the lives and livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

Leading up to the summit, President Obama has increasingly been quoted championing business development in Africa, pledging $33 billion in private and public assistance to further development and growth, including clean energy. He recently acknowledged that even among those who oppose his policies within the fossil fuel sector, there are few CEOs who wouldn’t admit that “climate change isn’t a factor.” The US president also took this opportunity to promote Power Africa, the $20 billion USAID program intended to support mostly clean energy sources and “enhance energy security, decrease poverty, and advance economic growth.”

As the meetings wrapped up, African negotiators pressed the US government continue asserting leadership on climate matters, arguing that as one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gases, their role is crucial to steering global climate negotiations and curbing reluctance to act from other countries.

Hoping to sustain the momentum, a live Twitter Q&A will be picking up where negotiators left off on August 7th at 2 pm EST. Twitter users can direct lingering questions from the summit to the US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes and to representatives from the ONE Campaign by hashtagging #USAfricaChat

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