Once we get beyond the historic precedent and the inevitable traffic snarls that will be created by the 50 African delegations moving around Washington, it is fair to ask what the Summit will achieve.

This what my crystal ball suggests:

Business will move to the forefront of the US-Africa agenda. Last July, President Obama hosted U.S. and African CEOs for a roundtable discussion in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania during the course of his three-country visit. By various accounts, the event was substantive and a high point of the president’s Africa trip.  The fact that the Administration is organizing a second business session 13 months later on August 5, and that trade and investment is one of three topics to be discussed among the leaders on August 6, suggests the Administration understands the opportunity that exists in the African market.

The challenge for the Administration is to develop the capacity and infrastructure to help small and medium U.S. companies trade and invest on the continent.  Commerce Secretary, Penny Pritzker, recently doubled the size of the Commerce Department in Africa, to a presence in 8 countries.  With 54 countries on the continent, and the Chinese having 150 commercial attaches spread across the region, the U.S. still has a long way to go. Nevertheless, the Summit appropriately will elevate trade and investment in the U.S.-Africa relationship. This will also benefit efforts to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act in a timely manner, now set to expire in September 2015.

Americans will begin to see Africa in a more positive and balanced light. Given the extensive media coverage that the Summit will generate, Americans around the country inevitably will begin to move past outdated notions of Africa as a continent in crisis. This will not happen overnight, and the region will be impacted by terrorism and instability like other regions over the near and medium term. The Summit, nevertheless, will help Americans begin to understand that this is only part of Africa’s story, and not the whole story by any means. Innovations related to mobile money banking in Kenya, fashion designers from Lagos and entrepreneurs from across the continent are increasingly likely to dominate the African narrative.

What will the Summit neglect to address?

The U.S.-Africa security relationship.  For all of the Bush Administration’s significant accomplishments in Africa, including PEPFAR, the creation of MCC and the anti-malaria initiative, an opportunity to engage African leaders in a comprehensive and strategic dialogue on security issues was missed with roll out of Africa Command in 2007. The Summit this week affords such an opportunity but with only two hours to address the issue on August 6, it is unlikely that much will be achieved. Hopefully, there will be agreement to find another opportunity to have a high level dialogue on how the U.S. can work with African governments in critical areas such as regional approaches to conflict resolution, counter-terrorism, civil-military relations and human rights. Many programs are in place to address these issues, but they would benefit from a discussion among U.S. and African heads of state.

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Photo of Witney Schneidman Witney Schneidman

Witney Schneidman has nearly 40 years of experience working across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Drawing on his experience in the State Department, the World Bank, think tanks and his own consulting practice, Dr. Schneidman, a non-lawyer, has advised energy, technology, consumer and health companies, among…

Witney Schneidman has nearly 40 years of experience working across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Drawing on his experience in the State Department, the World Bank, think tanks and his own consulting practice, Dr. Schneidman, a non-lawyer, has advised energy, technology, consumer and health companies, among others, on projects in more than 30 African countries. He has also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs, and on the Africa advisory committees in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and at the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

Dr. Schneidman provides strategic advice on the varied political, economic, social and regulatory issues that are critical to companies’ success in Africa. This includes issues related to Corporate Social Responsibility, compliance, market entry and risk mitigation. He played a leading role in the passage and recent reauthorization of the African Growth and Opportunity Act and was a delegate to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit co-hosted by President Obama during his visit to Kenya.

Dr. Schneidman chairs Covington’s Africa Practice Group and is a senior member of the firm’s Public Policy Practice Group, the International Strategy Group and the International Trade and Finance Group.