By Jean-Jacques Cornish
There are more questions than answers as the United States hosts four dozen African leaders for their first summit in Washington this week.
Will it produce the deals and investment being sought by the fastest growing continent on the planet?
Or will it become a public relations exercise for Barak Obama showing yet again that he is only as African as one wants him to be?
One awkward question has been answered by South African foreign affairs chief Maite Nkoana Mashebane.
President Jacob Zuma snubbed the Europe-Africa summit in Paris last December because Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe was excluded.
He said then Africa will decide who to send, and it’s not for the hosts to decide on the guest list.
Yet Zuma’s at the Washington gathering to which Mugabe was pointedly not invited.
It’s about mechanisms, explains Nkoana Mashebane. Europe has form on summits with Africa. Washington does not.
Obama’s summonsing African leaders was a first.
Joining Mugabe off his invitation list is Omar Al Bashir of Sudan, Issaias Afeworki of Eritrea and interim Central African Republic president Catherine Samba Panza.
No word of complaint has been heard from Africa.
Presumably it is acceptable for Barak Obama to decide who he’s having to dinner, but French President Francois Hollande does not have the same right.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al Sissi has indicated he will not be there.
The Cairo leader plays a pivotal role in the Middle East, so the summit will be the poorer for his absence if Obama was planning to air the greatest crisis this region is undergoing in a century.
It is not crystal clear exactly what will be discussed.
Ministers accompanying the leaders will deal with issues of trade and investment, security and multilateral cooperation in communications, health, infrastructure development and the like.
They will construct the final documents for their leaders who generally to not board their aircraft heading for a summit meeting without draft agreements and a communique remarkably close to the final versions.
This time there is barely of hint of what will be inked.
Wish lists are plentiful.
US officials are talking about scaling up security cooperation with Africa increasingly best with problems from Al Qaeda, Al Shabab, Boko Haram and other militatnt Islamist groups that cause both African and American security operatives to wake up clammy with sweat in the early hours
They have to deal with an Africa quick to take what Washington offers but reluctant to be seen getting into Uncle Sam’s pocket.
Best example of this is the inability of the US Africa command to find a permanent home on the continent it is designed to help safeguard.
Africans, in their turn, want an extension without conditionality on the African Growth and Opportunity Act giving their exports preferential access to US markets.
They’re pressing for Obama to announce a 15 year extension.
The reality is that whatever the US president offers has to pass a sceptical Congress with a plethora of local interests to protect.
The African leaders would be mistaken thinking they will be received with open arms by US lawmakers, already on their summer holiday.
They will be very fortunate to avoid being roasted by the US media that takes a perverse delight in spitting in the soup of the president’s dinner guests.
They have been asking for weeks why Obama is breaking bread with counterparts guilty of corruption, human rights violations and profligacy.
They will leap at their chance to take those leaders to task personally.
Many questions may linger, but excitement is a central ingredient on the menu this week.