Biden Invites 50 African Leaders For Summit 

U.S. President Joe Biden has announced that he will bring together leaders from across the African continent for a major summit in December in Washington to discuss pressing challenges from food security to climate change.

This is a good news for President George Weah whose government has been courting Washington DC amidst news that it hired three American lobbying and public relations firms, including one run by CNN analyst Bakari Sellers, for a total of US$660,000 per year to help deepen relations with the US government and African-Americans ahead of the bicentenary of the arrival of the first freed slaves who would eventually declare the independent nation of Liberia in 1847.

Both Presidents Biden and Weah met on the sideline of the Glasgow Climate Summit on November 1, 2021. Not only did Biden then extend an invitation for Weah to join other world leaders the following day to launch “the Global Methane Pledge” but, according to the Liberian delegation, the two leaders also discussed the possibility of a follow-up summit in the very near future.

Biden then posed for a photo with Weah, which many saw as incompetence on the part of Biden’s handlers who neither knew Weah nor understood his motives. 

Weah supporters immediately used those photos to suggest U.S. endorsement ahead of his campaign to win a second term at a time when most Liberians appear tired of his alleged mismanagement and corruption and wary that his stewardship is undermining Liberia’s fragile stability.

“The summit will demonstrate the United States’ enduring commitment to Africa, and will underscore the importance of U.S.-Africa relations and increased cooperation on shared global priorities,” Biden said in a statement.

The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, scheduled for December 13-15, 2022 was announced simultaneously in virtual remarks by Vice President Kamala Harris to the U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Marrakech hosted by the Corporate Council on Africa and the kingdom of Morocco and attended by a U.S. delegation.

A senior administration official, discussing the U.S.-Africa summit plans on condition of anonymity, said about 50 African leaders are expected to join Biden for the December 13-15, 2022 series of meetings.

It will come at the end of a year when Biden has engaged other regions of the world with trips to visit U.S. allies in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Biden has yet to visit Africa since becoming president, and the summit will be his most comprehensive look at the complexities of the continent.

Biden said the summit will work toward new economic engagement, promote democracy and human rights, advance peace and security, and address challenges such as food security and climate change as well as the pandemic.

Biden believes that U.S. collaboration with leaders from African governments, civil society, the private sector and the African diaspora will help tackle some of the challenges, the official said.

Critics say for Biden, however, to entertain a follow-up meeting with Weah would signal the emptiness of his and Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s rhetoric about human rights and confirm Blinken is letting the ball drop on Africa.

Put aside the fact that Weah has failed to make good his earlier promises to implement an international criminal court to try those accused of crimes against humanity for atrocities that occurred during Liberia’s civil wars. He does so for cynical political reasons as he solicits support from some implicated in such violations. Weah also may fear personal liability given allegations of economic crimes.

Critics add that what makes a potential Biden-Weah meeting more bizarre is that the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the U.S. Congress (an entity distinct more polemical and less professional Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice) has nominated Weah and several members of his administration for Global Magnitsky Act sanctions on the grounds of both human rights violations and corruption.

The Commission’s nomination accuses Weah of using security forces and veterans of former president and convicted war criminal Charles Taylor “to kill, mame [sic], or terrorize anyone who speaks out against him and/or his administration.” The UN Human Rights Council has reported on attacks by state forces against journalists with apparent impunity. As for corruption, the Magnitsky nomination went into significant detail: “After Weahbecame President of Liberia in January 2018, he assumes control and responsibility for the funds turned over to him from the previous administration of over $155 million… Weah started to immediately withdraw large sums of funds and use for his own personal gain….”

According to the General Auditing Commission (GAC) audit, as of March 21, 2019, there was only $19 million left in the Central Bank of Liberia account in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Many withdrawals remained undocumented and there were several drafts whose supporting explanation is only “facilitate customer & trade.” Several auditors investigating high profile corruption cases including the disappearance of several million dollars of funds meant to address the COVID-19 crisis have died under suspicious circumstances in recent months.

Many African leaders deserve Biden’s support. Freedom House ranks Ghana, Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa as free, for example. They say to bestow U.S. diplomatic prestige on Weah, however, is akin to turning Mother Teresa down in order to have a photo-op with Jeffrey Epstein.

Diplomacy should be back but, when it comes to Liberia, it should not come at the expense of democracy and human rights.

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