Day 1 of US-Africa Summit

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By Kabelo Mollo

Today my column’s a little different as I write this from Day 1 of the U.S Africa leaders’ summit in Washington D.C. The press centre is a sprawling room with row upon row of desks and chairs filled with media men and women with their high tech cameras and microphones, laptops and smart phones.

The bulk of us are Africans but I ran in to a French lady earlier and there are a couple of Spanish media folks hanging around too. A Chinese media crew have also emerged out of the woodwork. I’m not entirely sure what they’re doing at this particular summit but I suppose the more the merrier.

This is day one but there have been sideshow events since the 7th of this month and one such sideshow that captured my imagination was the “Technology driven Africa- Advancing the digitilisation of Africa” meet. As it turns out Idris Elba as well as Yvonne Orji headlined the fireside chat. The conversation was inspiring if a little shy of detail, though I’m not even sure what I mean by that.

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In fact, I’m not entirely sure what I expect out of this summit. My aim is to cover interesting happenings and conversations and hopefully capture a worthwhile interview or two, but those are my own ambitions, what of Africa’s? How will we determine whether or not this has been a successful summit or not? Will the backslapping and ego stroking convert to actual tangible investment and collaboration opportunities? Will African leaders intentionally move the needle from Aid to investment? And finally will Minister Pandors comments on the UN Security council be heeded or glossed over in the same way her sharp comments to Secretary Blinken were when he visited Pretoria? Minister Pandor is here representing the Republic and I look forward to hearing her commentary at some point.

Secretary Blinken who looks after foreign affairs for the White House opened the African Youth and Diaspora forum the day before yesterday (11th December) and was effusive in his praise for the continent and its role in informing culture, arts and music in the US. It’s wonderful to hear higher ups speak so glowingly about African talent and artists. Trevor Noah the host (well, now former host) of the Daily show came in for special praise from the secretary.

Today’s topics are “Peace, security, Governance” as well as “Health cooperation” and finally “Conservation, Climate and energy”. The third session is the one I am most looking forward even though it clashes with a world cup semi-final. By the way, there has been precious little to even suggest a global event like the men’s football world cup is on. I’m told the Noma district which I’m in is quite cosmopolitan and eclectic with lots of different nations sharing space, but still, no real buzz about the spectacle arriving at its crescendo! That said, I think Lesotho ought to pay close attention to conversations on climate, conservation and energy. The Wetlands need to be preserved in a manner that can create economic opportunities while the green economy must be unlocked through wind, solar and hydroelectric generation of power and the climate, well the climate needs a conversation!

It would be remiss of me not to mention the stirring protest happening along the barrier of this summit. The Ethiopian community in DC has gathered in decent numbers to protest Dr Abi’s presence and to convey their and their brethren pain as a result of the situation in Emperor Selassie’s kingdom. They are passionate and they are loud and I hope for their sake they will be heard.

I shall report back post afternoons session, and will also indicate whether or not any interviews have been secured. For now, enjoy your (relatively) warm weather, while we suffer through the freezing cold!