A development dialogue for Africa — in Africa?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at a working dinner with African leaders and CEOs who are in Washington, D.C. for the three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. The event is the largest gathering for African heads of state and government hosted by any U.S. president. Photo by: State Department

For the first time, nearly 50 African heads of state are convening in Washington, D.C. for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, and development is on the top of the agenda.

It’s undoubtedly a monumental event, but some Africans are wondering why such a summit can’t take place on their own continent.

“We need to be more involved in African development,” Patrick Elat, a Cameroonian consultant for the World Bank, told Devex. “And when I say we, it’s Africans.”

Elat was speaking on the sidelines of the Growth and Opportunity in Africa Forum on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, the second day of the summit. The event, hosted by U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), brought together a wide selection of African policymakers and young leaders to discuss economic growth and security on the continent.

These are important issues for the Cameroonian, but he said those in the audience are mainly the elite and they aren’t representative of the majority of African people.

“A talk like this… a dialogue surrounding development issues in Africa… needs to take place in Africa, for the Africans,” Elat explained — and others at the forum agreed.

Oladeji Tiamiyu is a recent graduate from the University of Toledo who hopes to work in international development. He said it’s obvious the African people want peace, running water, and electricity, but if they aren’t actively involved in the process, they’ll have no control.

He called this “tyrannical.”

Tiamiyu suggested that if a summit of this nature was held in Africa, the people could more easily voice what they are most concerned about, and frame the dialogue more effectively.

“It would be on their front steps,” he said. “They would be actively going to whichever government institution was holding the event.”

Others at the forum emphasized that these discussions in Washington, D.C. are good first steps. Jonah Mbaza Aboni, a Ghanaian graduate student at the University of Notre Dame was glad to see that development in Africa is being actively discussed.

But he also asked: “How do we go beyond the talking?”

For the most comprehensive coverage of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, check out daily updates via Storify, and be sure to follow Devex on Twitter and Facebook. You may tweet questions and comments to our reporters Michael Igoe @twigoe and Kelli Rogers @kellierin.

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About the author

  • Jeff tyson 400x400  1

    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, DC, he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the United States, and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.