Why President Kiir skipped Biden’s invite to US-Africa Summit

Why President Kiir skipped Biden’s invite to US-Africa Summit

South Sudan has defended President Salva Kiir’s move to snub an invite by his US counterpart, Joe Biden, for a summit bringing together close to 50 African heads of state.

While other African leaders opted for the historic visit, President Kiir was locked up in a busy schedule on Monday, where he commissioned the first phase of the 63- kilometre Juba-Terekeka Road in Lakes State. Kiir sent a team of diplomats, headed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Mayiik Ayii Deng, to attend the summit on his behalf.

In an exclusive interview with The City Review yesterday, Deng Dau Deng, the deputy minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, said the head of state delegated the duty to Mayiik to allow him (President Kiir) to attend to more pressing national duties.

“His Excellency the President is in charge of issues internally, and he was not here (in Juba) yesterday, he was launching the road, which was more crucial to the people of South Sudan than just a summit of America where we will go and listen to sanctions and all those kinds of things,” Deng said.

Kiir, like his other African counterparts, was acting in good faith, according to Deng, by sending a representative to the summer.

“It (summit) is not a classroom, we have several heads of state and government that have not gone for that particular summit (US-Africa leaders’ summit),” he explained.

He added, “It depends on our national interest, and South Sudan has sent a foreign affairs minister who is equally important as the rest of African nations whose heads of state and government have not attended that particular conference.”

He argued that President Kiir was busy spearheading the implementation of the peace agreement, which is long overdue, and “South Sudan should concentrate on their own issues” and not spend much energy on “the international conferences.”

“It is not a must that all the heads of state and governments in Africa attend,” he added.

Deng said that there were still upcoming conferences such as France-Africa Summit, the Turkey-Africa Summit, the Japanese-Africa Summit, and the Russia-Africa Summit that President Kiir could still attend.

According to the US Department of State website, the three-day summit in Washington DC will bring together approximately 49 African heads of state who will engage President Biden in dialogue to strengthen US-Africa relations.

It noted that the summit is for “fostering new economic engagement, advancing peace, security, and good governance, reinforcing commitment to democracy, human rights, and civil society, and working collaboratively to strengthen regional and global health security.”

But according to the deputy minister, the outcome of the summit is already predetermined, and South Sudan will entrust Mayiik to take it up as the “second chief diplomat after the President.”

Deng pointed out that the US Ambassador to South Sudan, Michael Adler, had also met President Kiir several times to enable the president to communicate the official position of South Sudan.

Invited leaders

Some of the African leaders who had arrived for the summit as of December 12 included Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (Uganda), Samia Suluhu Hassan (Tanzania) Paul Kagame (Rwanda), William Ruto (Kenya), Abiy Ahmed Ali (Ethiopia), Evariste Ndayishimiye (Burundi), Felix Tshisekedi (DRC), Nana Akufo-Addo (Ghana), Aziz Akhannouch (Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Morocco), Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (Somalia) among others.

However, some African heads of state and governments were represented by senior officials. These include Naledi Grace Mandisa Pandor, minister for international relations & cooperation of the Republic of South Africa.

President Kiir’s absence alarmed civil society, given the country’s struggle with the arms embargo, which requires much more lobbying.

Edmund Yakani, the Executive Director for Community Empowerment for Progress (CEPO), who is currently in the US to participate in the summit, expressed regret over the decision, saying the head of state could have done the contrary.

 “We are in a position where US trust toward our government is weak,” Yakani said, adding, “I wish the invitation extended by Biden could have been honoured by President Kiir by coming in person.”

President Kiir has so far travelled to the United Arab Emirates three times: in April, May, and October, for bilateral talks and to entice investors to venture into the market.