First Saudi Arabia-Africa Summit: Overcoming Obstacles for a Promising Future

The maiden Saudi Arabia-Africa summit took place in Riyadh on 10 November, aiming to strengthen relations between Saudi Arabia and African states and strengthen economic and diplomatic ties. Over 50 leaders attended, including presidents of Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat and AU Chairperson Azali Assoumani were also present. However, Saudi Arabia invited suspended AU member states, such as Gabon, Niger, and Sudan, to the summit, which could undermine the AU’s norms and principles. The Arab-African summit, the first since 2013, showcases Saudi Arabia’s commitment to integrating Africa into its foreign policy and trade agenda, demonstrating global leadership.

Saudi Arabia is aiming to strengthen ties between the Arab world and Africa, as the Arab region gains more membership in global institutions. The BRICS, which includes Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Ethiopia, expanded in August 2024, and the AU was admitted to the G20. Saudi Arabia plans to boost its diplomatic presence in Africa by opening more embassies and increasing economic investments. The country trades mainly with Egypt and South Africa, with investment pledges of over US$25 billion by 2030. The Saudi Fund for Development will provide $5 billion in development funding to African countries. Over 50 agreements were signed in various sectors. The summit also allowed African leaders to step up their role in crisis diplomacy, condemning Israel’s violations and calling for a halt to military operations in occupied Palestine.

Saudi Arabia and Russia, both BRICS members, have been reportedly considering joining the African Union (AU) to promote security cooperation with African states. Riyadh has been leading diplomatic efforts to end Sudan’s war, and Iran is seeking to normalize diplomatic relations with Egypt. However, Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic outreach to military juntas at the AU summit did not lend confidence in Africa’s quest for good governance and stability. The presence of leaders from countries suspended from the AU for staging coups was significant, as the AU Peace and Security Council strongly rejected external interference in peace and security affairs.

This invitation legitimized these leaders and disregarded the AU’s anti-coup principles, weakening the impact of AU sanctions. Discussions at the summit with Gabon’s Interim President Brice Oligui Nguema and the African Development Bank’s lifting of financial sanctions against Nguema directly undermined sanctions regimes. Both countries’ interactions with African states suspended by the AU cast doubts over their commitment to acting in Africa’s interests and raise questions about the value of Africa+1 summits for the continent.

Saudi Arabia can engage with African states within international law, but international cooperation requires respecting shared goals among partners. The refusal of African leaders to appear in the Russia-Africa summit photo sends a clear message on the need to respect AU decisions and principles. Summits should pursue national and common interests based on mutual respect, solidarity, and accountability, especially now that the AU has joined the G20 as a permanent member.

Sanctions imposed by the PSC must be strengthened, and the strategy should call on partners to respect AU decisions and principles and recommend that suspended member states not be invited to Africa+1 summits. This is crucial for establishing oneself as a respected and influential player and partner on the international stage. The AU partnership strategy should incorporate sanctions measures, urging partners to uphold AU decisions and principles.

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