Washington: African leaders head to Washington for a landmark United States summit this week, with US President Barack Obama hoping to boost trade, development and security ties amid growing competition from China on the continent.
China overtook the US as Africa's largest trading partner five years ago, with Beijing's trade now worth more than $200 billion (€150 billion) a year, double that of Washington.
But while the US is playing catch-up, experts say it is wrong to view the situation as a direct competition between the two powers, since China's investments potentially boost US trade and their companies are focused on different sectors.
"The Obama administration has come under increasing pressure from the commercial sector to prioritise Africa policy. This US-Africa summit is more a response to this than a direct beauty contest with China," said Alex Vines, from Britain's Chatham House think tank.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says Africa is now growing faster than Asia. "Africa now is a land of competition of Europe, America, China, and even some Arabian countries," Rene Kouassi, director of economic affairs at the African Union, said.
The United States has been keen to avoid any suggestion that the three-day summit opening today — dubbed the 'largest single engagement' by any American president with Africa — is designed to challenge the role of other nations in the continent.
"We welcome the attention Africa is receiving from other countries like China, Brazil, India and Turkey," said Will Stevens, spokesman for the US State Department's Bureau of African Affairs.
Although 50 heads of state were due to take part in the summit, several, including Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma and Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, have already said they are not planning to go because of the ongoing Ebola epidemic in their countries.
The US, the world's largest economy, is only Africa's third-largest trade partner after the European Union — some of whose members have post-colonial ties with African nations — and China, which is hungry for the continent's natural resources.
Africa is home to seven of the world's fastest-growing economies. Many hope to alter an image of a war-ravaged continent where foreign relationships are based on aid alone.