August 5th, 2014
01:58 PM ET

Shadows over U.S.-Africa summit

It is indeed an historic occasion.

U.S. President Barack Obama is hosting the first-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington.

But the leaders of Sierra Leone and Liberia are not there. They have opted to stay at home to battle the worst Ebola outbreak on record.

"The timing is very unfortunate, and no one would have wished for this," author and academic Howard French tells me.

"Having high-level discussions between the U.S. and Africa on business and investment are infrequent. So to the extent that this distracts from that I think will be regretted all around."

The summit is a much-needed opportunity for the U.S. to reset relations and economically engage with Africa.

"Africa is in a very particular moment, economically speaking," says French. "The continent has been growing very fast. Demographically, there's a bulge in terms of its youth population. And Africa needs partnerships."

Africa's biggest trading partner is China. It has invested deeply into Africa as a source of customers, natural resources, and jobs.

Howard French refers to Africa as "China's Second Continent" as more than a million Chinese citizens have permanently moved there.

But will China's engagement with Africa lead to prosperity or exploitation?

Click on to hear more from our wide-ranging conversation on what's at stake for U.S.-Africa relations in light of the Ebola outbreak and China's head start in the region.