WASHINGTON — President Biden turned heads Thursday by jokingly telling African leaders that he plans to visit their continent, but that he might ravenously “eat your food.”
The 80-year-old president made the crack while dusting off one of his frequent laugh lines about being a “poor relative” who overstays his welcome but drew groans from those in attendance due to food insecurity in Africa.
“I’m grateful that all of you have made the journey to Washington for this summit, and I’m eager to visit your continent,” Biden told the representatives of 50 African nations at DC’s convention center after hosting them for a White House dinner Wednesday night.
“As I told some of you — you invited me to your countries. I said, ‘Be careful what you wish for because I may show up.’ The poor relatives always show up. The wealthy ones never show up. The poor come and they eat your food and stay longer than they should.”
Biden added, “Well, I’m looking forward to seeing many of you in your home countries.”
The president, who formerly nicknamed himself “Middle Class Joe,” often jokes about himself being a poor relative despite him, and first lady Jill Biden, reaping a $15.6 million windfall of income in 2017 and 2018 after he left the vice presidency.
Biden previously had much a more modest net worth, though members of his family earned massive salaries through their connection to him, including his son Hunter who earned up to $1 million per year serving on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma while his father led the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy.
Hours after his joking remark, Biden again addressed the summit, this time speaking at length about US efforts to help poor nations in Africa cope with rising food costs caused by this year’s Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We’re facing a global food crisis, and nowhere is it felt more keenly than on the African continent. Last year, nearly 120 million people in Africa faced acute food insecurity and only halfway through 2022 as drought struck and the food costs soared… the number increased to 140 million people,” Biden said.
“This year alone, the US has committed nearly $11 billion in humanitarian and food insecurity assistance — food security assistance, assistance to deal with food insecurity — including a dramatic surge on the horn of Africa. And this afternoon, I’m announcing an additional 2 billion,” the president said.
Biden added that there was “enormous potential” for Africa to use its “significant unused arable farmland” to “feed its people and also help feed the world.” He said the US Agriculture Department would help promote that effort.
The US president convened the African leaders — many of them fabulously wealthy thanks to theft from their own people — as the American government seeks to counter Chinese inroads in the region.
Mini-motorcades escorted by police cars with flashing sirens escorted the men to and from their luxury hotels near the White House this week, snarling DC traffic.
Only Eritrea and the leaders of four nations suspended by the African Union for recent coups — Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Sudan — were not represented.
Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has held office 43 years, attended despite US authorities working to confiscate $70 million in assets allegedly pilfered by his son as two-thirds of his nation’s citizens live in poverty.
Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, in office for 40 years, also attended the DC summit, as did Republic of the Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso, in office a total of 38 years, and Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba, who notoriously bought a Paris home for $129 million in 2010, one year after he inherited the presidency from his father who ruled for 42 years.