Monona Terrace

The US-Africa Energy Summit 2017 was scheduled for Sept. 18-19 at Monona Terrace but was canceled after visas were denied for most of the participants from African nations.

An energy summit aimed at bringing African leaders and U.S. energy providers, researchers and regulators to Madison this month has been postponed indefinitely because most of the African registrants were denied visas, organizers said.

The US-Africa Energy Summit 2017, which was to be hosted by UW-Platteville and scheduled for Sept. 18-19 at Monona Terrace, was canceled after the U.S. Department of State refused to issue visas to key presenters and attendees, professor and summit organizer John O. Ifediora said.

About 80 percent of the participants from countries including Botswana, Ghana and South Africa were denied visas because they “did not meet the minimum requirements for a U.S. visa,” Ifediora said.

Kevin Brosnahan of the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs said that most visa applications are approved worldwide, but the most common reason for denial on a business or tourism visa application is that the applicant didn’t show sufficient ties to his or her home country to compel them to return.

“We are working very hard to rectify this problem and reschedule the summit,” Ifediora said.

Ifediora noted similar problems at another conference earlier this year in which none of the invitees from Africa could obtain the necessary visas.

The 4th annual African Global Economic and Development Summit was scheduled for March 16-18 at the University of Southern California. But because of bureaucratic hurdles or outright denials, none of the 60 African government and business leaders could obtain visas.

Mary Flowers, who organized the California summit, has worked as an international trade consultant to African countries for more than 25 years. She told the State Journal that obtaining visas seems to have gotten more difficult since President Donald Trump took office.

“I don’t understand how we’re going to do business with a continent that has 54 countries if we can’t bring them here,” Flowers said.

Flowers said she doesn’t know why the Department of State was issuing more denials.

Brosnahan said all visas are reviewed based on U.S. immigration law, which has not changed under the Trump administration.

Because visa records are confidential under the Immigration and Nationality Act, Brosnahan said he could not give details on the cases relating to the summit.

Madison Ald. Samba Baldeh, a native of Gambia, said he was registered to attend the sold-out conference. He called the denials part of Trump’s policy to “deny, stall and obstruct visa requests regardless of their source.”

The Department of State “has squandered a great opportunity for energy-deprived nations to work with advanced energy providers of the U.S. and Wisconsin,” Baldeh said. “This policy isolated the U.S. from the business and culture of the rest of the world.”

Among the planned speakers and panelists for the summit were former U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, president and CEO of Alliant Energy Patricia L. Kampling, CEO of Africa Global Chamber of Commerce Olivier Kamanzi and more.

Registration fees for the summit will be refunded, Ifediora said.

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Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.