Psst! Here’s a Cheat Sheet for the US-Africa Leaders Summit

Need some talking points? Mention China’s influence, the unrest in South Sudan, the struggle for power in Libya and you’ll be fine.

President Barack Obama dances to music in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 2013. 
President Barack Obama dances to music in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 2013.  Saul Loeb/Getty Images

Africa’s coming to town.

And in a big way. Africa’s movers and shakers are in Washington, D.C., this week to chop it up with President Barack Obama about trade and investment opportunities, politics and the U.S.’s interests in the region’s stability. The 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit is the largest gathering of African presidents and leaders ever to meet with a U.S. president.

If you’ve got your eyes on the international stage, then this initiative should be of no surprise. China has been making a killing in Africa. The Chinese had the insight to take Africa seriously as an economic partner when a lot of nations saw the continent more as a humanitarian charity case. Now that Africa’s influence is becoming increasingly important to a lot of countries’ bottom lines and gross domestic products, Western nations are looking at the Motherland through a new lens. 

The festivities start on Monday. Here are some topics to keep in mind when gabbing about the summit at the watercooler or during happy hour as you take in the news reports that’ll trickle out of this three-day affair:

1. South Sudan’s civil war is ongoing. 

The civil war in South Sudan is not looking like it’s getting any better. The 2013 fallout between its warring ethnic groups—those loyal to the current president, Salva Kiir of the Dinka tribe, and those loyal to a deposed vice president, Riek Machar of the Nuer tribe—is picking up steam again since the meetings that were supposed to take place last week to drum up solutions were delayed. Apparently both sides are still engaged in off-the-record conversations about the state of the transitional government. South Sudan is a fairly new country—it split from Sudan in 2011 and has been embroiled in ethnic fighting stemming from that succession ever since. That there’s still fighting going on in one of its northern states is not helping move things along.

The United States and Europe threw down the gauntlet by freezing important assets in the country and told both sides that they have until mid-August to form  an interim government that has a clear plan for maintaining the peace.

2. Ebola is refueling Africa’s “image” problem.