22 Jan US-Africa policy: What to expect from the Biden administration
22 Jan 2021
Alas! “The political triumph honeymoon” for US President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris is over and business is not “as usual”. They are now Stepping into a moment of unprecedented domestic crisis, which might render relatively little bandwidth for Africa from the democrat’s administration.
The most imperative and fundamental question to ponder on should be; Is Africa or should Africa be a major component of the US national interest? And if so, what is Africa’s stake in that political and economic matrix?
Indications are that the Biden administration plans to steer away from the Trump era of unilateralism. Many State Department appointments have been filled by veterans from the Obama era.
Repairing alliances and boosting multilateralism seem to be on his agenda, which is evidenced in the first executive orders signed by Biden barely an hour into his presidency.
What will be fascinating is how this will play out on the ground in Africa.
For the foreign policy of any State to succeed in the international arena, it must be plausible enough to translate into realistic strategies.
This calls for a shrewd foreign policy approach, that is informed and identified by its sound domestic policy of that particular State.
Therefore, if a state is not cognizant of this rationale, it is bound to fail at its attempt to engage in bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. So a lack of nuanced, in-depth analysis can lead to policy blunders, with disastrous consequences.
Thus, from the era of US foreign policy heavyweights like Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski and Henry Alfred Kissinger who were fully aware of the premise above; did shape the US foreign policy and diplomacy for Africa, for over three decades, and we are still seeing some of their foreign policy cognitive policy tenets being in use especially for Africa by the US to date.
As President Joe Biden takes office, it is time to consider how to elevate US-Africa relations through policies that can bring more prosperity to ordinary Africans and Americans.
When Ronald Reagan began his presidency in 1981, gross domestic product per capita in the US was $13 917, $2 913 in South Africa, $2 180 in Nigeria, $1 004 in Côte d’Ivoire, $700 in Senegal and $463 in Zaire (Current DRC). Nigeria and South Africa had a higher GDP per capita than South Korea ($1 883) and China ($197).
Four decades later, the 2021 GDP per capita of Nigeria ($2210) and the Democratic Republic of Congo ($477) have barely inched forward
GDP per capita statistics tell us that, despite positive prospects such as mobile technology, fin-tech, entrepreneurship and FDIs (foreign direct investments), the vast majority of African nations still lag far behind the prosperity of Asia’s leading economies. Yet, the US has poured more than $143-billion in official development assistance in sub-Saharan Africa since 1981.
In this context, taking a hard look at US engagement with Africa and re-imagining it for the better is not only an imperative, but an opportunity that the incoming Biden administration would be wise not to pass up.
In his speech in Ghana in 2009, Barack Obama said that “we must start from the simple premise that Africa’s future is up to Africans”. Frankly, it has never mattered who is in charge in Washington DC; One can hope that President Biden’s administration will engage on an equal policy platform approach.
Consequently, the US can be a partner to Africans already creating meaningful change. The Biden administration might consider a number of policy options to address critical areas of mutual interest with Africa:
- First, improve existing trade agreements such as African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), negotiate free trade agreements and support the ratification and implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. Where Africa’s three-quarters of the population is under the age of 35, and which recorded the world’s largest volume of retail crypto transactions below $10 000. This should not be “rocket science” for the new Biden’s administration.
- Second, restoring and revitalizing diplomatic relations with African governments and regional institutions, including the African Union.
- Third, de-militarize US security co-operation with Africa, as the last two decades have proven that military action alone cannot end terrorism and extremism. Instead, re-pivot resources that promote democratic governance across the continent, applying the same standards to all governments and inclusive economic development. With an outlook of Africa as a partner.
- Fourth, increase investment in agricultural programs to adapt to climate change; support US international agencies’ monitoring of corporate and governmental compliance with environment protection agreements.
- Fifth, reverse Trump’s blocking of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment as head of the World Trade Organization. If so, she will bring a renewed sense of focus to the beleaguered trade body. For the first time in its history, the WTO might start considering the global south.
- Sixth, the Pentagon’s far-flung responsibilities are unlikely to change markedly given these threats still remain, even if, as seems likely, a Biden presidency places greater emphasis on other security threats, including pandemics, cyber threats and climate change.
- Finally, President Biden might bring a change of diplomatic tone and decorum, to restore mutually respectful engagement, and to re-launch and revitalize diplomacy with the African continent.
But the Biden Administration’s approach to Africa will not only depend on its policies, but more importantly, on who is in the senior positions within its executive offices, particularly the Secretary of State, the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and most importantly the Director of the National Security Council (NSC), who played a leading role in Africa under President Obama.
Congratulations to President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris on their new engagements!!!
The writer is the Managing Director of Starkey Hearing Technologies in Africa.
He is a commentator on topical issues in the realm of Global Politics and Diplomacy, Socio-Economic and International Security.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.