When he was running to win the White House, President Joe Biden’s campaign was committed to implementing a “bold strategy” toward Africa, and one that saw “mutually respectful engagement” and a strong diplomacy if elected. will be based on. In fact, the campaign was the first to outline how it would promote the interests of the African diaspora in the United States. On his 16th day in office, President Biden sent a video message to African leaders attending the 34th African Union Summit promising American partnership and solidarity on a range of important issues. The message was a welcome departure from former President Donald Trump’s outrageous characterization of the continent.
Given this promising start, some would have predicted that nearly a year later the Biden administration would impose an Omicron-inspired travel ban on eight countries in southern Africa. The ban, which was criticized by regional leaders as “unfair, discriminatory and unnecessary”, coincided with the withdrawal of African Development and Opportunity Act (AGOA) benefits from three other African countries. Astonishingly, some of the African diaspora—particularly Ethiopians—were vocal in their criticism of the administration’s handling of the Ethiopian conflict, or what they claimed to be “pain of neglect”. In fact, the end of the conflict in the Tigre region and the devastating humanitarian crisis drew much of the administration’s attention to Africa last year.
Despite these discouraging developments, it is too early to dismantle Biden’s Africa policy.
The November visit of Tony Blinken, Foreign Minister of Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal, advances an important set of priorities for Biden’s Africa policy: COVID-19 recovery, combating climate change, support for democracy, and greater trade and investment. .
Blinken’s announcement of an African leaders’ summit in late 2022 will help spur progress on implementing Biden’s Africa agenda.
Investing in Africa’s public health institutions
His trip to Dakar, Central to Blinken, was his visit to the famed Pasteur Institute, where the US Development Finance Corporation has invested $3.5 million to increase vaccine production on a continent that imports 99 percent of its vaccines. More such investments are needed.
It is encouraging that the Biden administration seeks to support Africa’s health security in other ways: in October 2021, the National Institutes of Health launched a program to advance and catalyze data science at seven research centers in South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda and Cameroon. Invested $75 million. Research and innovation across Africa. This collaboration between NIH and African research institutions needs to be accelerated as quickly as possible. The African genome is the oldest known human genome, and Africa has more genetic diversity than any other continent. Despite this, less than three percent of the genome analyzed comes from Africans, making it an inherently rich source of new genetic information for health and clinical research and development. Africa has the potential to not only help detect and prevent future pandemics but provide African solutions to global problems.
business and investment scorecard
Also in Senegal, the secretary of state signed $1 billion worth of construction deals that would include an 111-mile highway connecting Dakar to Saint-Louis. Drawing a sharp contrast with China, Blinken said the US would not bother African countries with unbearable debt. The secretary also said that infrastructure projects will “build on the values we share as a democracy,” namely transparency, accountability and the rule of law. These themes will be central to the Summit of Democracy, which the Biden administration organized several weeks later in which 17 African countries participated.
A challenge for the Biden administration will be the rollout of other infrastructure investments in Africa in the coming year. The trend line is not positive. US direct investment in this sector has declined from a peak of $69 billion in 2014 to $46 billion in 2020. In the decade before 2020, bilateral trade between the US and Africa fell from $113 billion to $44 billion.
The implementation of the administration’s Build Back Better World initiative, launched by President Biden at the G-7 summit in June, could help reverse this trend. So can the US-Africa leaders summit. The African Leaders’ Summit in 2014 generated $37 billion in new investment commitments from US companies. The $8.5 billion financing package to help South Africa transition from coal to renewable energy, agreed by the US and its European partners at COP26, is a call for more US investment in the region while mitigating climate change. model can be. The promise of a Digital Africa initiative in support of connectivity, upskilling and expanded e-commerce could further enhance the US commercial position on the continent.
Nevertheless, strong commercial diplomacy will be necessary to reverse the erosion of the US commercial position in Africa. The last Commerce Secretary to visit the continent was Wilbur Ross, who spent just one day in Africa during his four-year tenure in Ghana. Hopefully, Secretary Gina Raimondo and a revived Presidential Advisory Committee on Doing Business in Africa (PAC-DBIA) will spark renewed investor interest in the region.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who met with Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo and Zambian President Hakende Hichilema at the White House in September, could also be helpful. His continued involvement in African issues would give the continent a welcome boost on the Biden foreign policy agenda.
Important trade and investment issues remain to be addressed. Negotiations on the US-Kenya Free Trade Agreement, initiated under the Trump administration, should be resumed given Kenya’s importance to the United States as a commercial and strategic partner. The issue was not resolved during President Biden and Kenyatta’s meeting in the Oval Office in October and Blinken’s November visit to Kenya.
Recent hearings in the Senate and the House (where I was a witness) on the future of the African Development and Opportunity Act (AGOA) show that Congress is paying attention to the US position in the African market before legislation sets in. Will expire in 2025. It is worth noting that AGOA remains a cornerstone of US-Africa commercial relations. Nevertheless, key elements of AGOA need to be modernised. In December, Sen. Chris van Hollen and Representative Karen Bass urged President Biden to reconsider the administration’s decision to end Ethiopia’s AGOA benefits, noting the decision was “one of the country’s weakest and reverse hard-won.” The economic gains continued without reducing hostilities. Civil War.”
Preparation for 2022
Late last year, veteran former intelligence officer Judd Deverment joined the Biden administration to help formulate a New Africa strategy. Several key issues, such as US support for the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and the follow-up to COP26 in Glasgow, will likely be central to the new strategy.
At the same time, President Biden will send a positive signal if he starts 2022 as he did 2021: with a video message targeted to African leaders. This time, however, the administration will need to follow up quickly with concrete action that Africa is indeed a priority for the United States. A good start would be to announce the visits of Vice President Harris and Commerce Secretary Raimundo at the start of the new year.