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What the Biden presidency would mean for Africa

US President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks during his victory speech. / Photo: Net.

The United States of America is probably at the edge of a highly contested presidential election, which has seen many prominent media organisations and experts project Joe Biden as the country’s next president.

That is despite the fact that the current president Donald Trump has proved that he was still popular after securing more than 70 million votes in an election that saw historical record voter turnout.

 

Biden’s journey towards winning the presidency, many say, is a result of the Trump administration’s failure to manage the Covid-19 outbreak, which has affected many millions of Americans, and thousands of others have succumbed to it.

 

It is also a result of an economy that has gone into recession, the racial tensions that have erupted in a country where Black Americans still think their lives are less valued than any other race.

 

In fact, that is what appeared predominantly during the campaign of Joe Biden – a Democrat and a former Vice President during President Barack Obama’s eight-year term in the White House.

What the world didn’t see and hear, particularly Africa, is what the new presidency would mean towards Africa-US relations. The elections have been America-centric.

“Foreign policy is really not part of our electoral campaign, not this year, not four years ago and not four years before that,” Ambassador Charles Shapiro, the president of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta told a news briefing in October.

Yet, it’s obvious that the US and Africa have had close affairs. Africa has, for decades, been the largest US trading partner, the US has close military ties with the continent, and US organisations have humanitarian operations in the region.

The question has been, now that Biden is projected to be inaugurated as the US president in January if all goes as planned, what will his presidency mean for the African continent?

Ambassador Shapiro, who is also a senior lecturer at the Robinson College of Business, at Georgia State University, believes the president’s attention in any US administration is focused on the crises – wars, pandemics, trade tensions, etc.

“The Trump administration has focused on immigration and trade almost to the exclusion of everything else,” Shapiro said, highlighting the trade war between the US and China, as well as the immigration crisis.

That is partly true, but the US is also largely involved in other sectors in Africa such as health, education, as well as business and trade.

Aimé Muyombano, a professor at Jomo Kenyatta University in Nairobi, maintains that Africa didn’t gain much from Trump’s administration and is hopeful that could change under president-elect Biden.

“Looking at Biden’s manifesto, it is likely that he will bring back the cooperation that existed before the Trump administration,” he suggests, pointing to the multilateral partnerships that Democrats favoured.

The Trump administration has opposed multilateral partnerships and pushed halting of everything from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to threatening cutting US funds to the United Nations.

The continent, on the hand, has been working to pursue continental interests with the rest of the world, a result of which led to the adoption of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.

Muyombano suggests that the Biden presidency would open an opportunity for leaders on the continent to advance that agreement. “This is a time for Africa to look to the region as opposed to just individual countries.”

Liban Mugabo, an economist and policy expert disagrees, saying what Africa needs to advance the AfCFTA is to revise its fiscal policies to attract private businesses from America to invest in Africa.

“Taxes in Africa are prohibitive. With the rising income levels, you would logically think American companies should be coming here. But that’s not the case,” he says.

“A company like Tesla with 90 per cent of its raw materials from Africa has no single factory in Africa. It’s not the cost of labour. Leaders should revise fiscal policies,” he adds.

Mugabo insists the Biden presidency, in large part, would be a continuation of the business in the US. “This guy is the president of America, definitely it’s the American agenda he will push first. American interests will be a priority.”

On a social scale, he asserts Africa will rather benefit from healthcare and climate change initiatives, because Biden has vowed to rejoin the Paris climate accord, which Trump halted during his mandate.

Business, not charity

Critics of the US foreign approach have constantly accused the country of exploiting Africa and pursuing self-interests through humanitarian organisations as opposed to doing genuine business.

Lonzen Rugira, a political analyst says Democrats have traditionally had a more intrusive foreign policy in Africa through nonprofit organisations that purportedly promote democracy and human rights.

“But what Africans need from America is not lectures on how they should live their lives; they need a relationship based on trade,” he notes.

Rugira asserts that Trump had been transitioning towards that new less intrusive relationship, partly as a response to the American rivalry with China, whose influence in Africa has been growing.

“This rivalry will moderate Biden’s instincts towards an intrusive foreign policy for Africa. However, the NGOs are enthusiastic for a rebirth and rediscovered relevance under Biden,” he argues.

During his early days, Trump seemed disinterested in the US-Africa status quo, and he made it clear he was up for the “America first” approach, reflecting his choice to pursue American interests.

He opposed international trade agreements, including with African nations that he viewed as unfair to the United States – one among that is the AGOA to which Rwanda was a victim of Trump’s actions.

Trump also sought to reduce U.S. funding for international organizations upon which many African depend for aid, including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and World Trade Organisation.

His former National Security Advisor Ambassador John Bolton set the tone in 2018 for the administration in a speech where he challenged African governments to choose the United States over China and Russia for their commercial, security, and political relationships.

After Bolton’s presentation, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Ambassador Mark Green rolled out the agency’s first-ever “Private Sector Engagement Policy.” At its center was Green’s belief that the “future of international development is enterprise-driven.”

USAID sought to deepen its collaboration with U.S. firms across “all areas of [its] work,” including energy, agriculture, humanitarian assistance, women’s empowerment, education, and crisis and conflict.

jbizimungu@newtimesrwanda.com

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