What do we know about Biden’s African policy

Apart from the African pride at the position being filled by the first black vice president, countries across the continent of Africa have shown a positive response to the developments in the US. Some even saw it as a “relief” while some have expressed hopes for greater cooperation with the US at the “economic” level

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT BIDEN’S AFRICAN POLICY

As Joe Biden declared is President-Elect in the US elections 2020, the world is now actively looking at the US foreign policy and how it will change, with the controversial term of President Donald Trump finally coming to an end. With Kamala Harris making history as the first female, first black and first Asian-American US vice-president-elect garnering applause from around the world, the duo’s win is also being seen as sign of restoring confidence in the democratic ideals of the US in times of uncertainty.   

Apart from the African pride at the position being filled by the first black vice president, countries across the continent of Africa have shown a positive response to the developments in the US. Some even saw it as a “relief” while some have expressed hopes for greater cooperation with the US at the “economic” level.

BIDEN US-AFRICA TRADE POLICY POST FOUR YEARS OF TRUMP’S ‘AMERICA FIRST’

In July 2020, Trump initiated negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) of the US with Kenya, the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to do so. This reflects Trump’s signature brand of foreign trade policy with priorities to countries that bring economic interest to the United States.

It is to be noted that this was done under the shadow of the flagship US trade legislation – African Growth And Opportunity Act (AGOA) – expiring in 2025 which could leave a severe impact on smaller and poorer nations of the continent.
Uganda’s president has expressed hopes that the US-Africa trade deal “that gives African nations duty-free access to US markets would be renewed.”
But with Biden now as President, the bilateral agreement with Kenya could build new roads for other African economies not just on the basis of how it will benefit US first but also create opportunities for other smaller countries in the region.

This could agreement could effectively serve as a model for U.S. FTAs with other African countries and usher in new developments in other US Africa trade agreements. This is where Biden could step up as opposed to Trump.
So, taking into account that in the last two-and-a-half decades, countries across Africa have seen a seismic shift in the region’s economic landscape due to its technological and business advancement and growing population, the growing African economies are looking at boosting trading relationships and economic ties with the US.

TRUMP VS BIDEN FOREIGN POLICY ON IMMIGRATION AND COVID

Africa’s is also looking at Biden’s “restoring” of the pre-Trump US foreign policies, return to multilateralism and boosting US aid and assistance to many UN programs that aid many humanitarian and trade programmes in the continent.
Joe Biden, on his part, has always been vocal about undoing Trump’s isolationist, nationalistic and protectionist foreign policies.
While under Trump, the US, by not supporting COVAX, showed that it did not wish to take any substantive role due to its “America First” policy, in Biden’s term, US may very well come out in support of COVAX now.

This would also mean more support from Biden to African continental initiatives such as the African Union Development Agency and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the post Corona world, as opposed to Trump who is known for his aversion to multilateralism and lean towards economic decisions that benefit US first.
Looking back, Trump’s divisive anti-immigrant orders targeting individual African countries had soured US’ relations with the affected individual countries; certain remarks made by Trump had also put a dampener on the country’s relations with many other African countries for this aggressive stance. Biden is different here.

For starters, the document titled “The Biden-Harris Agenda for the African Diaspora” promises a rollback on many of Trump’s immigration policies. The Biden-Harris duo in their agenda have spoken of “supporting democratic allies and promoting economic growth, trade, and investment; and supporting sustainable development” to reaffirm US Africa relations.
However, apart from “continuing the Young African Leaders Initiative and supporting sustainable development”, there hasn’t been concrete announcements in the agenda under Biden US-Africa policy.

Prior to Trump, it was “Trade not aid” in the continent which came out as the “cornerstone of US policy for Africa” under Obama with Biden as the vice president
THE OPPORTUNITY FOR AFRICA IN JOE BIDEN US FOREIGN POLICY

What else could the new Joe Biden US-Africa Policy mean in terms of investment, innovation, infrastructure and other related issues in Africa?
Besides investing in “clean energy, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and high-speed rail”, the Biden’s American leadership manifesto also talks about how the Biden administration will join together with “democratic allies to develop secure, private sector-led 5G networks, leaving no community—rural or low-income—behind.” Now, this definitely wasn’t under his US-Africa policy in his agenda.

But in Africa, this could be the start of something good for investors and entrepreneurs.
The success of Jumia, Andela, LifeBank, Flutterwave, Wari, Interswitch, Mpesa, CC-Hub, MainOne and Swivl in Africa have redefined technology in the last decade and this may very well be a new opportunity for tech companies across Africa which have successfully tapped their domestic markets. With the right push, this may spell miracles for newbies too!

THE US TRADE AND INVESTMENT POLICIES IN AFRICA SO FAR AND THE CHINA CHALLENGE

US Investment In Africa: The $62 billion in investment between Africa and the U.S. in 2018 was seen as a good sign at the 2019 US-Africa Business Summit.
It is important to note that the summit was held right before the intra-Africa trade agreement began implementation. It is being said that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is seen as a collective opportunity by the US and African CEOs, entrepreneurs and investors to explore the continental market with $2.5 trillion GDP of 1.2 billion people – quite the potential to the say the least!

The ambitious African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will make the region the largest free trade area in the world. This also has a huge scope for a collective Africa international trade policy in the near future. Notably, the office of the United States Trade Representative in 2019 released a statement that it was coordinating the US Government support for its negotiation and implementation.

Another case in point is the approval by the US energy firm Anadarko Petroleum Corp in 2019 for the construction of a $20 billion-gas liquefaction and export terminal in Mozambique. It is the largest single LNG project and FDI approved in Africa.
Thus, US sees investment opportunities in Africa and, no doubt, wants to tap Africa’s potential of $2.5 trillion GDP with 1.2 billion consumers which is projected to reach 1.7 billion consumers by 2030.

This is also in part due to the collective new African foreign policy in recent years which has kept the doors open and engaged non-African economies in investing and starting businesses in the African market with the growing consumption and aspirations of the rising African Middle Class.
So, while Biden seemingly harbours no protectionists leanings and supports multilateralism, it is not all about the US and what it wants to do in Africa. The above development are also attributed to the fact that countries like China, Russia, and others have heavily invested in Africa and the geo-political elements at play.

For instance, the Atlantic Council and the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) hosted Investing in Africa’s Future on October 16 announcing a new investment unit with support from the Prosper Africa Secretariat as part of DFC’s Africa Investment Advisor Program and help increase US investments in Africa, which, at present, are at over $8 billion.
Moreover, the DFC also signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) to support US nuclear energy technology firm, NuScale to develop 2,500 MW of nuclear energy in South Africa. This would be the first US nuclear energy IPP to help support energy resilience and security in one of Africa’s leading economies.

In this conference, DFC’s also approved a $250 million tier-2 capital loan for the Africa Finance Corporation. But this didn’t stop from warning of dependence on China.
So, a lot depends on Africa’s relations with other countries, their own economies and intra-Africa trade and investment.
And this is one of the reasons why many are expecting the ‘old normal’ with the Biden administration approach to Africa and the traditional US foreign policy in Africa so far.

US Trade In Africa: Another case in point is the history of US trade with Africa since 2001. In 2020, the US-Africa Trade in goods amounted to US$16,249.8 million in exports and US$17,728.1 million in imports as opposed to US$26,722.1 million and US$ 30,213.5 in exports in the previous year. The marked difference can be attributed to the repercussions of the ongoing pandemic. But the Africa trade statistics by United States Census Bureau showed similar figures in 2018 as well. Also if we look at the trade from 2001-2020, it can be clearly seen that the trade between the US and African countries has not been consistent.

There are remarkable spikes in 2007, 2008, 2006, 2011 and 2012 but the rest, it should be noted, still largely remain significant if not consistent. And it is important to note that the new President-Elect happened to be one-half of the Obama-Biden administration twice – from 2009 to 2017.

Source: United States Census Bureau; NOTE: All figures in the table are in millions of U.S. dollars on a nominal basis and are not seasonally adjusted. Details are rounded.

Moreover, UNCTAD’S FDI stock data 2018 revealed that the investment stocks from the United States show a decline by 15% due to divestment and profit repatriation. Another reason why US may not be consistent but does play a significant role as one of the capital partners in investment in Africa.

BIDEN BEFORE TRUMP AND BIDEN AFTER TRUMP: THE US DIPLOMACY AND AID IN AFRICA

Additional factor is that the policies of Presidents in democracies are bound by checks and balances of their parliament as well.
While Trump may have seemingly ignored Africa, his ‘Prosper Africa’ initiative and the appointment of Tibor Nagy as assistant secretary of state for Africa in 2018, and Mark Green, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2017 and John Barsa as his successor are a reflection of US-Africa relations and US Africa policy over the last few decades.

It is worthy of note that Nagy happens to be a career diplomat with an impressive Africa experience, with Green being a former ambassador to Tanzania and former Republican member of Congress. Thus, this can’t be negated that the diplomats and the US Congress played a significant role in pushing back Trump’s various foreign policies and proposals of massive cuts to foreign assistance – both bilateral and multilateral including the UN.

Prior to Trump, it was “Trade not aid” in the continent which came out as the “cornerstone of US policy for Africa” under Obama with Biden as the vice president. The US aid stood at $8bn in sub-Saharan Africa in 2015 quite less than Afghanistan ($5.5 billion) and Israel ($3.1 billion).
Therefore, the African countries across the continent are well aware of the above and are, at least, expecting a “reset” of sorts with the new US president, if not a miracle as has been the traditional line of policy of the US with Africa; it will undo the damage – especially in terms of diplomatic relations – done by President Trump’s office.

So, while both Trump and Biden do differ in their political ideology, a lot of factors still will dictate US policy goals in Africa and the Biden administration approach to Africa, especially in regards of the US Congress (American values), the China challenge (Political threats) and Africa’s growing economy as well its challenges (Economical reasons).
To conclude, many see Biden’s presidency as a marked improvement but it is not likely be a significant shift.

A DIFFERENT WORLD

The world now looks starkly different from the one Biden left four years ago as the vice president. The power vacuum has been eagerly filled by China – all too ready to help with its check book diplomacy even as the world grapples with pandemic amid hostilities created by the vaccine race and economic downturn. So, while his aim to “restore” America’s leadership role on the world stage may be seen as a positive sign, the allies remain cautious of the country’s pandering to popular politics seen in the last four years.

77-year-old Biden, on the other hand, seems confident in his grand plans as he inherits the post-Trump America and the China challenge with the economic repercussions of the pandemic looming as dark clouds on the horizon.

So, as mentioned above, quite a few initiatives are in a pipeline for Africa; ones already under motion – US support to African Continental Free Trade Area, DFC’s investment in Africa and approved energy projects with ones we can see under Biden – COVAX, new trade agreements, 5G, sustainable development, infrastructure and more US support in multilateralism, especially through the UN.

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