Columnists

What Biden tenure means for Africa

biden

US President Joe Biden signs executive orders at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, after his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States on January 20, 2021. PHOTO | REUTERS

Summary

  • As the Joe Biden administration settles in for its four-year term at the White House, many people in Africa will be interested in understanding what the new administration means for the continent.
  • It is given that US-Africa relations will change.

As the Joe Biden administration settles in for its four-year term at the White House, many people in Africa will be interested in understanding what the new administration means for the continent. It is given that US-Africa relations will change.

First, the Trump administration gave Africa a cold shoulder. In fact former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the continent for the first time in 2020, and failed to get tough with tyrannical regimes.

Closer home Tanzania and Uganda have held elections that did not meet any standards of a free and fair process. Opposition supporters have been killed or harassed by government forces. In Malawi, there was an attempt by former President Peter Mutharika to hold on to power after losing elections.

In Central African Republic, rebel groups linked to a former president have surrounded the capital Bangui, threatening to overrun the elected government. Rwanda, Russia and France have had to send in their forces in to protect the capital.

In Zimbabwe, the military Junta captured all levers of power and Zimbabweans now live under a totalitarian regime. You come to Ethiopia and the Nobel Peace laurate has dragged the country into the Tigray conflict, with crimes against humanity reported. Over in Somalia, the current government has threatened to hold a partial election that excludes opposition participation. Truth is that the continent is in a worse off position today as compared to during the Obama administration.

All this turmoil in Africa has happened under the nose of the African Union, which has done little about the erosion of democratic values. Africans have been left at the mercy of tyrannical rulers to lord it over them and maintain a tighter grip on power. But this is expected to change.

Africa should expect an interventionist US administration pushing for democratic ideals and rule of law. Samantha Powers, who believes that the US should play a more interventionist role in the world in areas facing civil strife and conflict, has been picked as the nominee to lead USAid. She is expected to play a more central role in US foreign policy and development.

Second, the Biden administration will be the one to handle the negotiations of a new trade deal with Africa, with Agoa expiring in 2025.

The Trump administration had started this process by opening a free trade deal negotiation with Kenya, which it intended to use as the prototype for securing trade deals with other African countries.

Now, there has been a lot of reservations about the US-Kenya free trade deal, which I believe come from either limited understanding about trade agreements or folks who just didn’t trust the Trump administration to have sincere intentions.

To start with, a free trade deal with US is a good policy Kenya should continue pushing for. It provides trade access to the high value US market and Kenya can attract investments within the various supply chains. Where the contention should be is on the finer details of the trade deal. How fair is it to Kenya, for instance?

But we must remain cognizant of the fact that in a trade deal concession comes from both ends. Much of the critique has been that Kenya is giving US a lot of concessions after the US published their terms of the deal, yet we haven’t seen what Kenyan has pushed for.

The Kenya government has been tight-lipped about its own agenda in the trade negotiations or maybe they just don’t have one.

The Biden administration is expected to freeze trade agreements that were being negotiated by the Trump administration. His administration will be taking an approach similar to the Obama’s of securing mega-regional trade deals.

This is unlike the Trump administration which was after free trade agreements with individual countries. So, the US-Kenya free trade deal hangs in the balance and might have run its end with the Biden administration going for a single continental deal.