The last four years has done a lot to shatter the perception of the United States as a stable and reliable global power on the world stage. From President Trump’s constant attacks on North Atlantic partners and the EU, growing hostility to China, exits from the World Health Organisation and UN Human Rights Council, Paris Climate Accords and the Iran nuclear deal, to obstructionism over the selection of a new WTO Director-General, the Trump administration has been the most disruptive influence to America’s global standing in decades.
In terms of tone, the Biden administration has sought to reverse that influence. It has rejoined the WHO and the Paris Climate Accords, and the new President proclaimed, at the Munich Security Conference, that ‘America is Back’. However, that is much easier said than done. The administration faces an uphill battle to match its words with actions. As it stands, Biden has not really reversed some of Trump’s signature policies, such as his hostility towards China, the Iran nuclear deal, and Cuba. Basically, in broad terms, we are still in an as-you-were situation.
On some level, this is understandable. The first items on Biden’s agenda were all related to domestic policies; arresting out of control COVID-19 deaths by ramping up vaccine distribution, getting relief to Americans hard hit by the pandemic, enabling an economic rebound, reversing many of Trump’s executive orders and staffing his administration. On the other hand, America’s historical global partners are beginning to forge other alliances, and it is not clear how fast this can be reversed, especially as some of Biden’s own domestic policies are in opposition to the multilateralism that was in place prior to 2017.
Of great interest to us is the US relations with Africa under the current administration. When compared with the Trump administration, the Biden presidency has signalled a new tone on US-Africa relations. Already, the Biden administration has reversed Trump’s travel ban, which affected seven African countries: Chad, Eritrea, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Tanzania.
In the February African Union 2021 Summit, which was held virtually, President Biden shared a message demonstrating America’s commitment to work with the continent’s leaders. In his address, Mr Biden said “The United States stands ready now to be your partner in solidarity, support and mutual respect…”.
It is obvious that the Biden administration understands the strategic role it can play in relation to Africa in terms of trade, investment, counter-terrorism, peace and security. Mr Biden noted that the US is committed to “…investing in our democratic institutions and promoting the human rights of all people, women and girls, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, and people of every ethnic background, religion and heritage”.
With possible increased participation to champion the protection of human rights, SBM foresees the Biden administration facing stiff resistance if it is perceived to clandestinely impose issues of LGBTQIA+ on the continent since a large number of the countries in Africa lean more toward conservatism.
An important development in the U.S.-Africa relation is a clear shift from bilateralism to multilateralism. On 21 January, the same day the U.S. rejoined the World Health Organisation, the Biden administration joined COVAX, the global body designed to ensure that lower-income countries access the coronavirus vaccine. This follows the December approval of $4 billion funding for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, one of the co-leaders of COVAX by the U.S. Congress.
We expect that the U.S. would reassess its military presence on the continent through the United States Africa Command (Africom). Even with a base camp for air forces and other personnel in Niger’s Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger, multiple violent extremist groups still exist in West Africa, including Boko Haram and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. According to AFRICOM commander, Gen. Stephen Townsend, violent extremist activities in West Africa had increased 250% since 2018. We suggest a demilitarised US security cooperation with countries in the region as military actions have not shown to be very effective to alleviating extremism and terrorism. Perhaps more attention and support should be given for economic and political development.
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