A Biden presidency visible and loquacious in Africa
Posted on 18th November, 2020 in Corporate News
Photo Credit: jlhervàs, Flickr
As we inch towards a Biden presidency, we wonder how, if at all, the new occupant of the White House will leave his mark on Africa. Bill Clinton’s term brought the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). George W Bush launched the Millenium Challenge Corporation, an independent foreign assistance agency for the developing world with a sizeable budget. He also enjoyed fulsome praise from Bono, the Irish musician and campaigner, for the depth of the support for Africa from his administration, notably in healthcare.
The Obama era is associated with the launch of Power Africa in 2013 but for the Trump term there is no obvious connection with Africa beyond a stand against Islamist insurgency in the Sahel and elsewhere. We struggle to identify anybody in the US who framed Africa policy or who achieved a high public profile on the continent over the past four years.
Susan Rice, in contrast, was mentioned as a possible running mate for Biden and served as assistant secretary of state for African affairs between 1997 and 2001, which period saw the passage of AGOA in 2000. Subsequently, she was ambassador to the UN and national security advisor. Rice is a possible secretary of state.
Other than its position on threats to US national security, Biden’s foreign policy will mark an abrupt change from Trump’s stance of America First/MAGA. The US will return to the WHO and reverse the decision to exit the Paris Climate accord. The policy will be internationalist: we hesitate to say globalist since at least some elements of the Democratic party favour protectionist measures.
There are question marks over Iran sanctions and broader energy policy. The fracking industry will not welcome the change in administration yet Big Oil will not be trembling. Biden will surely commit to the deadlines and targets in the Paris accord but so will every other signatory.
Whatever neocons may think, Democrat is not synonymous with gullible or naïve. Biden is highly unlikely to lift the principal sanctions on Iran without assurances on its nuclear development. We do not think therefore that the market will become awash with Iranian crude in a hurry. Nigeria, Angola and other African producers should not worry on this score.
The new administration will be visible at major international events, the virus permitting, and will have views on issues not of huge direct significance to the US. An example would be the African Continental Free Trade Area. It is not going to freeze out allies that are military/de facto military governments but may censure them mildly in public. Egypt could prove a case in point. It has been a core US ally going back to the Begin/Sadat rapprochement at Camp David in 1978 negotiated by a Democrat in the White House (Jimmy Carter).
Uncertainty still surrounds control of the US Senate, however. The Democrats might still prevail with the casting vote of the vice-president if they secure both seats in Georgia at the recount. In this case, they would be able to govern without Republican leverage over their programme. We would also see greater influence in the hands of Democrats deemed ‘progressive’.
Our broader point is that the impact of the US presidential election on Africa has diminished with time. Over the past twenty years, China has become the continent’s largest trading partner, largest creditor and largest builder of infrastructure. It is also an important investor. (We won’t say the largest because of the flakiness of the relevant data).
The tactics will change but we doubt the new order will become ‘soft’ on China. A Rex Tillerson-style rant about the confiscatory terms attached to Chinese loans to African governments would be a surprise after 20 January but suspicion of China has become a bipartisan stance in the US Congress. Concerns over security, industrial espionage and human rights may well fuel rivalry with China across the world and an adversarial position on the issues of the day in Africa and elsewhere.
18 November 2020