Africa: A Biden Presidency - Here Is What It Means for Kenya and Africa

President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris after their victory was confirmed.
8 November 2020

America's president-elect Joe Biden has already offered to reverse some of the controversial decisions, on the global stage, issued by incumbent Donald Trump.

In his acceptance speech on Saturday night, Biden, who became the first presidential candidate in the US to garner 74 million popular votes, said he will seek to make his country the best example for the world.

"Tonight, the whole world is watching America. I believe at our best, America is a beacon for the globe. And we lead not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example," he said.

Biden, like Trump, was promising to address local issues first, seeking to unite, reconcile and rebuild the US economy.

Yet the US, in the past four years, was lampooned for belittling multilateralism -- the kind of diplomacy that works through global bodies like the United Nations and its agencies.

The Trump administration withdrew from the Paris Agreement, the international treaty reached by countries including Kenya to progressively reduce dangerous emissions. With the US being the largest emitter of pollutants, its support would have been crucial to help poor countries like Kenya adopt more green technology.

Climate change

Biden's campaign said he acknowledges that the greatest challenge facing the US and the world is climate change, something Trump rejected, terming it a hoax.

"That's why he (Biden) is outlining a bold plan -- a Clean Energy Revolution -- to address this grave threat and lead the world in addressing the climate emergency," Biden promised.

"As president, Biden will lead the world to address the climate emergency and lead through the power of example, by ensuring the US achieves a 100 per cent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050."

Trump also left the World Health Organisation.

As the largest donor to the WHO, the departure by the US, following a falling-out over the Covid-19 pandemic, could limit the agency's support for poorer countries.

On Saturday, Biden suggested he will return the country to both the Paris Agreement and the WHO, stop controversial visa policies to Muslim and African countries and provide protections to children of migrants born on US soil.

He spoke of "the battle to save our planet by putting climate change under control... " and the "battle to restore decency and defend democracy."

Trump did not even believe in climate change, despite his own scientific community proving it exists.

Imad Hamad, the Executive Director of the American Human Rights Council, hopes Biden will help restore all the tenets of civil rights, both in the US and across the world.

Democratic values

"We are optimistic that the country again will put democratic values and human rights at the centre of its policy making, domestically and internationally," said Hamad said in a statement on Saturday

"Promises were made and expectations are set as to commitment to human rights and human dignity. We will be watching the new administration closely to make sure they deliver on these promises," he said.

Trump withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council in 2018, calling the global body a "cesspool of political bias" where member states often periodically pledge to right certain legal obstacles to human rights. Quitting the Council meant Washington could not be assessed or ranked. But the US argued the Council had included everyone with questionable rights records.

For Africa at least, a Joe Biden presidency may bring little, but some analysts are hoping there may be some "respect" for the continent.

There could be an Africa Summit in Washington, for example, last witnessed in 2014 during Barack Obama's administration, according to analysts at the South African Institute for Security Studies.

Respect for Africa would, for example, means dealing with the continent not as a region but as a place with 55 sovereign states.

"Another focus would be on negotiating reciprocal free trade agreements with Africa, either bilaterally or regionally. These would eventually replace the non-reciprocal African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which allows exports from eligible African countries into the US, duty and quota-free," the Institute said.

Follow through on deals

A Biden presidency may be expected to follow through on deals reached in the early years of Trump. Trump had started negotiations for a trade deal with Kenya.

"President Trump, does not seem to be too keen on Africa like his forerunners who had signature programmes for Africa. However, he has carried on their initiatives such as PEPFAR under President George W Bush and AGOA under President Clinton which has formed the basis of the proposed Kenya-US foreign trade agreement," Ms Lydia Kimani, the liaison officer for the Society of Crop Agribusiness Advisors in Nairobi told the Nation.

Kenya will be keen because it began negotiating a trade agreement with Washington just as campaigns heated up there. Given the precedence set when the US negotiated with other partners for a trade agreement, Kenya should expect security dividends to be included in the FTA, Ms Kimani told the Nation.

Impact of pandemic

But there could be a catch.

"It would be important to first understand the impact that the pandemic has had on the enterprise landscape in the country," she said referring to Kenya's mostly informal, service-based economy.

"Therefore, the question begs, in light of these disparities, are Kenyan enterprises ready for liberalised trade across sectors, some very sensitive such as agriculture that support millions of Kenyan and their livelihood? Do they have the capacity to compete with the American businesses?"

In August 2018, presidents Trump and Uhuru Kenyatta, at the White House established the Bilateral Strategic Dialogue framework, elevating their bilateral relations to 'strategic partnership'. This meant that the focus was to be two-way, based on "shared values, mutual cooperation, and a common vision for free, open, and secure societies," a dispatch indicated at the time.

Trump's predecessor's had begun or continued aid programmes such as PEPFAR (President's Emergency Response to AIDs Relief began by George W Bush), which supports HIV/Aids patients in Africa and pumped money for education and humanitarian support to Africa.

Obama also began the Young Africa Leadership Initiative, meant to inculcate governance values among young people.

Last year, the United States and Kenya signed an updated Security Governance Joint Country Action Plan meant to "enhance bilateral cooperation on civilian security, governance, and anti-corruption efforts," according to a Department of State dispatch in May 2019.

That meant the US continues to support Kenya's refugee hosting programmes as well as health, education and security support.

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