Africa: Joe Biden's in-Tray for Africa As He Takes Power Today

Kenyan president Mwai Kibaiki and prime minister Raila Odinga host then-U.S. vice president Joseph Biden in Nairobi, Kenya in advance of the 2010 constitutional referendum (file photo).
20 January 2021

Africa may be looking up to Joe Biden and his Vice President Kamala Harris to right the wrongs of Donald Trump as the pair take power following a chaotic political season in the US.

And while Biden will most certainly consider addressing domestic issues first after his swearing in this afternoon in Washington, his in-tray will include things that affect countries as far as Africa.

Tuesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta said Nairobi is ready to finalise the US-Kenya trade agreement that began under the Trump administration last year.

"We appreciate what has been achieved through Agoa (the Africa Growth Opportunity Act). But it is time we moved to a much more, closer trade arrangements that are mutually beneficial. We will not lose focus on concluding the FTA the President said after meeting with outgoing US Ambassador Kyle McCarter who has resigned from his job.

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Overall, Biden's campaign, however, promised to "restore a dignified leadership at home and respected leadership on the world stage," suggesting that he could reverse most things Trump did.

He promised to "advance the security, prosperity, and values of the United States by taking immediate steps to renew our own democracy and alliances, protect our economic future, and once more place America at the head of the table, leading the world to address the most urgent global challenges."

In actual sense, experts told the Nation Tuesday that Biden will be tied to domestic policy because that is where the chaos began.

"He is facing a situation similar to that of the Great Depression, in the 1930s,' said Macharia Munene, Prof of History and International Relations at the USIU, referring to the aftermath of the World War 1, where economies collapsed.

"The main thing is domestic, but he will also need to assure the public that America can be trusted again."

"The first 100 days will be crucial for him. He needs the positive energy and to address the disquiet back home," said Dr Elias Mokua, Executive Director of the Loyola Centre for Media and Communication in Nairobi, referring to the acrimonious political cycle that saw trump refuse to concede.

"The good thing is he worked under Obama, so he knows the foreign policy that suits him, as opposed to Trump who had no experience in government."

So now that Trump is gone, what can Africa expect from Biden?

Back in the WHO

Trump pulled the US from the World Health Organization (WHO), accusing the UN organ of being biased towards China after the first Covid-19 cases were discovered in December 2019.

The US had been the biggest financier of the WHO, contributing about $400 million annually to its budget, ten times more than what China gives.

The money was crucial in funding WHO's research collaborations as well as emergency responses.

"We stand to gain from someone who is much more serious about global issues," Dr Mokua told the Nation Tuesday.

"Biden is more globally oriented and knows that by joining these organisations, the domestic economy actually grows as the environment outside becomes more favourable to the Americans. So we will see more focus through the UN, WHO, NATO and even the USAID."

Climate change and the Paris Agreement

In 2015, the world cheered as the US and other major powers endorsed a climate change accord known as the Paris Agreement. It was meant to cut down on dangerous emissions, progressively, by encouraging countries to adopt green energy. Developing countries like Kenya, especially, stood to benefit as companies would be rewarded credits for investing in green processes.

Trump, a non-believer in Climate change, pulled the plug on that in 2019. The US was formally out of the agreement on election day in November last year. Biden has promised to reverse the decision, mostly because it could rebuild alliances that existed before.

"He has a task to reassure allies that as much as possible by going back to the way things were during the Obama administration which he was part of," Prof Munene said.

Biden has already appointed a Climate Change Envoy in John Kerry, a former Secretary of State under Obama and former Senator of Massachusetts.

"The global move towards 'green policy' will also determine the priorities of US funding for sustainable development. Climate change and the current Covid-19 require multilateral efforts and approaches," said Dr Kigen Morumbasi, Lecturer of International Relations and Security at the Strathmore University.

Officials in Nairobi say a Washington that supports green innovations, reduced emissions and financial support for conservation programmes will be a big win for the developing world.

Kerry indicated the Biden government will treat the climate crisis as an "urgent national security threat."

Immigration

Trump was ruthless against undocumented immigrants and his last act of expulsion saw some deported to Kenya last weekend.

Biden, however, promised to right the policy by protecting "undocumented members of our armed services, veterans, and their spouses from deportation because if you are willing to risk your life for this country, you and your family have earned the chance to live safe, healthy, and productive lives in America."

He also promised to "Immediately end the horrific practice of separating families at our border and holding immigrant children in for-profit prisons."

But the US may still retain stringent conditions on visas including background checks.

Security programmes

Trump was leaving the White House after controversially pulling American troops from Somalia, where they helped train local forces. Experts have argued the withdrawal of some 800 troops from Somalia without adequate alternative security back-up has exposed Somalia and the region to Shabaab resurgence.

Biden is expected to sustain funding for counter-terrorism programmes in Africa, just like his predecessors.

Foreign Aid

Trump said he was focusing more on trade than aid, even though he ended up redrawing some of the foreign trade pacts his predecessors had signed.

Biden, a democrat, may continue with economic partnerships. But he could also turn back to governance issues as well as civil rights as well as other programmes related to poverty eradication.

"Foreign aid will likely focus on sustainable development. There will likely be an increase in US foreign aid which will also include supporting international security," Dr Morumbasi observed.

Trump attempted to counter Chinese influence in Africa with little success. Biden may adjust business and aid arrangements as well as other governance programmes such as reverting to Obama-era programmes of funding civic education and electoral bodies.

Currently Kenya has banned any direct foreign funding of the electoral commission.

There are, however, no indications of whether Biden will prioritise these issues. Nonetheless, some African experts had argued an early summit with Africa could help Biden cure some ego problems, especially after Trump called the continent a shit-hole.

Analysts at the South African Institute for Security Studies argue that Biden could do well to start with offering some kind of "respect" to Africa, and maybe organise a US-Africa Summit that his predecessor had ignored.

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