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US resets relationship with Africa

Is Africa Reshaping the New Face of Global Leadership?

With  Africa being viewed as the “future” Continent, given its massive human and untapped mineral resources, the Biden Administration is making overtures to mend fences with Africa, particularly after his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, marginalized the Continent during his tenure in office.  Africa is projected to account for one in four people by 2050 and is rich in the resources necessary to mitigate climate change-related challenges, such as vast forests and rare minerals to power electric vehicles.

A comeback after several years

President Biden invited leaders from across the African continent to Washington, DC, on December 13-15, 2022, for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit with the aim of revitalizing America’s relationship with the Continent. The Summit, which focused on governance, food security and more, is the first since the one hosted by former US President Barack Obama in 2014.

“The United States is all in on Africa”

In his opening remarks, US President Joe Biden declared: “The United States is all in on Africa,” signalling his burning desire to reset the US-Africa relationship at a time US influence on the Continent has dwindled under his predecessor, who denigrated the African Continent and never set foot in the Continent. In contrast, Biden announced that a number of his Administration’s top officials will visit the Continent in 2023.

Initiatives

The Biden Administration has announced several economic initiatives to catch up with competitors like China and Russia. During the Summit, Biden pledged $55 billion to Africa over the course of the next three years across a wide range of sectors to help the Continent tackle the core challenges. A statement on the White House website stated: “We reaffirmed our resolve to work collaboratively with African governments, businesses, and publics to strengthen people-to-people ties, ensure more inclusive and responsive global institutions, build a strong and sustainable global economy, foster new technology and innovation, strengthen health systems and prepare for the next pandemic, tackle the food security and climate crises, support democracy and human rights, and advance peace and security.”

In ensuring that the initiatives get implemented, US President has named veteran diplomat Ambassador Johnnie Carson as Special Presidential Representative for U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit to coordinate these efforts.

Digital Transformation

Among the initiatives that the US will explore on the continent is Digital Transformation with Africa (DTA): At the U.S.-Africa Business Forum, President Biden launched the DTA, a new initiative to expand digital access and literacy across the continent.  Working with Congress, this new initiative intends to invest over $350 million and facilitate over $450 million in financing for Africa, in line with the African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy.

The digital economy project includes a partnership with Microsoft and programs to train African entrepreneurs. On the other hand, President Biden announced $800 million in new contracts for Cisco Systems and a smaller company, “Cybastion,” to protect Africa from cyber threats.

Questions remain as to how this digital transformation scheme will impact education, health and other development areas. In addition, details are sketchy about the digital regulations, given that the IT giants are based in the United States.

Tangible results

Africa is eyeing a new partnership with the United States, hoping to see tangible results from the much-vaunted Summit. New York Times has quoted Sithembile Mbete, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Pretoria, as describing the summit as a chance for the U.S. to deal with African countries as a bloc and move away from a tendency to cherry-pick favoured allies. But whether it succeeds, she added, depends on if Mr. Biden is willing to truly engage with Africans as equals and not “as a big brother telling countries what to do.”

As world powers court Africa and attach a premium to their relationship with the Continent, the question is: Is Africa Reshaping the New Face of Global Leadership?