Leaders across Africa have congratulated US President-elect Joe Biden, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, on their win, while remaining optimistic that the incoming administration will improve relations between the United States and African nations. But just what exactly could a Biden-Harris presidency mean for Africa?
Reversal of Trump’s Travel Ban
In March 2017, US President, Donald Trump signed ‘Executive Order 13780’, which limits travel to the US by citizens of several nations. The ban was criticised and labelled a ‘Muslim ban’ for its focus on Muslim- majority nations. During his election campaign, Biden promised to reverse the travel ban that also affects African nations such as Eritrea, Nigeria, Libya, Tanzania, Sudan, and Somalia.
Climate Change Action
With Biden at the helm of affairs, the United States could rejoin the Paris Agreement; in essence, reversing the 2017 decision by President Donald Trump that saw the US exit the agreement. Trump had argued that the agreement placed unfair standards on the US climate change mitigation efforts while giving nations such as China more room to meet their own climate goals.
Biden has promised to rejoin the agreement on his first day in office and pledged to “lead an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets”. The return of the United States to the Paris Agreement could also see the Green Climate Fund boosted by US contributions.
“Donald Trump’s decision to withhold $2 billion of the $3 billion pledged by his predecessor has contributed to a huge shortfall at the Green Climate Fund – a contribution that would have enabled countries most affected by climate change, such as African countries, to implement policies to strengthen the resilience of their frontline communities”, says Aissatou Diouf, West Africa Coordinator, Climate Action Network.
Commercial Repercussions from ‘Green’ Focus
Biden’s proposed plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the US could also hold potentially negative short-term economic effects for African nations. His plans to strengthen climate regulations, reduce US dependency on fossil fuels and increase spending on renewable energy could lessen US crude oil imports and lead to a fall in the price of oil.
Between 2010 and 2013, the global decline in Africa’s crude oil exports was linked to a reduction in US imports. The same pattern could be repeated if Biden’s proposed plans go through. African nations such as Nigeria and Angola are specifically vulnerable to shifts in oil prices and will be directly affected if the price of crude oil drops.
In the end, the drive towards clean energy is essential for all nations, African or otherwise, but this necessary progress comes with its own complications. Only time will tell how affected nations deal with the ripples.
Increased Involvement in Africa’s Social and Security Issues
It is well documented that Donald Trump’s approach to global politics was significantly more inward- looking than that of many of his predecessors. While his famous 2020 West Point remarks that the US is not the policeman of the world’ were in fact a rehash of an old Obama-speech from seven years earlier, there’s no denying that in more recent years the US has focused on a more insular ‘America-first’ mantra.
This will almost certainly change under President Biden, both for the better and arguably in the eyes of some for worse. While his campaign points made no reference to a deeper involvement in Africa, A Biden-Harris presidency could be more critical of authoritarian leaders on the continent and could bolster civil societies and social movements across the Africa:
“A practical way will be for the United States to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council, which civil society holds in high esteem, but authoritarian leaders have increasingly trod on over the last four years”, say David Kode, Head of Advocacy, Civicus.
Whether this approach ends up winding back the clock of history even further, to a time when the US arguably did see itself as – if not a global policeman, at least a referee – remains to be seen, but either way increased foreign diplomacy seems certain.
Perception of Africa and Wider Global Black Identity
President Trump’s infamous “shithole countries” label for African nations was viewed as a reinforcement of racist, outdated stereotypes and fed the confidence of those who placed African nations at the lowest rung of the global ladder. While racism in the US was by no means started, nor will it end with, Donald Trump, his refusal to confront those issues undoubtedly fanned the flames of such divisions.
The more unifying figure of Joe Biden and the presence of Kamala Harris, a woman of colour in the Vice- Presidency role, can only serve to dial down some of the poisonous rhetoric that has been allowed to flourish in more recent years, not only around Africa, but also towards African culture and the diaspora movement at large.
While it would be hasty to view the Biden-Harris presidency solely as a positive development, across economics, climate change and wider societal concerns, we appear to be entering a point in history where the US looks set to make serious global contributions again. A Biden-Harris Presidency will not automatically make the country and its relations with Africa and the wider world perfect overnight, but there are at least now grounds for genuine communication again, and at the end of a year in which the world has been through a tumultuous time, this is enough reason to be cautiously optimistic.