- US President Biden supports an African permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
- Vice President Harris’ visit to pave way for Biden Africa tour later this year
- US increased investment in Africa,still lags behind China
The United States Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to land in Africa this week where she will tour at least three countries. Her itinerary includes Ghana on March 26, then Tanzania on March 29, and finally Zambia on March 31.
This trip paves the way for the even more anticipated visit by President Joe Biden, as promised at the US-Africa Summit held in Washington in December 2022.
A little over a decade ago, former US president Barack Obama showed America’s commitment to Africa’s growth through wide-ranging programmes and initiatives that aimed at cementing the US-Africa relations. But Donald Trump’s lukewarm relationship with Africa and the continuous rise of China’s influence has made the US rethink its investment in Africa-US relations.
From the pronouncements at the US-Africa Summit in Washington D.C last year, President Joe Biden appeared to reset the relations to build broken bridges.
Biden has been vocal in his support for African representation in World governing organs including the UN, calling for an African permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
He has made clear his support for a ‘permanent African Union role in the Group of 20 economies.’
First lady Jill Biden, during her trip to Africa earlier in March, reiterated her husband’s commitment to supporting African representation in international decision-making bodies.
President Biden’s ambitions to restart US influence in Africa is evident not only in his planned trip to the continent later this year but,also in the 15-plus visits to the continent by top US officials in the course of just the last three months; that is more than 5 top US officials visiting the continent every month, or more than 1 official every week.
First Lady Jill Biden visited Namibia and Kenya while US Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen flew to Senegal, South Africa and Zambia.
US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield also toured Africa to market ‘American values,’ to mention but a few of the over dozen top US officials that visited Africa this year.
Why is this barrage of senior US government officials so keen to enhance ties with Africa? Africa is quickly becoming a center for future investment, global food security, and world security. However, the US is now playing catch up as its rivals like China have made significant inroads in Africa through infrastructure deals, mining rights and diplomatic wins that were before strictly reserved for the West.
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Is the US too late to amend African ties?
Even with one senior official visiting the continent every other month, the US under Donald Trump estranged itself from the continent. Meanwhile, China increased its investment in Africa to become Africa’s top Foreign Direct Investor.
China FDI in Africa grew nearly 100-fold over a 17-year period – from $490 million in 2003 to $43.4 billion in 2020. That makes China Africa’s fourth largest investor, ahead of the United States since 2014 – reports The Diplomat.
Then there is Russia, this major US contender for ‘rights’ in Africa remains a major source of food, especially cereals, and the much-needed fertilizer for African domestic agricultural production.
As economic fate would have it, Russia just so happens to be the world’s largest exporter of wheat (and Ukraine is the fifth-largest). In fact, when it comes to Africa, Russia (and Ukraine) supply about 44% of Africa’s consumption, according to the United Nations.
With US competitors having upped their influence in Africa, it only makes sense that the US would make every effort to mend broken economic bridges and restore its political influence across the continent.
During Kamala Harris’ visit, the US Vice President will meet Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan, and in Zambia, she will be hosted by President Hakainde Hichilema.
Her agendas will be; democracy, economic growth, food security, and “the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine,’ to quote the US statement.
“The trip will strengthen the United States’ partnerships throughout Africa and advance our shared efforts on security and economic prosperity,” admitted US Press Secretary Kirsten Allen in her official statement announcing Vice President Kamala Harris’ Africa tour.
The statement explains US hopes for the Vice President’s African tour; “The trip will strengthen the United States’ partnerships throughout Africa and advance our shared efforts on security and economic prosperity.”
“Throughout the trip, in partnership with African governments and the private sector, the Vice President will advance efforts to expand access to the digital economy, support climate adaptation and resilience, and strengthen business ties and investment, including through innovation, entrepreneurship, and the economic empowerment of women,” reads the press communique in part.
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Reigniting US-Africa relations
The choice of the countries in her itinerary is also quite telling. Ghana, which is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, is seeking debt relief from China and a helping hand from the IMF. Ghana’s stable democracy and its recent rebrand as the ‘home of African diaspora’ may have been a natural choice for Harris in West Africa.
In Southern Africa, Zambia finds itself in a similar situation with Ghana. It was the first African country to default on its loans in 2020. Reuters quoted VP Harris saying that the US would discuss with Ghana and Zambia on how best to tackle the debt crisis.
Tanzania’s recent diplomatic and economic trajectory after President Samia took over from the late President John Magufuli has attracted the attention of the US and other partners including EAC neighbors. Harris, the US first female Vice President, will feel at home as a guest of President Samia, Tanzania’s first woman president.
Several US investors have also expressed interest in investing in a reformed Tanzania including Elon Musk’s Starlink which is looking to increase access to the internet to remote parts of Tanzania (and elsewhere in Africa) and most recently is Musk’s Tesla looking to invest in Cobalt mining in Tanzania.
However, even with these new investment areas, some older deals will need to be discussed like the question of the AGOA pact. On one hand, the deal, set up by George Bush decades ago, was hoped to increase trade between the US and Africa, but clothing industries across most East African countries, including Tanzania, have been stifled by the pact.
Most recent was the issue of second-hand clothing, in a bid to grow its own textile industry, East Africa sort to ban the import of second-hand clothes but the US would not have it; it would affect its own export interests.
If Ethiopia, which was recently kicked out of the AGOA deal, is any example to go by, then Vice President Harris has her work cut out in addressing pressing issues like the AGOA trade deal, especially when you have China willing to fill in the trade gap.