What does the victory of the more urbane Joseph Robinette Biden Jnr hold for Africa? Will the continent elicit a better deal from his incoming administration than the “shithole” perception of a garrulous Donald Trump? Is there some glimmer of hope, that the new American government, with Kamala Momala Harris, an African American as Vice President, will have a more chummy relationship with a continent still ravaged by poverty and myriads of militia groups? Is the Biden administration likely to be sterner in checkmating the growing resort by many African leaders to subvert their constitution and cobble a third term agenda? These and other issues are examined by TONY IYARE.
Quite frankly, I share the deep enthusiasm, excitement and frenzy that have greeted the election of former Vice President, Joseph Robinette Biden Jnr as the 46th American President. No doubt, his resounding victory against an uncouth President Donald Trump, whose policies have stunted America’s leading role in global affairs and undermined many multilateral organisations and global alliances, has resonated with all parts of the world.
Biden, who sought the presidency “to rebuild the soul of America, to rebuild the backbone of this nation, the middle class and to make America respected around the world again” will surely makes a difference in reasserting America’s frontline role. He has also promised to heal the wailings of his now divided nation and govern in the interest of all Americans, pleading with those who casted their lot for Trump in a hotly contested election, to give him a chance.
What may perhaps be forlorn is the renewed optimism by some that Africa will get a better deal with the Biden administration because an African American woman of Asian extraction, Kamala Momala Harris is his vice. Some including former President Olusegun Obasanjo have even pointed to the filial relationship of her sister who’s married to a Nigerian and extrapolated a more friendly and understanding stance.
If wishes were horses, we may indulge ourselves in some jolly ride and even chew the bubble gum. It is understandable that many may have gotten sucked to the lack of institutional trappings in our environment where family ties play a dominant role and want to generalise it in other climes. What however governs the conduct of American foreign policy whether under a Democrat or Republican President, is not given to such trite and puerile consideration but propelled largely by its strategic interests.
Before we dance ourselves lame over such consanguine attachments, we may want to ponder on what really were the significant gains of the 8 year administration of the first African American President, Barack Obama to Africa or to Kenya where his forebears came from?
Are we easily lost to the western coalition spearheaded by Obama which overthrew and killed Muammar Ghadafi, leaving a hitherto stable and prosperous Libya into shreds, now taken over by different militia groups with arms roaming freely and imperilling the continent? That this has stoked other militia groups like Boko Haram, ISIS West Africa and other jihadist groups allied to al Qaeda and ISIS operating on the Sahelian fringes of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger to completely destabilise that region including Nigeria, is tragic.
Obama himself concurs that the aftermath of intervention in Libya was his “biggest foreign policy regret”. In a town hall meeting in 2016, he confessed: “I did a little too much counting on other countries to then stabilise and help support government formation, and now it’s kind of a mess.”
Despite being sanctimonious that Africa needs “trade and not aid,” his support to the continent was virtually a pittance. The $8bn aid that the US spent in sub-Saharan Africa in 2015 was relatively small compared to what he gave to Afghanistan ($5.5 billion) and Israel ($3.1 billion) that together received more aid than the 42 African countries south of the Sahara.
Rather than assist to lighten Africa’s burden and boost its economy, the Obama government was paranoid in the pursuit of gay, lesbian and transgender (LGBT) rights that was directed at dismantling the African concept of marriage. The New York Times estimates that more than half of the $700 million slated for global campaign on the issue under Obama was spent in sub-Saharan Africa.
But for many African leaders who had the effrontery to resist this campaign that was now insidiously tied to aid and who maintained that they were not interested in subverting the natural process of nurturing the family. Even the much vilified George W Bush administration which bequeathed the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) enacted in 2000 to promote international trade in sub-Saharan Africa, presented a fairer deal.
Former Foreign Affairs Minister, Prof Bolaji Akinyemi has however warned us not to be too expectant of the Biden administration, but he too seems to have joined in the optimism that the new government will mean well for Africa.
“Don’t let us forget that the American economy is in dire straits now. So I don’t expect to see a massive foreign aid package targeted at Africa specifically. In terms of African aid, you know the AGOA put in place by President George Bush Jnr, to encourage value-added products from Africa and to allow them entry to the United States. The AGOA treaty was going to run out and President Trump said he was not going to renew it, Biden is not going to allow it to run out.”
“With problems now in Ethiopia, Mali, Guinea, Tanzania and Cote d’Ivoire, all dealing with electoral malpractice, I foresee a Biden administration intervening either directly or through a surrogate- the AU, ECOWAS and others being used in resolving issues than Trump was not willing to do,” he argues.
I’m wondering what strategic interests these countries mean for the US, now in the throes of a waning economy and Covid 19 pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 of its citizens that a Biden administration will worry about the shenanigans of their leaders?.
Akinyemi, also a former director general, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), told Arise Television that “I believe that a Biden Presidency will be more sensitive to the struggle for human rights, the struggle for democracy and for decency in governance. The presidency is not going to encourage either by emulation, or by foreign aid or military aid, the comfort of dictators and autocrats that we have in the world.
“That to me is what I can identify specifically in dealing with Africans. African interests have always been part of interests promoted by multilateralism,” he contends.
Some also naively think that a Biden administration may smoothen the chances of former Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Iweala, an international finance expert to clinch the position of director general, World Trade Organisation (WTO), forgetting that the US which controls 12 per cent of global trade is querying her lack of experience in that area. It will be full hardly to expect the US under Biden which may just be a different face of the same coin, to bark down on this vital demand.
We may not like Trump who has been hard on immigration which many perceive as targeted at the Latino and African Americans with a rising geometric growth in population. But his vision is in synch with that of mainstream Whites who perceive a future threat on their continued hold of political power and are agreed on the need to urgently check it.
The difference really is that what a tweeting Trump says glibly on the housetops is shared by many Whites in the secluded recess of their homes. Do not take the slogan that America is a land of opportunities for all on the face value. Why then are the Black and Latinos population perennially at the receiving end of Police brutality or criminal profiling? Although Biden’s tragedies seem to have humbled him to connect with different races that this will translate to his leaning to change the power configuration in the US may be a mirage.
It’s really intriguing why many are enmeshed in the renewed hope that the Biden administration will put smiles on Africa. Human rights is narrowly perceived as expanding the frontiers of LGBT rights. Since Biden’s vision of human rights is also beclouded by the LGBT community which supported his victory, is this not to suggest that he may be toeing the Obama agenda and railroading the continent on this path?
It may also be farfetched to expect that America under Biden will check the antics of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other agents of international finance from strangulating African economies and by extension, undermining the living standards of the people. It is illusory to expect foreigners to propel African development. The solution to tackling the crises of African economies and creating a better life for its people must be located in Africa.
Rather than tie its destiny to the vagaries of the Biden administration, the African people must rise up to challenge their governments to massively invest in healthcare, education and infrastructure in order to enthrone a congenial living condition on the continent. Instead of excoriating Trump for denying our people Visas, we must resist the urge to allow our people to be indiscriminately lured to other lands in search of the Golden Fleece. We need to appreciate that no country tackles its development challenge by allowing its best brains to emigrate to Europe and America.
NB: Iyare, a Communication and Development Consultant is also an International Relations Analyst.