What Biden’s win means for Africa

The result of the vote could have a profound impact on US foreign policy in Africa.


Image : Simon MAINA /AFP

The size of the American economy, the dominance of US companies and the power of the dollar means that Biden’s win in the US election is set to have far-reaching consequences around the world. But what does a Biden win mean for Africa?

The result of the vote will have a profound impact on US foreign policy in Africa, the EU’s Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) says.

During his tenure Trump proposed a large-scale pull-back of US forces abroad, including in West Africa, marking a strategic shift from the ‘war on terror’ to countering China’s growing influence in Africa through other means, says Giovanni Faleg, a senior analyst at the Paris-based EU agency.

“As competition mainly revolves around the predatory economic practices (of China) the first pillar of Trump’s strategy is advancing US trade and commercial ties with the region,” Faleg says.

This included the Trump administration’s ‘Prosper Africa’ initiative whose objective is to streamline bureaucracy, expand the role of the private sector and remove logistical trade barriers.

“Trump has never personally considered Africa a priority region or travelled to sub-Saharan countries,” Faleg says, while “his rhetoric towards Africa in public speeches could not be more controversial.”

During his tenure Trump has only received the presidents of Kenya and Nigeria, while he imposed visa bans on Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania in January.

While Trump has pushed for significant cuts to foreign aid into the continent, these have been largely vetoed by Congress, meaning the US remained a leading donor in Africa, Faleg says.

In recent months, since the onset of Covid-19, Trump has communicated more with African leaders as China ramped up its pandemic support on the continent.

“In late April Trump proactively phoned the leaders of Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa and his administration stepped up assistance and donations to tackle the coronavirus pandemic in the continent, after passively watching China take the lead in international support,” Faleg notes.

From a commercial perspective, Trump’s policies lay the groundwork for unlocking greater US private sector investment on the continent, but lacked the technical backing to be effective, says Ronak Gopaldas, director at risk advisory firm Signal Risk.

“The incoming administration should look to build on a lot of Trump’s initiatives. He [Biden] could build on these and give them the strategic direction and resources they need. A lot of these policies had the right idea – they just weren’t executed to full potential,” he said.

Virág Fórizs, Africa Economist at Capital Economics, says the outcome of the US elections is unlikely to be a game-changer for Africa.

“A return to multilateralism under a Biden presidency could translate into stronger US-backing for the African Continental Free Trade Area, rather than the Trump administration’s approach of pursuing bilateral deals (with Kenya for example).”

President Biden would also be more likely to support the extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) beyond 2025, Forizs says.

Data from the 2019 International Trade Administration showed that US companies have invested over $50bn in Africa since Trump took office in 2017.

Biden’s election may also lead to a partial cooling of trade tensions with China, which could have a positive impact on African markets which trade extensively with Beijing.

A model for democracy?

Africans took to Twitter to denounce Trump’s response to the election result, saying he is undermining America’s role as a paragon of western democracy.

Trump has mounted lawsuits in five states, while administration officials and Republican party figures have refused to acknowledge the president-elect’s win.

As Biden edges closer to victory, President Donald Trump has filed lawsuits for a recount in Wisconsin, and separate suits to stop vote counting in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

“The US election will surely open up a floodgate of election manipulation   across emerging democracies (most especially) in West Africa. The excuse will be simple; “even in the US, it isn’t a perfect process”, said Nigerian Egbe Omorodion.

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