The Africa that Joe Biden- President-Elect of America- will meet is one that has suffered significant economic setbacks from the ravaging novel coronavirus moniker “COVID-19.”
The headwinds from the pandemic has been significantly devastating as many lives have been lost and economies crushed. As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in their Regional Economic Outlook report of April 2020 noted…
“Sub-Saharan Africa is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis that threatens to throw the region off its stride, reversing the development progress of recent years and slow the region’s growth prospects in the years to come.”
Covid-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa
Prior to the virus coming to the shores of Africa, many African countries were experiencing modest economic growth and had unfettered access to the International Capital Market. Indeed, the economic progress in some countries had persisted for over two or so decades. Many of the countries also had made significant progress in bridging the gap between the rich and the poor.
Regrettably, however, the spread of COVID-19, along with plummeted commodity prices and lower oil demand, has upended the steady economic progress of Africa. This has sunk the continent into the abyss of fiscal distress saddled with mounting public debt, contraction of GDP and high unemployment, especially in tourism-dependent countries, among others. The weak economic situation has come about mainly on the back of the “people-first” approach adopted to limit the spread of the virus. This approach to fighting the virus was aptly captured by the President of Ghana when he famously said “We know what to do to bring our economy back to life. What we do not know how to do is to bring people back to life.”
Effect of Covid-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa
The virus has left the health and economy of many African countries in a worse and direr state than they were some few months ago. Unfortunately, this is the state that Mr Joe Biden will meet Africa. As such, his foreign policies must tilt primarily towards “supporting” the continent to manage the COVID-19 and importantly “helping” to restore the economy of Africa to the path of growth. Any Biden policy for Africa that does not recognize this bear fact will fall flat. Do not get me wrong; I do not believe in handouts; instead, I believe in cooperation that is beneficial to all parties. I, therefore, used the words “Supporting” and “helping” advisedly.
Despite these difficult economic challenges before the continent, Africa still thinks that multilateralism offers the optimal path to a sustainable means of addressing global common issues. Africa, therefore, expects Mr Biden to proceed on the route of multilateralism. That said, the continent very well knows about the rigidities in American Foreign policy which will not permit “big changes.” Indeed, many are aware that a substantial part of the current American programmes will continue to run. Mention can be made of counter-terrorism support across the continent, efforts to limit the influence of China and Russia as well as limiting support to dictators with a human rights abuse history.
Despite these limitations, many Africans are incredibly optimistic about the Biden Presidency, especially on matters that border on global commons. So, how should Africa position itself to bring life back to the Africa-America economic, social, and cultural relations which for the past 4years reached its lowest ebb? I dare say that the optimal strategy for both Africa and America should be one that enhances mutual trade and of course, one that takes decisive steps to address the challenges that confront our shared humanity.
The most critical consideration that must be on the mind of African leaders should be about leveraging the recently formed African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to deepen trade and commerce with the United States of America. The AfCFTA which has been signed on by 55 member States of African Union covers a market of 1.2 billion people with a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$3.4 trillion. This market certainly will be a bait that America under President Biden would not turn a blind eye on. The AfCFTA market has become particularly important, owing to Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement in 2017. The TPP was envisioned to become the largest free-trade bloc and covers 12 countries who make up about 40 percent of the world’s GDP.
Still, on trade, the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has left a sour grape among the other member countries of Canada and Mexico. The gamesmanship approach employed by the Trump administration unsurprisingly left the NAFTA, which has enabled the free flow of goods among member countries for over 20-years almost dead. Again, the stalemate in Brexit negotiations means America cannot readily grab any low hanging fruits from Britain or the European Union. The Sino-US trade war also presents further complications for the new President. Given the convoluting nature of these trade partnership before Biden, the AfCFTA becomes a viable option at least in the short-to-medium-term for the Americans and Africa must be ready to take advantage. It is, however, important to recognize that no single African State on its own merit will be able to maximize trade benefits with the US unless they work together under the free trade area- AfCFTA.
Expectations of President Joe Biden
On the global commons, the promise by President-Elect, Joe Biden to return to the Paris Accord on Climate Change is refreshing and welcome. It will mark the return to a global collective approach to addressing ecological challenges facing humanity today. It will also signal, once more, that international protocols can be respected. The Paris treaty which was signed in 2016 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is aimed at dealing with greenhouse-gas-emissions, mitigation and adaptation measures as well as the financing of the identified actions that are to help keep the global average temperature well below 2° Celsius above the temperature benchmark set before the industrial revolution. It may be recalled that President Trump ditched the treaty in 2019, citing the debilitating effects of carbon reduction efforts on the American economy and jobs as the main reasons.
America subsequently cancelled its pledge of financial support to developing countries to help in mitigation and adaptation efforts. America also cut back on its promise to reduce domestic emission, which is a major worry since America is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gas in the world. Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of America from the accord created garboil among other high emitters like China and India who also step-back on their promise under the treaty. Biden’s promise of returning America to the accord cures the blips brought by Trump’s decisions on the ecology. It presents us an opportunity to deal with today’s problems today and protect the future generation from concomitant effects of humanity’s action today.
Biden’s Presidency is expected to reverse Trump’s withdrawal of America from the World Health Organization (WHO) announced in April 2020. Biden’s belief in collective efforts as a means of addressing global health security is crucially important at this point in history. This is particularly so because plagues are transnational and do not respect artificial national boundaries. Without multinational efforts at finding solutions to transnational challenges, the world is unlikely to be able to purge itself from avoidable plagues- economic, social, and cultural. The freeze on funding to the WHO by America has affected the many ongoing research of WHO around the world. Without the support of the United States- the largest donor of WHO- the world will unlikely be able to manage future plagues effectively.
Another major policy that should be reversed by the Biden administration relates the lifting of the travel ban imposed by President Trump on some Muslim countries of Africa including Libya, Somalia, Nigeria, Sudan, Eritrea, and Tanzania. The policy which was designed to curb the influx of people from countries who did not meet the minimum standards for combatting illegal immigration ended up being targeted, discriminatory and xenophobic. It was especially discriminatory because it did target people based on their faith. Restricting freedom of movement of people this way is pathetic. The Democrat lead administration of Joe Biden is expected to terminate this obfuscated Trump administration policy. Already, the democrats did draft the National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act which was to stop Trump’s ban policy. Lifting the ban will be welcome news for Africa, especially if you are a Muslim from the ban countries.
Joe Biden is also expected to bring decency, decorum, political rectitude and above all respect for all humankind to the Presidency of America. These attributes soon after President Obama left office were lost. One thing Africans abhor most about Trump is his open disregard for political correctness and unfathomable disrespect to all who are different from him. Trump’s ill-held view of Africa is very much unfortunate given the strives Africa has made to change its narrative. Indeed, it is evident that respect for others who are different from him, was lost on the 45th President and his rationalization of “white thuggery” was particularly disdainful.
There are other areas including how to deal with disruption from technology, cybersecurity, and fake news among others that the Biden Administration must be interested in forging transnational solutions to them. The past four years of President Trump has been a rollercoaster for many who believe in multilateralism and cared about global commons that require our collective efforts regardless of race, religion, looks, and gender. As Anna Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris rightly tweeted about Biden’s victory…‘‘Welcome Back America!’’ and we indeed, welcome back America!
Author: Henry, KYEREMEH
Co-Founder, iWatch Africa