There was a huge uproar in January 2018 when it was reported that President Donald Trump had complained about taking in migrants from “shithole countries”, his derogatory term for African countries and Haiti. His comments were universally condemned by the United Nations, the Pope and the African Union who issued a statement calling the remarks “clearly racist”.
In November 2020, the administration introduced a visa bond for applicants visiting the US for business or pleasure (B-1/B-2). The bond, which ranges from $5-15k will be a tax on applicants from countries whose citizens have overstayed their welcome. The African countries affected by these new visa requirements are: Angola, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Libya, Mauritania, Sao Tome and Principe and Sudan.
It would be easy to conclude from that the rhetoric that the Trump administration has done little for Africa. However, it is worth noting that the US State Department continues to function regardless of the person sitting at the Resolute desk. Tibor P. Nagy, Jr., Assistant Secretary Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, laid out the following key priorities for Africa which were announced in 2018:
- To harness the potential of Africa’s youth as a force for ingenuity and prosperity. This is aligned with the United Nations’ focus on the fastest growing demographic on the continent
- To work with African governments to create a level playing field for U.S. companies and encourage U.S. companies to do business in Africa. GE will invest billions of dollars in hydro and power projects in the DRC while Coca-Cola plans to invest $300m in Ethiopia. FedEx and Citibank are also exploring opportunities in Ethiopia. The capital that is available to the support these initiatives from the New Development Finance Corporation was doubled to $60bn
- To advance peace and security through partnerships with African governments and regional mechanisms. The US supported the transition from military to civilian rule in Sudan for example and continues to monitor security concerns across the region
- To counter China’s narrative and make clear that the breadth and depth of the U.S. commitment to Africa is unmatched. High profile visits by Secretary of State. Pompeo to Senegal, Angola and Ethiopia this year. The First Lady and First Daughter have also visited Africa in the past
Despite the efforts of the State Department, there has been a notable decline in the US-Africa relationship:
- Even though the Trump administration has maintained annual aid around $7bn, Trump constantly used withholding aid as a stick to force countries to toe the line
- Rwanda was suspended from the African Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) tariff-free access after second-hand clothes exporters in the US lobbied the government after Rwanda imposed customs duties on them
- US-Africa trade fell from a record high of $100bn in 2008 to $41bn in 2018
- Foreign Direct Investment to Africa also declined from $50.7bn in 2017 to $43.2bn in 2019
- The Muslim travel ban, the precursor to the new visa bond, prohibits entry to most people from Libya and Somalia, immigrants from Eritrea and Nigeria, and select people from Tanzania.
The presidential transition from Donald Trump to Joe Biden on 20th January 2021 gives Africans hope that the relationship will normalise. The key issues that matter to Africa and Africans are:
- Domestically, the estimated 2m African diaspora living in the US will be hoping for the reinstatement of the Dream Act and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects those who entered the US before the age of 18 from deportation and grants them permanent residency status
- African governments will be seeking debt relief and would like to count on the US influence in the IMF and Paris Club
- US aid provides budgetary support to many governments which will be even more important post-pandemic. It will be interesting to see if the Biden administration will be willing to increase aid
- AGOA has delivered positive returns and needs to be taken to the next level to encourage the manufacturing sector and deliver real economic growth to Africa
- The US has always played a key role in promoting democracy and holding governments accountable for any lapses in civil liberties. We certainly need that going forward
America is definitely back!