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‘Shape our Future’: The US plan for a Modern African Partnership

On August 8, during his third visit to Africa in just ten months, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced the US Strategy Towards Sub-Saharan Africa, the Biden administration’s vision for a US-Africa partnership. The strategy is divided into four objectives: fostering openness and open societies, delivering democratic and security dividends, advancing pandemic recovery and economic opportunity, and supporting conservation, climate adaptation, and a just energy transition. The plan offers several approaches to achieve these objectives such as fostering consultative dialogue between the US and African states, increasing senior-level engagement, and encouraging US private sector engagement. Instead of calling for new economic and development programs like past administrations, President Biden aims to strengthen existing programs, such as Power Africa and Prosper Africa as tools of engagement. However, it is important to recognize that the success of these existing programs is dependent on Congressional funding. While the administration acknowledges that these available tools and strategies already exist to create a difference, only time will tell how well these institutions will adapt and transform to deliver the objectives of the strategy.

One new approach that has garnered positive attention is the revised framing of Africa’s climate challenge and steps for sustainable development. During the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in 2021, world powers discussed how to tackle the rising threat of climate change. The most important topic debated was who should bear the brunt of climate change funding and within this debate, the question of whether developing countries, like those in Africa, should have the right to use their own natural resources (see FCA Corp’s thoughts here). Building upon feedback and criticism from African leaders after COP26, the new US strategy recognizes that Africa is responsible for only a tiny fraction of global emissions. Instead, it intends to balance climate and development goals by working with African countries individually to chart a path to meet their own specific energy needs through technologies such as renewable energy and gas-to-power infrastructure. While many around the world agree with allowing African countries to have a say in the use of their own resources, high-level policymakers in developed countries are continuing to push for African countries’ immediate transition away from fossil fuels.

However, the strategy does have two missing elements. While the strategy emphasizes the importance of diplomacy in strengthening relationships with African countries, the new strategy fails to address and provide solutions to the current staffing problem for American embassies in Africa. As of September 1, 2022, 15 African countries do not have ambassadors, two of which are Egypt and Nigeria. It is contradictory for the administration to spotlight the need for diplomacy while failing to have nominated ambassadors for the two largest economies in Africa. Additionally, embassies in African countries are notoriously known to be understaffed. According to a report written by Foreign Policy magazine, the US embassy in Sudan is chronically empty and about half of the embassy posts in Niger have been vacant in recent months. Additionally, the US diplomatic missions in Burkina Faso and Mali are 30% and 20% vacant respectively.[1] The lack of nominees and staff undercuts the strategy’s goals on the continent, and as Senator Jim Risch put it, “…the dire staffing and human resource situation reflects Africa as an afterthought rather than a priority of global significance.”

The second element missing from the strategy is the role of women and the issues that impact gender equality. Africa lags other regions on progress toward gender equality and with women accounting for more than 50% of Africa’s combined population, gender inequality compromises Africa’s long-term economic growth. If each African country matches the country in the region that has shown the most progress toward gender parity, Africa could add $316 billion to its GDP.[2] But at the current rate of progress, it will take Africa more than 140 years to reach full gender parity.[3] While the issues that impact women and girls can and will be addressed in policy initiatives by existing programs, the potential that gender equality holds for advancing the region is too significant for the administration not to address in the overarching strategy.

Africa is rapidly rising as the next demographic and geopolitical giant with its booming population and economic growth rates. While the new strategy ushers in a new cooperative approach between the US and its African partners, it will still take time to understand how thoroughly the new strategy will be implemented. The success of the strategy is dependent on African countries, US allies and development partners and other stakeholders. As Blinken stated last November in Senegal, “[Africa] shaped our past, is shaping our present, and will shape our future.”

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