President Joseph R. Biden Jr. took questions from reporters at the White House on Wednesday for nearly two hours, but not even once did Africa come up in a substantive way during the press conference.
There was no African reporter credentialed to attend the briefing and no other reporter in the room asked any question about Africa, even though the world’s second most populous continent has been one of the key focuses of the Biden foreign policy agenda in 2021.
Biden indirectly mentioned Africa only once when he referred to any potential conflict in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
President Biden and his officials repeatedly said in their first year in office that re-engaging with the world and Africa would be a priority, but when it came to laying out his priorities this year, there was no African reporter in the room and Africa was not discussed as well.
During his briefing, Mr. Biden, 79, talked about vaccinating the world to end the coronavirus pandemic, but he did not specifically refer to Africa, and the low vaccination rate there.
The press conference was dominated by his domestic agenda and the showdown with Russia in Ukraine.
There were reporters from all continents except those from Africa. Journalists from the Middle East asked questions about the Middle East. Those from Europe asked questions about Europe and it was the same thing about Asia and everywhere else.
Yet, the United States has been engaged in the crises in Ethiopia, Sudan and everywhere in the Horn of Africa.
This week, two senior American officials are traveling to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to urge Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali to end air strikes on Tigray, restore humanitarian access to the region and release political prisoners.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Mary Catherine Phee and newly appointed Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa David Satterfield are traveling to Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Ethiopia from January 17 to 20, 2022.
Their first stops will be in Saudi Arabia and Sudan before completing their three-nation tour in Ethiopia mid-week.
The trip to Ethiopia follows a phone call between U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali on January 10.
The officials “will encourage government officials to seize the current opening for peace by ending the air strikes and other hostilities, negotiating a ceasefire, releasing all political prisoners, restoring sustained humanitarian access, and laying the foundation for an inclusive national dialogue,” the State Department said in a news release on Friday.
In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Assistant Secretary Phee and Special Envoy Satterfield will attend a meeting of the Friends of Sudan, “intended to marshal international support for the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission to Sudan (UNITAMS) in its efforts to facilitate a renewed civilian-led transition to democracy,” added the State Department.
Following the Friends of Sudan meeting, the Assistant Secretary and Special Envoy Satterfield will travel to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, where they will meet with pro-democracy activists, women and youth groups, civil society, military leaders, and political figures.
“Their message will be clear: the United States is committed to freedom, peace, and justice for the Sudanese people,” the State Department said.
In his first year in office, Mr. Biden’s relationship with Africa has been a bit complicated. He has shipped millions of vaccine doses to the continent to beat COVID-19, sent envoys to Ethiopia, Sudan and elsewhere to seek peace and strengthen ties with the continent, and personally hosted one African head of state at the White House.
But Mr. Biden also imposed a travel ban on eight African nations over the Omicron variant of COVID-19 which was first detected in South Africa, Botswana and Hong-Kong and was already present in virtually all other countries, including here in the United States. That ban has been lifted but remained in place for several weeks even though the virus was all over the world and evidence suggested that it had long been spreading undetected in the United States.
That ban led to contentious exchanges between White House Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki and Today News Africa White House Correspondent Simon Ateba.
The White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) then decided to limit access to the White House briefing room to only 14 reporters until January 21, even though virtually all White House reporters had been fully vaccinated and boosted, always wear face masks and regularly undergo testing.
WHCA claimed that it was basing its decision on recommendations from health and medical experts. However, medical experts have repeatedly touted vaccination, wearing of face masks and regular testing as the safest way to beat the virus and return to life as it was before the year 2020.
Neither Today News Africa nor any other African media house were included in the rotation cycle, meaning that no African reporter has attended a White House press briefing this year, or any other event, even as President Biden escalated engagement with the continent, including having a phone call with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali on January 10 over the devastating humanitarian tragedy in Tigray, northern Ethiopia.