As Biden approaches 100 days in office, what has he done for human rights in Africa?

U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is quickly approaching his 100th day in office this Thursday. Upon taking office, Biden made big promises for the future of American foreign relations, saying that he would re-establish the United States as a diplomatic and dynamic force for good in the world.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken records a video message at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 10, 2021. [State Department Photo by Freddie Everett 
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken records a video message at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 10, 2021. [State Department Photo by Freddie Everett

As Africa faces a multitude of crises and challenges, what has his administration done to be a force for good in Africa and what further action is required in order to work toward resolving the continent’s ongoing humanitarian issues?

Biden’s focus during the first few months of his presidency has understandably been on responding to the coronavirus pandemic and facilitating the widespread distribution of vaccines. While his primary objective has been to resolve domestic issues such as high unemployment rates and a struggling economy, he has also consistently asserted that international diplomacy will be a priority in his administrative agenda.

President Biden has pledged to stand up for human rights and defend democracy around the world. However, questions have been raised about the extent to which African nations are included in this vision.

It is important that the President takes a cooperative approach to combatting humanitarian issues in Africa, working alongside African leaders and heads of state. So far, the Biden administration has taken good first steps but there is still much work to be done in Africa.

Mary Catherine Phee 
Mary Catherine Phee has been nominated to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and Chair of the Board of Foreign Service

In March, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed the administration’s condemnation of the ethnic cleansing in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, even engaging in a phone conversation with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed about the situation.

While some diplomatic steps toward resolving the conflict have been made, the people of Tigray still find themselves subject to violence and hundreds of thousands are displaced from their homes. An April 8 statement from USAID reported that approximately 4.5 million people across the region are in need of humanitarian assistance.

U.S. President Biden has called for a significantly different approach to world affairs than his predecessor, President Trump. As opposed to Trump’s “America first” philosophy favoring detachment from the issues of other countries, Biden has promised that he will put diplomacy back at the center of American foreign policy and protect democratic values around the world.

There is no better opportunity for the president to live up to this promise than by committing to use diplomacy as a tool to combat widespread food insecurity, economic instability, human rights abuses, and authoritarianism across Africa.

President Joe Biden takes notes during a briefing on the shootings in Atlanta Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in the Oval Office Dining Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz) 
President Joe Biden takes notes during a briefing on the shootings in Atlanta Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in the Oval Office Dining Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

President Biden has offered hope for improved diplomatic relations with African nations with his recent appointments for positions such as Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

Yet, there is much more that can and must be done regarding relations between the United States and Africa moving forward. When it comes to foreign policy, the Biden administration seems to have its hands full with countries such as China, Russia, and Iran. However, the existence of complex challenges in other parts of the world cannot be an excuse for turning a blind eye to the many problems facing Africa, which have consistently gone unaddressed in speeches and press conferences.

While some African nations such as Niger have made tremendous strides toward democracy, there are many obstacles facing the widespread democratization of the continent- where autocracy is prevalent. Africa presents many opportunities for the Biden administration to take a bold stand against authoritarianism in defense of democratic values.

Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs at the time, briefs press at UN Headquarters in 2018. Photo taken by Loey Felipe 
Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs at the time, briefs press at UN Headquarters in 2018. Photo taken by Loey Felipe

There are many crises currently taking place throughout Africa including human rights abuses in Egypt, ethnic cleansing in Tigray, mounting Ethiopia-Sudan tensions, and the widespread food shortages across the continent caused by droughts, displacements, and economic instability.

As African leaders and civilians call out for assistance, their concerns must not fall on deaf ears. The Biden administration has taken steps in the right direction when it comes to United States-Africa relations and diplomatic affairs.

However, there is still much work to be done and the coming months and years of Biden’s presidency will have a great impact in establishing the role of the United States in combatting human rights issues in Africa, a continent of 1.3 billion people.

President Joe Biden sits with Vice President Kamala Harris to review notes on Monday, March 29, 2021, in the West Wing of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz) 
President Joe Biden sits with Vice President Kamala Harris to review notes on Monday, March 29, 2021, in the West Wing of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Will Africa become a blind spot in Biden’s foreign policy agenda, or will his administration continue to take action and hold to his promise of promoting democracy and standing up for human rights where they have been oppressed?

Noah Pitcher is a global politics correspondent for Today News Africa covering the U.S. government, United Nations, African Union, and other actors involved in international developments, political controversies, and humanitarian issues.

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