The Biden administration’s early approach to diplomacy in Africa signals a departure from the early rhetoric of the Trump administration. President Biden directly addressed the 34th African Union Summit where he made a commitment to working with international institutions, like the African Union, to address the challenges posed by COVID-19, conflict, and climate change to the African continent.
The President reversed the travel ban widely referred to as the “Muslim travel ban” as one of the first acts in office. The executive order he signed restarted the entry process for people previously targeted by the Trump Administration ban on entry from multiple Muslim majority countries. The order sends a wider signal of the new administration’s approach to Muslim and African Nations.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative dropped US support for the South Korean candidate for the General-Director of the World Trade Organization and supported the nomination of the first woman and first African to head the WTO. The former Nigerian Finance Minister brings a wealth of experience to the position and US support brings a key endorsement as Dr. Okonjo-Iweala prepares to take her office on March 1st.
As president Biden begins his first round of international calls, he notably has not spoken with the leaders of any African nations. However, at the diplomatic level, Secretary Blinken has spoken with his counterpart in South Africa, South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Nadeli Pandor, and African Union Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat. Both calls covered Covid-19 vaccine distribution and economic security and served as initial meetings.
Secretary Blinken spoke with Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region. The remote region in Northern Ethiopia is currently embroiled in a violent conflict between a complex web of governmental and ethnic militias. The United Nations reports that thousands have been killed and that there are “allegations concerning violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, including artillery strikes on populated areas, the deliberate targeting of civilians, extrajudicial killing and widespread looting.” The call between the two dignitaries comes along side the UN and US calling on Eritrean, a neighbor to the Tigray region, to withdraw its forces from the region immediately.
The Biden-Harris Administration, despite only being in office a few weeks, has managed to already articulate a rebranded, refocused approach to African nations. The address to the 34th AU summit came with a commitment to a respectful and mutually beneficial relationship, while the reversal of the travel ban symbolized a more open attitude. The new administration shows signs of hoping to outcompete China by fostering a deeper relationship with African nations. As time goes on, the Biden-Harris Administration will face a host of issues related to Africa and have already shown the United States is willing to tackle them head on.