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.
In his first formal press conference since taking office, U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke for over an hour, highlighting humanitarian issues around the world and asserting that now is the time to stand up for the future of democracy. However, Africa did not come up in the discussion once.
President Biden spoke extensively about the importance of defending democracy around the world, specifically referencing Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin and their embrace of autocratic rule.
Mr. Biden blasted the oppressive Chinese government for its “blatant human rights violations” and asserted that democracy is at stake as autocratic countries like China continue to gain power.
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Recounting a conversation he had with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Biden said during his press conference, “As long as you and your country continue to so blatantly violate human rights, we are going to continue in an unrelenting way to call to the attention of the world and make it clear what’s happening.”
Why should this same standard not also be applied to ruling parties in African countries, where autocracy is pervasive? Instead, the press did not have any questions for President Biden about humanitarian crises in Africa and he did not specifically mention any of the problems facing the people of Africa.
Today News Africa White House correspondents in Washington D.C. Simon Ateba and Kristi Pelzel were not among the 30 seated journalists selected for the president’s first briefing.
While countries like China and Russia receive immense media attention in America, human rights abuses and authoritarian rulers in Africa seldom get mentioned in the headlines.
In many countries across Africa, democracy has struggled to take a steady foothold. Corruption is widespread in many governments and voices of dissent are often silenced or suppressed by whatever means necessary.
Power-hungry rulers like Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, have abused their power at the expense of their own people, resulting in countless deaths. Many governments, like that of Uganda and Ethiopia, have restricted internet access in order to manipulate elections and stifle opposition.
Many heads of state alter laws in order to operate with unchecked power and stay in office, such as when former Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni amended the country’s constitution to eliminate term limits.
There are numerous armed conflicts currently unfolding in Africa, many of which have indiscriminately victimized or targeted civilians, such as the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia.
It seems that the rest of the world has become accustomed to human rights abuses in Africa and no longer gives them the attention and condemnation that they rightfully deserve. This is demonstrated by the fact that no journalists at President Biden’s Thursday press conference had any questions relating to Africa.
Democracy cannot possibly prevail if no light is shone on these repressive regimes and their human rights abuses. Truly standing up for democracy in the world means rebuking the autocratic rule of many unjust African regimes.
If democracy is to overcome its adversaries, neither the media nor prominent world leaders can minimize the struggles and crises that are occurring in African nations.
President Biden is correct in his assessment that there is a conflict going on between democracy and autocracy. However, this is most apparent and pervasive in Africa.
In his press conference, Mr. Biden said, “Americans value the notion of freedom. America values human rights.” If this truly is the case, the right thing to do it to come to the defense of democratic ideals and human rights wherever they are being infringed upon, including Africa.
This administration cannot honestly claim to stand up for freedom and democracy around the world if autocratic regimes are allowed to continue committing heinous crimes against humanity across Africa.
Africa has seen many glimmers of hope in the past few years, as many countries have made strides toward democratization. However, it is too easy for these countries to regress into autocracies if left unchecked by the international community and many countries still operate in complete dictatorial regimes.
Africa, as a continent, can potentially be on a path toward democracy, but only if its leaders are held accountable and the international community comes to the defense of vulnerable people that are brutalized by human rights abuses.