The White House has not given press briefing access to any journalists or members of the media from Africa despite doing so for journalists from the rest of the world, including Europe, Asia, and the Americas. This raises important concerns and questions about diversity and representation for Africa in briefing attendance.
The White House Correspondents’ Association announced that starting Monday, May 24, attendance at press briefings will be increased to 50 percent capacity after having been drastically reduced for quite some time due to social distancing guidelines caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
With the announcement of increased media capacity comes an increase in participation from additional outlets and journalists hailing from all over the world. However, there is a concerning lack of representation for Africa as it is the only major continent to not have any journalists allowed at these briefings.
The briefings are attended by many media houses from Europe, the Americas, and Asia, but none from Africa. While one or two African media houses have reporters that have been credentialed to cover the White House, none has been allowed to attend press briefings.
Throughout his presidency, Mr. Biden has heavily emphasized the importance of “renewing our role in international institutions, and reclaiming our credibility and moral authority, much of which has been lost,” as he said shortly after his assumption of office.
The decision to limit the number of attendees at press briefings in light of the pandemic is understandable and the steps that have been taken to provide needed services while protecting journalists are greatly appreciated. However, giving representation to a wide range of media outlets as capacity continues to increase is imperative.
The Biden administration has repeatedly asserted that diversity is an important virtue that should be prioritized and has also claimed that Africa is a priority in the President’s foreign policy agenda.
However, the reality that there are no African journalists currently allowed at White House briefings is concerning and raises questions about just how much of a priority Africa and its issues really are for this administration.
While the capacity for seating at press briefings is still very limited, it is important that the White House make it a priority to pursue a diverse press representation that is invited to attend.
Consisting of over 1.3 billion people, Africa is the world’s second largest continent and currently faces numerous economic and humanitarian crises. While it has challenges that need international attention, the continent of Africa is also a growing player on the global stage and an important partner of the United States.
“The United States stands ready now to be your partner in solidarity, support and mutual respect,” said President Biden to African leaders at the African Union Summit in February.
If Africa is to be considered a valuable partner by the United States, it stands to reason that publications representing African interests should be afforded the opportunity to actively report on happenings and developments at the White House. Why are credentialed African journalists still being denied attendance to White House Press briefings?
As issues of race and ethnicity have been brought to the forefront of national discourse over the past year, the Biden administration must commit itself to striving for diversity and representation without exception. Giving a voice and a platform to African Americans is as important as ever and the inclusion of African interests and organizations in White House press briefings is fundamental in doing so.
Africa finds itself at a crossroads as both the United States and China compete for influence and engagement across the continent. The Biden Administration has held to the position that the promotion and defense of democracy around the globe ought to be at the center of United States foreign policy, including as it pertains to Africa.
“We are very much committed to working together with Africans to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, to promote trade and investment, to strengthen security, to tackle the climate crisis, to advance democracy, human rights, [and] the rule of law,” said Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Robert E. Godec in April.
Under the Biden administration, there are many positive steps that have been taken for U.S.-Africa relations. However, there remain questions and concerns that need to be addressed. If the White House is to effectively communicate that the administration is fully committed to working alongside Africa, it will need to give better representation to African journalism.