Updated: March 6, 2021
By C. Paschal Eze/Detroit
Because the systems and processes that have spurred and sustained the American democratic experiment for 244 years are still resilient and resplendent, come January 20, 2021, 78-year-old former Vice President Joseph Biden will almost certainly be sworn in as the 46th president, signaling the start of a slightly different path in American domestic and foreign policy; a path that will have serious implications for the African continent.
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The dominant narrative of the continent of over 1 billion people has been that it is poor, weak, crisis-ridden and hopeless, which perhaps explains why President Donald Trump reportedly described countries therein as “shithole.” In the last four years, riding on the train of his America First “policy” that placed immense strategic value on Asia, Trump relegated Africa to the background, and allowed China to make a bigger bet on it (and its vast natural resources, perennially yawning consumer markets, and super lucrative construction contracts).
Trump’s strongman image and anti-abortion posture may have endeared him to some on the largely Black and hyper-religious continent, but it is not lost on others that he imposed sanctions on Gambian-born International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, opposed the reelection of Nigeria’s Akinwumi A. Adesina as Africa Development Bank president, and stood against the election of former Nigerian finance and foreign minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, as president of the World Trade Organization.
Legacies To Build On
Recall that former President Bill Clinton signed into law the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) of May 2000 that allowed for duty-free import of about 6900 products from 39 Sub Saharan African (SSA) countries, including Gambia. Now in the fifth year of its 2015 10-year extension by Obama, the act has made appreciable contributions to African economies despite being dominated by raw materials import. Proponents readily point to South Africa’s annual export of 60, 000 automobiles that has helped to turn its trade deficit with the US to surplus, saying it shows manufactured goods have strong market access under the act. Also, the East African country of Kenya recorded a 5.1% increase in textile sector employment in 2018 due to a 25.8% surge in AGOA-driven exports to the US.
Recall also that former President George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” found a foreign outlet in The President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) which has so far invested $85 billion in helping prevent and control HIV/AIDS in over 50 countries including those on the African continent. PEPFAR is credited with saving 20 million lives since 2003.
But unlike Clinton, a Democrat, and W. Bush, a Republican, Obama and Trump are not known to have designed and implemented any signature program that offered a beautiful and bold hand of friendship and partnership to Africa. Obama whose father was Kenyan was even accused in 2015 of “offending the values of Africa” by supporting gay marriage and abortion.
In the Trump years, direct aid to Africa remained in the Obama era region of $7 billion, but foreign direct investment (FDI) reportedly declined by 14% from $50.4 billion in 2017 to $43.2 billion in 2019 just as US-Africa trade that stood at $100 billion in 2008 went down south to $41 billion in 2018.
Many African rulers and powerful rule-shapers share in the blame for planning to fail in the multi-layered game of state-to-state relations. A state that wants others to help it must first help itself. It is largely a zero-sum game after all, and winners want to keep winning.
When America Leads
Of course, nobody expects Biden to spend all his time in office fighting for African countries like the Gambia and Nigeria instead of trying to meet the needs and aspirations of those who elected him into office. He is an imperfect but very experienced pilot who knows his primary obligation is to his passengers and crew, not to those who are not on the flight. But he also knows its successful takeoff and landing will not depend entirely on his dedication and the comportment of passengers but also on the work of some people who are not on board – like air traffic controllers.
He knows his flight would emit carbon that has consequences for humanity’s climate – from Baltimore and Beijing to Banjul – hence he is placing priority on fighting climate change. He equally knows his passengers are consumers, engineers, physicians, students, teachers, investors, and law enforcement officers that propel the American and global economy. And he knows if the flight crashes, casualties will extend beyond the confines of the aircraft.
Yes, America is indeed the engine room of global political and economic governance and a better America is a better world. It still is, in late President Ronald Reagan’s phraseology, “the shining city upon a hill.” A prosperous America with gainfully employed African immigrants brought about a $48 billion remittance to Sub Saharan Africa in 2019 alone, and, according to the World Bank, the amount will decline to $37 billion this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic-induced economic crisis.
So, Biden must fulfill his promise of ensuring that America does not just “lead by the example of its power but by the power of its example” particularly in strengthening democratic institutions, upholding the rule of law, and promoting human dignity and decency. Any semblance of American compromise of its democratic ideals and practice undermines its moral authority on the global stage and emboldens African drowsy despots and trepid tyrants to do as they please in inflicting mercilessness and misery on their own people. Conversely, the good example of America and the finesse of its diplomacy would help to put them in check.
A Game-Changing Focus On Youth
Beyond that, the fact that Biden was elected US senator at age 29 places on him an intrinsic burden to do all he can for youths everywhere – from America to Africa. Biden should go boldly beyond the confines of the commendable Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and focus on community-rooted youth success building efforts that are led by youths themselves. Of course, by nominating Adewale Adeyemo, the Nigerian-born lawyer and first president of the Chicago-based Obama Foundation as his deputy treasury secretary, Biden has signaled not only a strong interest in breaking racial barriers but also in giving Africa its rightful place in the scheme of things.
Yet, a more meaningful way to do that is through a discerning policy framework that helps the continent’s unemployed youth get gainfully employed and dignified.
In the Gambia where about 60% of the population is under the age of 25, over 50% of them despair in the unfortunate morass of unemployment that has been aptly described as a state of WAITHOOD. The trend is similar across the continent, with people under the age of 35 constituting as much as 77% of the population, which makes it the world’s largest concentration of young potentials. And by 2030, its share of the global youth population is projected to increase to 42%, according to the UN. That means if the current youth unemployment persists – at 60% of the total jobless population – the world would be in bigger trouble, and even the more stringent anti-immigration stance of some Northern countries would not be able to stop their sometimes deadly Northward search for green pastures.
Methodically and collaboratively promoting youth employment on the continent will also help to curtail the lure of criminality and violence that the United States and its Northern allies worry about. As shown in a 2011 World Bank survey, as many as 40% of rebel movement recruits got there because they had no jobs. And a 2017 UN study established that most of the voluntary recruits of extremist groups joined when “employment was their most acute need.”
Thus, imagine the great difference the Biden administration would make in Africa if it clearly and compellingly champions an Africa Youth THRIVE Initiative that helps African youth succeed in their own communities. Imagine the African history Biden would make with THRIVE (Training. Hackathon. Relationship. Inspiration. Voting. Entrepreneurship) starting with a Zoom conference with its youth.
Recognized with the US Congressional Record, and the Spirit of Detroit Award for his compassionate work helping thousands of homeless, hungry, and hurting Michiganders, Eze, a widely traveled Nigerian-born former Gambian newspaper and magazine editor-in-chief, is a Westland Housing Commissioner, board chair of The PuLSE Institute Detroit, and vice president of the 1909-founded Detroit Rescue Mission, America’s largest rescue mission.