President Joseph R. Biden Jr. may have hosted only one African leader at the White House so far since his inauguration on January 20, 2021, but he is committed to “advancing the most ambitious agenda to reinvigorate our longstanding partnership across the continent,” a senior administration official told Today News Africa on Tuesday.
The official, who was asked to compare the Obama-Biden with the Biden-Harris administrations, especially because President Obama hosted close to 50 African leaders in Washington, vehemently defended the current government without undermining the previous one, saying that “within weeks of taking office, President Biden made a strong public commitment to partnering with the African Union in a video message for the African Union Summit.”
“In addition to hosting President (Uhuru) Kenyatta for an Oval office meeting, he also recently spoke to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa,” the official said during an interview in Washington D.C. “Vice President Harris similarly has held high-level engagements with African leaders to advance U.S.-African partnership, including a call early in the administration to President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Felix Tshisekedi. She’s also held bilateral meetings with President Nana Akufo-Addo of the Republic of Ghana, President Hakainde Hichilema of the Republic of Zambia, and President Samia Hassan of the Republic of Tanzania.“
In addition, said the official, “Senior Biden-Harris administration officials have also traveled to Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Equatorial Guinea, and Mauritania to name a few.”
“President Biden looks forward to hosting the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit later this year, convening heads of state from both North and sub-Saharan Africa, including the African Union Commission Chair,” the official added.
Despite the rosy picture from the senior Biden administration official, questions have been raised in recent months and weeks, following the travel ban last November on eight African nations over the Omicron variant that was already in many other parts of the world, and most recently, following the silence that greeted cries by Ethiopian and Cameroonian refugees in the United States.
At his regular press briefing on April 13, the Director General of the World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asserted that the world does not seem to give equal attention to “black and white lives.”
Speaking in Geneva, Switzerland, the WHO chief reiterated his argument that while it is right for the world to focus on the conflict in Ukraine, which is affecting the whole world, there does not seem to be the same urgency when it comes to Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis or conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan where millions of people are also in need of humanitarian aid.
“The world is not treating the human race the same way, some people are more equal than others,” Dr. Ghebreyesus said, adding that it pains him to say those world, but it would be better for the world to come back to “its senses” and treat all humans equally.
He described what is happening in Ethiopia’s Tigray region as a tragedy, with people being burned alive and starving to death, adding that “we need to take every life seriously.”
Dr. Ghebreyesus is not the only one pointing out the double standard when it comes to how the world and the United States react to tragedies affecting black and white people.
Last month, at least 18 U.S. senators urged President Biden to designate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Cameroon to provide “lifesaving protection to Cameroonians in the United States.
“The insecurity in nine of ten of the country’s regions and nationwide government repression of political dissent and use of torture and incommunicado detention make safe return for Cameroonian nationals in the United States impossible,” the Senators wrote in their March 23 letter to Biden.
“In light of the armed conflict and other extraordinary and temporary conditions engulfing the nation, American principles and international law compel the United States to protect the safety of Cameroonian nationals present in this county by ensuring that they are not forced to return to Cameroon. Only a limited number of individuals will be eligible for TPS: an estimated 40,000 Cameroonians, over 7,000 of whom are children, are currently in the United States,” the Senators wrote.
The letter was signed by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Coons (D-DE), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ed Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Senator Tim Kaine and Tammy Baldwin.
The letter was supported by the Cameroon Advocacy Network, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch, and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.
The Senators asserted that the conditions in Cameroon warrant an initial 18-month Temporary Protected Status designation. TPS is a form of statutory relief made available to nationals of a designated country living in the U.S. when return to their home country would be unsafe due to ongoing armed conflict, the temporary effects of an environmental disaster, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. TPS provides life-saving protection from deportation and permission to work in the U.S. for the duration of the designation.
In its most recent human rights report on Cameroon, the State Department catalogued a troubling series of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detention, violence against women and children, and targeted attacks against members of the LGBTQ+ community. Human Rights Watch released a report on February 10, 2022, describing the unspeakable horrors that await Cameroonian returnees. Returnees and their families have been raped, tortured, beaten, arbitrary arrested, extorted, and threatened by law enforcement, military personnel, other agents of the state, as well as by armed separatists. They have also been detained in inhumane, unsanitary, and degrading conditions. Many were targeted because of their deportation to Cameroon from the U.S. and presumed opposition to the Cameroonian government.
The White House’s response
At a press briefing on April 5, the White House reacted to a request by 18 U.S. senators urging President Biden to designate Cameroon for Temporary Protected Status.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked whether President Biden was considering granting the request by American senators that Cameroon is unstable and too dangerous to send back migrants there. It was the first time the White House had officially reacted to the request.
“That’s an assessment (that) is made by a process led by the Department of Homeland Security, so I don’t have any prediction of that at this point in time,” Psaki said during a White House press briefing.
The White House has not gone beyond those words, prompting many to question whether Mr. Biden who repeatedly sided with black Africans, especially those in South Africa during their fight for freedom, has decided to let the continent down now that he’s president of the United States.
During the interview on Tuesday, the Senior administration official argued that President Biden’s vision was for a better Africa where democracy thrives and relationships are stronger.
The official cited COVID-19 vaccine donations by the United States to Africa and several other moves in the areas of trade, diplomacy, security and human rights, including in the Horn of Africa.
But rosy words and condemnations may not change the perception by many in Africa and beyond that the Biden administration is not giving a fair shot to black and white people going through similar pains.