What Africa has gained from President Biden’s first five days in office – Perspective by Simon Ateba

Joseph R. Biden Jr. has been in office for about 5 days since he was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States on January 20, 2021, and there have been clear actions in the form of executive orders and policy directions that have already impacted the continent of Africa.

1- World Health Organization

By rejoining the World Health Organization (WHO), President Biden has given millions of Africans another chance to benefit from America’s generosity in the form of vaccinations, treatments and research of global illnesses.

The World Health organization Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Thursday while welcoming the pledge that the United States will remain a member of WHO, noted that “since WHO’s founding in 1948, the United States has played a vital role in global health, and the American people have made enormous contributions to the health of the world’s people.”

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director General 
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director General

That is true. The return of the United States means more people around the world, and particularly in Africa, will continue to receive the vaccinations and treatment that would have stopped with former President Trump’s ill advised decision to dump the WHO.

Also on Thursday, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke by phone with Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to discuss the decision by the United States to reverse its withdrawal from the WHO in one of the first acts following inauguration, fulfill its financial obligations, and work as a constructive partner to strengthen and reform the WHO.

Biden and Harris during their first lunch on Friday, January 22, 2021 
President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President Kamala D. Harris on their way for their first lunch together at the White House on Friday, January 22, 2021.

Harris emphasized that she and President Biden believe the WHO is vital to controlling COVID-19 and building back better the U.S.’s global health and pandemic preparedness, according to the readout of their conversation.

The Vice President and the Director-General also discussed the resumption of the United States’ role in the global public health and humanitarian response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The point made by the vice president is vital, and it is a point that has been made by the WHO countless times, that strengthening the WHO and combatting COVID-19 around the world is not just in the interest of people living there, but in the interest of the United States to avoid reinfections here at home.

2 – Biden reinstated the deferred enforced departure for Liberians

President Biden on Wednesday also reinstated the deferred enforced departure for Liberians in a memorandum for the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security.

In his memorandum, Biden wrote: “Since 1991, the United States has provided safe haven for Liberians who were forced to flee their country as a result of armed conflict and widespread civil strife, in part through the grant of Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The armed conflict ended in 2003, and TPS for affected Liberian nationals ended effective October 1, 2007. 

“President Bush then deferred the enforced departure of those Liberians originally granted TPS. President Obama, in successive memoranda, extended that grant of Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) to March 31, 2018. President Trump then determined that conditions in Liberia did not warrant a further extension of DED, but that the foreign policy interests of the United States warranted affording an orderly transition period for Liberian DED beneficiaries. President Trump later extended that DED transition period through March 30, 2020.

“In December 2019, the Congress enacted the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (Public Law 116-92) (NDAA), which included, as section 7611, the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF) provision. The LRIF provision, with limited exceptions, makes Liberians who have been continuously present in the United States since November 20, 2014, as well as their spouses and children, eligible for adjustment of status to that of United States lawful permanent resident (LPR). The NDAA gave eligible Liberian nationals until December 20, 2020, to apply for this adjustment of status. After the enactment of the LRIF provision, President Trump further extended the DED transition period through January 10, 2021, to ensure that DED beneficiaries would continue to be eligible for employment authorization during the LRIF application period.

“The LRIF application process was hampered by a slow launch, cumbersome procedures, and delays in adjudication. Recognizing these difficulties, the Congress enacted a 1-year extension to the application period in section 901 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (Public Law 116-260). That legislation, however, did not provide for continued employment authorization past January 10, 2021, the expiration of the most recent DED transition period.

“There are compelling foreign policy reasons to reinstate DED for an additional period for those Liberians presently residing in the United States who were under a grant of DED as of January 10, 2021. Providing work authorization to these Liberians, for whom we have long authorized TPS or DED in the United States, while they initiate and complete the LRIF status-adjustment process, honors the historic close relationship between the United States and Liberia and is in the foreign policy interests of the United States.

“I urge all Liberian DED beneficiaries to apply promptly for adjustment of status, and I direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to review the LRIF application procedures administered by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to ensure that they facilitate ease of application and timely adjudication.”

3- Repeal of Muslim and African travel ban

President Biden also issued an executive order on Wednesday repealing former President Trump’s Muslim and African travel ban.

In his presidential proclamation, President Biden wrote: “The United States was built on a foundation of religious freedom and tolerance, a principle enshrined in the United States Constitution. 

“Nevertheless, the previous administration enacted a number of Executive Orders and Presidential Proclamations that prevented certain individuals from entering the United States — first from primarily Muslim countries, and later, from largely African countries. Those actions are a stain on our national conscience and are inconsistent with our long history of welcoming people of all faiths and no faith at all.”

The president added: “Beyond contravening our values, these Executive Orders and Proclamations have undermined our national security. They have jeopardized our global network of alliances and partnerships and are a moral blight that has dulled the power of our example the world over. And they have separated loved ones, inflicting pain that will ripple for years to come. They are just plain wrong. 

“Make no mistake, where there are threats to our Nation, we will address them. Where there are opportunities to strengthen information-sharing with partners, we will pursue them. And when visa applicants request entry to the United States, we will apply a rigorous, individualized vetting system. But we will not turn our backs on our values with discriminatory bans on entry into the United States.”

4- Asylum claims and visas

President Biden is also sending an immigration bill to Congress that raises cap on U visas from 10,000 to 30,000 and eliminates one-year deadline for filing asylum claims.

The White House explained that the bill “provides hardworking people who enrich our communities every day and who have lived here for years, in some cases for decades, an opportunity to earn citizenship.”

In addition, the White House added that legislation also “modernizes our immigration system, and prioritizes keeping families together, growing our economy, responsibly managing the border with smart investments, addressing the root causes of migration from Central America, and ensuring that the United States remains a refuge for those fleeing persecution. The bill will stimulate our economy while ensuring that every worker is protected. The bill creates an earned path to citizenship for our immigrant neighbors, colleagues, parishioners, community leaders, friends, and loved ones—including Dreamers and the essential workers who have risked their lives to serve and protect American communities.”

5- Paris Climate Accord and racial injustices

By rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement to combat climate change and by promising to fight racism and racial inequalities, President Biden has signaled that he will stand justice in the world and he will not stand by while Black people are being killed in the United States in the world.

There have been many signals coming from the Biden administration in the past five days, including that democracy and the freedom of the press will be protected, that also show that the continent of Africa has already benefits from President Biden, who has just been in office for five days.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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