As the Biden-Harris administration gears up for its first trip to Africa, policy experts analyze the $55 billion investment in initiatives already pledged to the continent.
This year, President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and several members of the administration’s cabinet will travel to the African continent for the first time since taking office in 2021. As leaders prepare for the consequential visit to the region, America has already made significant commitments to African nations following last month’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C.
The Biden-Harris administration said it will invest at least $55 billion in Africa over the next three years for a range of initiatives, including economic development, tackling climate issues, building health-care systems, strengthening manufacturing and building up digital infrastructure.
Biden’s pledge to African countries has been applauded around the world and signals a renewed relationship between the United States and Africa, which became fraught during the presidency of Donald Trump. Administration officials emphasize the two-way partnership between the U.S. and Africa, highlighting that it is one that includes mutual input from African leaders and their vision for the continent.
“A lot of talk at the summit was about honoring Africa’s agency and its place in the world,” Joseph Tolton, executive director of the Pan-African advocacy group Interconnected Justice, told theGrio. “A part of honoring Africa’s agency is about connecting with Africa so that Africa can fully support herself.”
While the strategy to support and partner with Africa includes a comprehensive list of initiatives, African policy consultant Dorothy Davis tells theGrio the “devil is in the details” opining whether or not the Biden-Harris administration’s commitments will have weight.
“I believe that the Biden administration is very committed to making those things happen, so I’m not doubting that,” said Davis, who runs Dorothy M. Davis Consulting. She said she simply hopes the agenda “will all work through whatever systems it has to work through in order to have that impact.”
Davis said the committed investments and partnership “will help people tremendously on the ground” in Africa, but also in the United States. “It’s going to create jobs for Americans who are involved in those projects, but also it’s going to create opportunities for American entrepreneurs to work with African entrepreneurs.”
Among its many initiatives and programs, the White House unveiled a plan to elevate diaspora engagement between Africans and African Americans, including the U.S. African Development Foundation partnering with philanthropic foundations like the National Basketball Players Association — an effort that will provide capital for African enterprises and community-led projects.
The U.S. also announced that it is aiding Africa’s health systems, including $782 million “to work with partner countries to address capacity gaps and support their National Action Plans for Health Security.” The Biden-Harris administration also committed $215 million in new funding to address the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa, where only 25 percent of Africans are fully vaccinated, according to the Africa CDC.
Additionally, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation announced plans to accelerate regional manufacturing capacity for vaccines, tests and therapeutics. The goal is to procure 15 million HIV tests produced by African manufacturers by 2025 and to have at least 2 million patients on HIV treatments using African-made products by 2030.
Tolton says the administration’s pledge on vaccine production and manufacturing capacity is “not enough,” noting that “vaccine production and manufacturing is a huge issue as it relates to global health.“ He says African nations need critical support in research and development, and he also would’ve liked to see the U.S. make some kind of commitment toward helping Africa secure “TRIPS” waivers, which remove intellectual property barriers for health care and pharmaceutical companies that are producing vaccines.
“That kind of stuff has to get dealt with,” said Tolton. “They certainly need to happen with far more intention and with far clearer outcomes.”
However, the activist admitted that he was impressed by the administration’s investments in Africa’s youth and President Biden’s executive order establishing an African Diasporic Council.
“He’s going to bring together Africans, African Americans and African immigrants on the council to help advise [the administration] around the Africa implementation,” said Tolton. “That’s a really big, big deal that I don’t know if Black Americans are fully aware of.”
To ensure that the commitments and investments in Africa are actually implemented, President Biden named Johnnie Carson, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Obama administration, as the special presidential representative for U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Implementation. Throughout his 37-year career in diplomacy, Carson served as ambassador to Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, and he also served in Botswana, Mozambique and Nigeria.
Davis praised Carson as a “consummate foreign service officer” who is “very well respected across Africa.”
“People believe that when he says something, it really means something. And so picking him was the perfect person. He has all the credentials, per se, to really pull this off,” she said. “That was a very strategic move on the part of the Biden administration. And it was also symbolism in the sense that we mean business.”
While the White House has not indicated which African nations President Biden, Vice President Harris and others will visit, Davis predicted South Africa, Ghana and Botswana could be on the shortlist. She also thinks Ethiopia is an option because it is known as the “capital” of Africa for being where the African Union is headquartered.
Getting a U.S. president to visit Africa has been a “tug of war” in the past, said Davis. But she noted that “it’s always important for the U.S. president to visit Africa.” When Biden and his cabinet make their trip to the continent later this year, it will mark the first time a U.S. president has done so since 2015.
“You’re gonna go to France. You’re gonna go to Germany. You’re going to Switzerland and the U.K.,” noted Davis. “Why can’t you come to Africa? It signals that essentially you care about us.”
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