Val Okaru-Bisant and Frank Samolis
Some pundits are speculating and predicting about President-Elect Biden’s foreign policy towards various countries because it is still too early to determine the nature of his policies. However, one can make some clear predictions about his foreign policies towards Africa, based on four influential factors, including his campaign promises, past record, legacy drivers and choice of inner-circle and cabinet picks for US Ambassador to the UN, Secretary of State, Special Envoy for Climate Change and Vice President and US Senate Runoff in Georgia.
Undisputedly, Biden’s campaign promises and post-election actions signal his interest in re-invigorating African diplomatic relationships, multilateralism and bilateralism based on mutual gain and mutual respect. He will most likely take a more proactive approach than President Trump’s administration, whose relationship with Africa and Prosper Africa policy was mainly driven by reaction to China’s intervention (in Africa) and was also based on bilateral trade relations, including the ongoing US-Kenya free trade agreement. But Biden will also most likely preserve some of Trump’s existing bilateral agreements, including completing the US bilateral trade negotiations with Kenya and possibly, engaging with other African nations. However, he will refute Trump’s anti-multilateralism.
Based on Biden-Harris 2020 agenda for African Diaspora, he (President-Elect) will roll back President Trumps unfavorable immigration policies, restore failing diplomatic relations with African nations and increase African diaspora job representation in US Foreign Service and government. Within a few weeks of being elected, he spoke with South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, Chairman of the Africa Union and expressed his wish to deepen America’s strategic relationship with the African Union, South Africa, other African governments, institutions and citizens. They discussed mutual interest in combating corruption and addressing COVID19 and the threat to climate change.
But beyond Biden’s written pro- Africa words and initial actions, his past record dating back to when he was a US senator demonstrates commitment to strengthen US foreign relations and moral based interventions with African nations. In July 23, 1986, in a congressional hearing, the then Senator Biden forcefully urged Secretary of State George Shultz and the Reagan administration to repudiate and take measures against racism in South Africa.
Biden’s non-racist and inclusive policies are also reflected in picking Linda Greenfield, an African American woman and veteran African diplomat, to be US ambassador to the UN. His choice is also indicative of commitment to strengthen US Africa relations based on deeper diplomatic relations and civilian power. Greenfield will utilize her successful track record in using diplomatic means to strengthen relationships with African nations and her experience as assistant secretary for Bureau of African Affairs, focusing on US policy in sub-Saharan Africa. She worked in a diplomatic capacity in several of several African nations, including Liberia, Kenya, Nigeria and Gambia. Her November 23, 2020 acceptance tweet raises some likelihood that she will recreate Secretary Hillary Clinton’s three pillars of foreign policy (under Obama administration), including diplomacy, defense and development with an emphasis on building global alliances and leading through civilian diplomatic power.
Similarly, the President-Elect’s decision to pick Anthony Blinken to be Secretary of State also signals a plan to restore some of Obama’s foreign policy legacy in Africa and beyond, including multilateralism, restoring relations with US African allies and leading through Hillary Clinton’s form of civilian diplomatic power. Anthony will most likely rejuvenate Secretary Hillary Clinton three pillars of US foreign policies with emphasis on diplomacy and development. He may adopt some aspects of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s policy of transformational diplomacy, but will repudiate Trumps reactive and isolationist policies. He (Anthony) is an outspoken defender of global alliances and was deputy Secretary of State under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Obama Administration. Therefore, he will most likely restore broken relationships and strengthen US role and trust in the multilateral system, including the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations. He and John Kerry, Biden’s pick for the newly created Special Envoy for Climate Change will also lead and support US measures to re-enter the Paris Climate Accord.
Biden’s pick of John Kerry for the newly created Climate change position and Kamala Harris as the first Black person and first female to be US Vice President also signifies his threefold planned zeal to establish a new legacy, refute Trump’s anti-environmental protection and anti- multilateralism legacy and restore President Obama administration’s legacy, where he served as Vice President.
But beyond Biden’s cabinet picks, his administration’s legacy and ability to fulfil his foreign policy plans for Africa will be influenced and defined by the January 2021 results of the two US Senate runoff races in Georgia. Assuming that the Democrats, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, win those Senate runoff races, then with a Democrat Senate majority, Biden will be able to carry out his foreign policy plans smoothly. But if they lose, GOP senate majority will most likely limit his ability to take action and may force him to use executive orders.
Regardless of the outcome in those runoff races, Biden is President-Elect, so African nations and multilateral organizations should still be ready for a big change from business as usual to a new chapter and optimistic trajectory of US foreign policy with renewed allied relations based on mutual gain, mutual partnership and mutual trust. It is too early to predict whether or not President-Elect Biden’s policies will support more financial aid flows to African nations and multilateral institutions than Obama administration. However, it is clear that he will have a more friendly approach to those nations and multilateral organizations than Trump’s administration. The aforementioned influential factors raise the likelihood that he will be driven by foreign policies that create his own legacy, refute President Trump’s isolationist and anti-multilateralism policies and restore President Obama’s legacy of combined multilateralism and bilateralism and three pillars of foreign policy with an emphasis on leading through soft power of diplomacy/development.
Val Okaru-Bisant, Esq, Professor, The Catholic University of America, Washington DC; Professor (former adjunct) George Washington University, The Elliott School of International Affairs, Washington DC; CEO, Founder & General Counsel, Afrocosmo Development Impact, LLC, Maryland, USA; www.afrocosdev.com. Frank Samolis, Esq, Partner and Co-Chair, Global Trade, Squire Patton Boogs, LLP, Washington DC