Opinion: Here's the map Biden's administration should follow on Africa
09 December 2022
As African leaders prepare to gather in Washington this month at the invitation of President Joe Biden, they share a vision for our continent's renaissance and a road map for realizing it. They are asking U.S. policymakers to work off the same map.
As members of the African diplomatic corps, we have every reason to expect a positive response. The Biden administration has signaled a fundamental shift in how U.S. policymakers think about Africa. The focus, says Secretary of State Antony Blinken, is now on "what we will do with African nations and peoples, not for African nations and peoples."
Underpinning this shift is the welcome recognition, in Blinken's words, that "too often African nations have been treated as instruments of other nations' progress rather than the authors of their own.”
The summiteers are bringing an African-authored plan, Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, a strategic blueprint adopted by the African Union in 2013. The aim is a prosperous continent of nations at peace, economically integrated through the African comprehensive free trade agreement now in the early stages of implementation, and occupying their rightful place in the global order.
This Africa will be industrialized. African-based industries will be turning Africa's mineral endowment into advanced products for African and world markets instead of shipping it abroad for value to be added elsewhere. Tapping the continent's vast agricultural potential, Africa will be feeding itself and helping feed the world, insulated from distant disruptions beyond its control. Gone will be the old yet persistent colonial-era model of Africa as a treasure house of commodities to be harvested and mined and trucked to the nearest port to process and generate profits in the global north and Asia.
That model's legacy is an Africa where the arteries of commerce mostly lead to the sea and very few connect the continent with itself, hamstringing the growth of intra-African trade and value chains. The Africa We Want will be crisscrossed by rail and power lines and an interstate highway system to rival what former President Eisenhower launched in the U.S. in the 1950s. Goods, services, and energy will flow across Africa's borders as easily as they do in Western Europe.
Leapfrogging the global north's smokestack path to industrialization, The Africa We Want will be built to withstand and mitigate climate change — and to seize the opportunities created by the global transition to combustion-free energy. It will be a significant part of the solution to global warming.
The Congo River basin will be preserved as a mighty lung to absorb and store carbon dioxide. African-built electric vehicles will be powered by batteries assembled in Africa using cobalt, manganese, and rare-earth elements mined and processed in Africa. The electricity to charge those batteries will be generated with African sun, wind, hydropower and other carbon-free technologies.
It is a long way from here to there. We need partners like the U.S. who are ready to work with Africans in breaking down the paradigms that have held us back. The ties that bind the U.S. and Africa are real and have deep underpinnings in a vibrant and hugely significant diaspora.
This month's summit will see the U.S.-African partnership strengthened on many fronts. The U.S. has played a historic role in helping Africans fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. In fact, the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, has allocated over $100 billion in nearly 20 years to the HIV/AIDS response in Africa. The investment PEPFAR has made in developing health infrastructure is now being leveraged to fight other emerging health security threats. We look to the day when we will no longer have to trouble our friends for resources, expertise, patents, and manufacturing capacity to improve public health and deal with emergencies like COVID-19. The current COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that a disease threat anywhere is a security, economic, and health threat everywhere.
A quarter of a century ago, U.S. policymakers heeded Africa's call for an economic relationship built on trade rather than aid. The U.S. Congress responded in 2000 with the groundbreaking African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA, which has spurred investment in job-creating African export sectors through uniquely generous preferential access to the U.S. market.
AGOA is due for renewal in 2025 and the summit will provide a unique opportunity to review what it has accomplished and how it might best be enhanced in line with Africa's own intracontinental trade agenda at a time when nonreciprocal trade preferences are falling out of favor.
If African nations are not to be "instruments of other nations' progress" but "authors of [our] own," as Blinken put it, we need access to patient, competitively priced capital raised on sound and transparent market principles rather than to advance global power agendas or perpetuate the colonial-era paradigm that has helped to keep Africa exploitatively at the bottom of the value chain.
Through programs such as Power Africa, Prosper Africa, and the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, the Biden administration and U.S. congressional leaders are helping to mobilize finance for projects that align with the goals of The Africa We Want. These initiatives must advance beyond aspiration to actualization to be meaningful. In the context of AGOA's renewal, there have been calls for the U.S. to encourage private investment in targeted sectors, health and green energy for example, with tax incentives and guarantees, leveraged by the U.S. strong bond market, to assist African institutions access global financing at competitive rates. Ideally, the summit will lend momentum to such consequential proposals.
The Biden administration's determination to change the way the U.S. thinks about Africa opens the door to bold new approaches. Blinken's words ring in Africans’ ears: "We can't achieve our goal around the world — whether that's ending the HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 pandemics, building a strong and inclusive global economy, combating the climate crisis, or revitalizing democracy and defending human rights — without the leadership of African governments, institutions, and citizens."