David Lienemann/The White House

Former Vice President Joe Biden gives remarks to the U.S. – Africa Business Forum, held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, in Washington, D.C., August 5, 2014.

The United States is less than four months away from the election that would determine control of not just the Senate and the House which make up the legislative branch of the American government, but also control of the executive branch, the White House. As the coronavirus rages, and as protests over the mistreatment of black people by police continue, who is going to be the next president come January 2021 is huge. 

It’s a consequential decision that will determine where America goes from here — how to rebuild after a failed Trump presidency and how to move forward after the devastation caused by Covid-19.

There are huge decisions to be made, and there is a price to be paid by the American nation and the world at large if things remain the same. If things move in another direction, say Democrats take back the Senate, or if it remains in Republican control, or if the White House and the Senate change hands, the geopolitical repercussions will ring across the globe in ways never seen before.

Before Election Day on November 3, speculations about what would or could happen are rife. The winds are blowing in many directions. The political war rooms, super PACs, strategists, TV talking heads, smear campaigns, and everything in between, is taking shape. The battle-line is clear.

While this is happening, in slow motion, and with coronavirus scaring the hell out of everyone, I’ve been thinking about what the next administration, perhaps a second Trump presidency, or a new administration led by former senator and now presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, may have as plans to rejuvenate relations between America and the African continent.

The even bigger question is this — what would a Biden administration do about Russia and China in Africa. Africa analysts of all stripes say this issue is probably the biggest test any administration faces in dealing with a 21st century Africa. As an example, African nations, choking under crushing debt owed to China, an estimated $140 billion, are the subject of much discussion within the international lending institutions. 

Let’s be clear. The Obama administration went above and beyond, like no other American president, in raising the level of discourse about the important relations between America and Africa.

Critics of the Obama Africa strategy have often cited accomplishments from say the Clinton or George W. Bush-era as reasons why they thought the two administrations did much more when compared with the Obama Africa strategy.

But when studied, achievements in international relations are not just about tangible things or the exchange of goods and services between the two continents. Trade between Africa and America is one example often used. I won’t get into that here.

But at the very core of the Obama Africa strategy was the need to prioritize, to make it super-important, and accord presidential attention to the things that matter. Obama himself visited the continent twice, during his first year in office and again during his second term.

How the Trump Administration Is Doing Business with Africa   

It was the embattled former U.S. national security adviser, John Bolton, the author of the recently released tell-all book about his time in the White House, who jump-started the Trump administration’s Africa strategy in late 2018.

On June 25 the U.S. Department of Commerce celebrated the first anniversary of the administration’s Prosper Africa initiative and issued this press release.

Check out my previous analysis on this matter.

Failure may be a dirty word to use to describe the administration’s transactional approach to relations with the continent, but it fits a pattern not just with its failure on U.S. domestic issues, but on foreign policy matters as well.

For example, there is increasing consensus among many policy experts that even the administration’s much-touted trade war with China is a failure. A quick review of the many publications on this issue, and the interviews granted to journalists, confirm a dysfunctional trajectory of the Trump administration’s Africa strategy

In a review of the administration’s Africa policy dated June 22, Adva Saldinger, an associate editor at Washington D.C. based Devex writes, “ President Donald Trump has met with just two African presidents in the Oval Office in his first term — fewer than any of his predecessors — has made racist statements, and has strained relations by rolling out limitations on immigration for African countries.”

Saldinger’s review points to some achievements the administration made with U.S-Africa trade and investment, especially with what is known as the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), as well as with the continued rejuvenation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which was reauthorized through Congress.

But beyond that, there is not much to talk about except for the grandiose plan to counter China, Russia, and other countries that have gained a strong foothold in the continent, to the disadvantage of the U.S.

Despite the pessimism, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, Herman Cohen, wrote in April that a lot of the skepticism, especially from commentators, is misleading.

He writes, “Some have interpreted the fact that Trump has not terminated Obama and Bush programs as a sign that he is simply ignoring Africa. Yet this notion flies in the face of substantial active foreign policy efforts there by his administration.”

Cohen, a veteran of the U.S. foreign service, however, acknowledges a lack of strength from the administration in pursuing a real policy agenda far from the reduction of development and military aid, which he thinks are not “telltale signs of withdrawal or disengagement”

Missing — Joe Biden’s Plans for the African Continent

What will a Biden administration, if he becomes president, do to challenge China and Russia, two global powers that have entrenched roots in the continent. The alarm bells about what these two nations are doing in Africa have been ringing for years.

During the Democratic presidential primary contest, the word Africa came up less than five times in the many debates I watched, and in the debate transcripts, examined thereafter.

We have seen Biden’s plans for Black America, under a platform called Lift Every Voice.  On top of this, there is a Biden agenda for the Black Community. We have also seen video clips floating on the internet and transcripts of speeches he made when he spoke against Apartheid in South Africa.

There are allegations he claimed he was arrested during a visit to South Africa in the 1970s, which the candidate has since acknowledged was not true.

There is a Biden plan for Central America, outlined on his campaign website, in which he accuses the Trump administration of a governance style which has resulted in “fear and division” at home and the abandonment of U.S. global leadership. There is even a Biden plan on immigration, which says “Trump has waged an unrelenting assault on our values and our history as a nation of immigrants.”

Within his agenda for restoring American leadership, the candidate makes this lengthy statement:

“A Biden administration will do more than restore our historic partnerships; it will lead the effort to reimagine them for the future. This means keeping NATO’s military capabilities sharp, while also expanding our capacity to take on new, non-traditional threats like weaponized corruption, cyber theft, and new challenges in space and on the high seas; calling on all NATO nations to recommit to their responsibilities as members of a democratic alliance; and strengthening cooperation with democratic partners beyond North America and Europe by reaching out to our partners in Asia to fortify our collective capabilities and integrating our friends in Latin America and Africa.

See the word “Africa” appears at the very bottom of the statement.

I continued looking around on the campaign website but did not see anything specific to the African continent. Nothing! That is the candidate, Joe Biden, running for president of the United States.

Meanwhile, the 2020 Democratic Party Platform, which Biden will assume after he becomes the official nominee, while it lacks details, seems like a tiny consolation for a relationship by the U.S. Democratic party with the giant that is the African continent.