On Aug. 8, the Biden administration announced the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa (“Strategy”), outlining the president’s economic, political, environmental and security priorities in the region. The Strategy was released to coincide with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s trip to South Africa, where he delivered remarks on the document. Blinken stated the policy “builds on the broad vision for our nation’s engagement in the region … bringing together people from different disciplines, background and nationalities to tackle some of the most vexing challenges of our time.”
The Strategy identifies numerous issues that the United States hopes to work to solve with the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa including climate change, COVID-19, backsliding democracies, terrorism, food scarcity and the encroaching influence of Russia and China. The release identifies four pillars the U.S. plans to address regarding these adversities:
- Foster Openness and Open Societies
- Deliver Democratic and Security Dividends
- Advance Pandemic Recovery and Economic Opportunity
- Support Conservation, Climate Adaptation and Just Energy Transition
To deliver on these promises, America is expected to rely on allocated foreign aid, public-private investment and the substantial soft power it wields in the region. It is widely viewed that the Biden administration is targeting this oft-overlooked area, which only accounts for 1.2% of the U.S.’s two-way trade, due to its expected economic growth, geostrategic importance particularly with regard to critical minerals and rare earths, and to counter the growing presence and influence of Russia and China.
The first pillar of the Strategy seeks to foster openness and open societies to make sure republics of the regions “are able to make their own political choices, consistent with international obligations.” To ensure this, the United States would look to increase transparency and accountability in both governance and resources use in Sub-Saharan Africa. This would require support for the rule of law to serve as “a bulwark against democratic backsliding,” which America would focus on.
The second pillar focuses on delivering democratic and security dividends, noting that there are strong links between authoritarian governments and environments that foster terrorist groups and malign foreign actors. The U.S. would support this pillar by working with allies and regional partners to slow down the recent trend of military takeovers and authoritarian rulers, while empowering groups that support free and fair elections. They would also improve the ability of local peacekeeping operations to provide stability to the region and reduce the threat from potential terror groups.
The third pillar revolves around pandemic recovery and economic opportunity to counter the economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain disruptions caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Biden administration is committed to helping the region increase their pandemic readiness, especially in the aspects of vaccine manufacturing. They also stand ready to “promote strong growth trajectory and debt sustainability” while they build up human capital and food systems that were worn down by the pandemic and the Russian invasion.
The fourth and final pillar of the Strategy narrows in on supporting conservation, climate adaptation and just energy transition to fight against the possible catastrophic effects of climate change the area is expected to experience. America wants to help the region protect its natural ecosystems and wildlife, while leveraging underused public-private partnerships to find projects that drive green energy production and provide jobs.
More information can be found on the White House fact sheet.
Reaction to the Strategy
Congress had little reaction to the announcement of the Strategy. The document was praised by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY). Meeks said, “It is refreshing to see a clear and candid acknowledgment of the opportunities that have emerged and the gaps that remain [in African foreign policy].” On the Senate side, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), on the other hand, has criticized previous administration action in the region claiming the Biden administration has not done enough to target authoritarian leaders like Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
African governments have reacted positively to the strategy, and privately we have heard from the African diplomatic community relief that the Biden administration is actively seeking to engage the region, a reversal of the Trump administration’s posture toward Africa.
Future of U.S. Relations in the Region
The release of the Sub-Saharan Africa strategy is a demonstration of the Biden administration’s commitment to reengage with the African continent. Coupled with the June announcement of the new Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment initiative, in which the United States government is seeking to invest up to $200 billion over the next five years, the Biden team is clearly looking for ways to bolster U.S. cooperation and ties with Africa, in part to counter the recent inroads Russian and Chinese companies have made on the continent.
We expect the administration to devote significant resources on the continent to further promote infrastructure development in Africa, particularly in the areas of transportation (ports, airport, roads), energy and climate, and health, which provides opportunities for companies that are seeking to engage with or expand their presence on the continent. Additionally, the administration is keenly interested in further developing the continent’s critical minerals production and processing capacities, which will be integral to the energy transition as it moves forward.
Brownstein is uniquely positioned to assist companies and governments that are looking to engage with the administration and the continent on these opportunities. For further information, please contact Samantha Carl-Yoder and Lauren Diekman of the International Practice at Brownstein.
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