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Biden and the World – Part 2: Opportunities for Africa in a U.S. Diplomatic Reboot

As Americans chose change over continuity by picking a seasoned statesman over a divisive showman, the world looks to reap predictable multilateral and diplomatic dividends. President-elect Joe Biden is no stranger to multilateralism and diplomacy. His long career has placed him at the center of U.S. foreign policy.

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Given converging challenges at home and abroad, the United States needs a return to evidence-based policy, consistency, and systematic action. A hard U.S. foreign policy reboot is essential.

Since 2017, the United States has led the strongest assault on global multilateralism that the United Nations has faced in its seventy-five years. The U.S. withdrawal from major accords such as the Paris Agreement and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action fostered uncertainty and flux.  

This could soon change, however. Biden respects multilateralism and a rules-based international system. He believes that America should lead by example. Against a backdrop of a global pandemic, working with the World Health Organization to prevent infection and boost the race for a COVID-19 vaccine will send positive signals.

Rebuilding the relationship with Africa will require a change of tack—to focus on Africa’s potential and challenges rather than to use the continent as a space for competition with China. Biden could build on former President Barack Obama’s legacy of supporting the African Union to drive democratic governance. In the wake of fragile transitions in Algeria and Sudan, the clear opportunity is to partner to improve governance and ensure civilian transfer of power.

The fight against terrorism has had constructive results in the Sahel, Lake Chad Basin, and Somalia, but has not eradicated terrorist groups. A reassessment of Washington’s counterterrorism support to African states could prioritize more comprehensive approaches.

Impartial mediation in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam dispute, drawing on principles of equality and international law, will drive win-win outcomes for all parties involved.

The United States will likely find allies to speed up its diplomatic reboot but will also encounter stiff challenges in driving sustainable resolutions to perennial and emergent challenges—from the Middle East to the Eastern Mediterranean. The world is ready for the reboot, however.  

Fonteh Akum

Executive Director, Institute for Security Studies (South Africa)

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