By Lisa Vives
At a virtual meeting on February 6 with members of the African Union Summit 2021, President Joe Biden shared his vision for more trade and investment opportunities while advancing peace and security.
“The United States stands ready now to be your partner in solidarity, support and mutual respect,” Biden said in a video address, his first speech to an international forum as U.S. president.
He described a future “committed to investing in our democratic institutions and promoting the human rights of all people, women and girls, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, and people of every ethnic background, religion and heritage.”
The message was warmly welcomed by Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat. The African Union looks forward to “resetting the strategic AU-USA partnership,” he said.
Biden’s tone was a major departure from that of the previous administration, which framed its Africa policy within the context of U.S. competition with China or as a theatre for fighting violent extremism.
On his first day in office, Biden repealed the Trump administration’s ban on travellers from Muslim-majority and African countries, including Libya, Somalia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania.
“Just the very fact that Biden did it [addressed the African Union] changes the tone immeasurably from the previous administration,” said Michael Shurkin, a senior political scientist focusing on Africa at the RAND Corporation told the Voice of America.
“By focusing on Africa for Africa’s sake, Africans for Africans’ sake, that’s actually a far more effective way to compete with the Chinese,” he added
In January 2018, President Donald Trump was criticized for allegedly using a derogatory term in describing African nations.
On February 4, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. He expressed his grave concern about the humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region and urged immediate, full, and unhindered humanitarian access to prevent further loss of life.
The State Department is also reportedly considering action against President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, a staunch U.S. military ally who recently won his sixth term through a bloody election.
In other news, the Biden administration has ended the deadlock over the next head of the World Trade Organization by expressing its “strong support” for Nigeria’s ex-finance minister.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was frontrunner for the role until the Trump administration last October said it wanted South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee. Ms Yoo has now withdrawn her candidacy.
If confirmed, Dr Okonjo-Iweala would be the first woman and the first African to lead the WTO.