Joe Biden began his presidency with a great deal of goodwill from the international community. His foreign policy platform promised to undo the tense relationships former President Donald Trump’s administration often had with its allies and partners, including those in Africa. However, Biden’s approach toward the continent thus far shows that a willingness to reset relations does not presage a fundamental shift in U.S. Africa policy. Given the rising challenges of Chinese and Russian influence across the continent and the metastasizing threat of terrorism, simply restoring the cordial yet detached Africa policy of pre-Trump administrations may not be enough.
The Trump administration’s legacy in Africa was shaped by rhetorical hostility and a series of policy missteps. Trump himself offended many on the continent when he invented the nation of “Nambia,” and, more seriously, when he reportedly referred to African nations as “shithole countries.” His wife Melania’s decision to tour the continent in a colonial-style pith helmet did little to endear the administration to Africans. The administration’s travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries, some in Africa, was also a point of tension, forcing the president to revise the list and ultimately remove Chad altogether to preserve security cooperation with that country in the fight against the Nigeria-based extremist group Boko Haram.
Trump’s efforts in the latter half of his presidency included a semi-successful initiative called “Prosper Africa,” aimed at countering China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and a belated Africa strategy presented by then-National Security Adviser John Bolton. But these efforts did little to alter the downward trajectory of U.S.-Africa relations.