Last month, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield both visited Africa as part of a larger effort to expand high-level diplomatic engagement on the continent after the recently held U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Notably missing from the agenda of both of these trips, however, was an emphasis on good governance, a topic that was also largely absent from the summit’s expansive program.
The summit, hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington in December and attended by 49 African heads of state and government, rightfully focused on key areas such as investment, climate adaptation and health. But good governance in the form of capable and accountable public institutions is necessary for progress to be made on these other important issues, something that should be reflected in the language U.S. officials use to discuss them.
One notable drawback of the summit agenda and the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken unveiled during his own trip to Africa in August 2022, was that they covered a wide range of topics but did not set any as priorities. Moreover, despite assertions that the sheer number of topics engaged can be considered a demonstration of the breadth of U.S. interest in Africa, it is far more important that this interest not remain merely rhetorical. Rather, it should open up avenues for mutually beneficial engagement. Promoting investment, climate adaptation and health on the continent is a good place to start. But the value of this strategy is questionable if support for effective governance does not underpin these efforts.