Africa’s Priorities and the New U.S. Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa 


The Biden administration recently announced a new US strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa. The strategy aims to redesign US engagement with the region given the growing global influence of the continent. The African Union recently launched the world’s largest free trade zone — the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The continent also houses the world’s fastest-growing population and holds 28 percent of the voting bloc in the United Nations.  

Africa’s growing influence coupled with its booming relations with China signal a path towards playing a significant role in the future of the modern world. Thus, the announced strategy can be seen as an effort to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to the continent at a time where the White House fears an evolution of African countries’ relations with China and Russia. 

A Glance at the New Strategy 

The strategy aims to promote the United States’ priorities in the region under four broad policy objectives. 

First, it plans to ramp up support for African governments and civil societies working to improve transparency and accountability. This is premised on the belief that strengthening rule of law, and democratic principles, preventing human rights abuses in Africa, and promoting transparency in the use of natural resources will foster sustainable development in the region.  

Second, the US aims to improve democratic values and security in the region. Through a mix of positive inducements and sanctions, the US hopes to prevent authoritarian and undemocratic principles that will create conflict in the region. Under this objective, the White House intends to support marginalized groups and to strengthen peace-building efforts and the capacity of government security actors in the region by leveraging its counterterrorism capabilities to reduce the threats from terrorist groups in the region. 

Another key goal is to advance pandemic and economic recovery in Africa. This objective includes bolstering existing partnerships in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines in the continent; building the capacities of African countries to respond to threats from infectious diseases; mobilizing finance with G7 partners to strengthen economic recovery in the region, improve infrastructure, and ensure resilience in the region’s supply chain; and improving human capital and food systems that were negatively impacted by the pandemic. 

Finally, the US intends to foster climate adaptation and equitable energy transition in the region. The US plans to partner with governments, civil societies, and community leaders in Africa to reduce global carbon emissions and to protect the wildlife and natural ecosystem of the region. Also, the US hopes to engage with key stakeholders in the region to ensure equitable energy transition and clean energy supply in line with international environmental standards. 

The US aims to achieve this strategic objective in collaboration with its allied countries and institutional partners around the world. The main approaches to attain the objectives include increasing engagement with the African public, improving US defense tools in Africa, improving trade relations with the region, advancing digital transformation in the region, and investing in urban renewal in African cities. 

Redefining relations with Africa? 

This new strategy slightly reorients US relations with Africa. Previous strategies were focused on improving democratic values, preventing human rights abuses, and addressing conflicts, insecurity, and terrorism in the region. For instance, during the Obama administration, the priorities were addressing insecurity and promoting democratic values to spur economic growth in the region. During the Trump administration, the emphasis was to “Prosper Africa” by improving trade relations in counter to China’s growing trade and economic influence in the region.  This new strategy hopes to redefine the relations by improving engagement with the African public on issues that affect them and by increasing investment in infrastructures and economic resilience in Africa. 

Reflecting on Africa Priorities 

While this new US strategy aims to define US relations with the region, there is a need to reflect on the priorities of African countries and to incorporate those priorities during policy implementation. For instance, the strategy fails to state how the US will cooperate with Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of trade relations, given that the recently launched Africa trade deal remains a priority for countries in the region. The Africa trade agreement is poised to play a critical role in Africa’s economic recovery, a goal in tandem with the strategic objectives of the US strategy. It is, therefore, necessary to incorporate the African trade agreement and leverage the capabilities into the implementation of the US strategy. 

The US should also incorporate gender into the implementation of the policy. The current approach highlighted in the strategy fails to state how gender would be incorporated into the implementation of the plan. Essential considerations should be given to gender issues since strengthening the capacity and rights of women is critical to fostering pandemic recovery in Africa. Several reports note African women have been the most negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Also, the strategy should consider the different priorities of the various regional blocs on the continent. For example, in West Africa, combating security and terrorism is a high priority. The White House must disaggregate the strategy based on the priorities of the various regional blocs in Africa to effectively align the strategy with the priorities of various countries. 

Furthermore, while the strategy emphasizes coordination with global partners, there is a need to also ensure there is adequate interagency coordination between countries’ embassies/foreign offices and the US State Department in terms of policy implementation since the former hold deeper knowledge of country priorities. This will help align the strategy with individual countries’ priorities.  

Finally, it is important to ensure implementation focuses on addressing African issues rather than being reactionary to the growing China and Russia influence. The continent should not be viewed as a piece on the board of war game modelers. Rather than fixating on how Chinese and Russian relations affect the United States’ interest in the region, the White House should focus on strengthening ties with Africa by directly engaging with African countries’ goals and priorities.  

This article was written by Hycent Ajah