The Biden Administration recently announced that it will send a whopping $1 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, but in August, stated that it will only send $150 million in food aid to the African continent. Understandably, Ukraine needs the money to defend itself. However, Africa’s need is urgent, too, as it struggles with the Russian military’s blockade of food exports to the continent from Ukraine — a horrible situation that has led to the starvation of millions of Africans.
I was heartbroken during my last visit to East Africa while I ministered to my congregations in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Goma. The mothers appeared physically weak and our young adults were weary. They shared that they felt humiliated while constantly scavenging for food. I was shocked as our congregations have done our best to provide food baskets, but they said children are the priority, thus often leaving the adults hungry.
Our nation’s support for Ukraine is grounded in our long-term campaign to promote democracy globally and to counter Putin’s thirst for Russia to once again become the Soviet Union. In contrast, our aid to Africa is episodic and reactive. It is past time for the Biden administration to revise America’s engagement with Africa, from being minimalist and paternal to being bold, equitable and strategic.
As President Biden prepares to host the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in December, his release of a new strategy toward Africa is a step in the right direction. However, the administration has missed a critical opportunity to mobilize African Americans’ support.
Moving forward, President Biden must be unequivocal in denouncing Trump’s branding of African nations and Haiti as “s**thole” countries by fully reframing U.S.-Africa relations within America’s overall foreign policy. This is a critical opportunity to align his domestic efforts for racial equity with a global campaign to do the same. He and Vice President Kamala Harris have a historic opportunity to present a foreign policy that would work toward a more expansive redistribution of power and wealth among Black people globally.
Divorce the Dictators
The most critical issue facing Africa is the prevalence of dictators who are threatening growing democratic efforts, especially among young people, who are fed up with older, brutal dictators whose only goal is to hold on to power. Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield recently met with Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and I was disappointed that his gross abuse of human rights was not front and center. Under his 36-year old rule, democratic activists in Uganda have been kidnapped, tortured and even murdered for supporting Bobi Wine, a musician turned politician who represents their need for economic, social and political independence.
The administration should partner with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute to host a conference for pro-democracy African civil society leaders and journalists as a pre-event leading up to the next U.S. Summit for Democracy.
Invest in Africans Investing in Infrastructure
The continent needs better roads, facilities and technological infrastructure if the youngest population in the world is to be empowered to pursue economic prosperity. In contrast to the Chinese model, we must partner with Africans in making investments in the continent’s infrastructure to enable African youth to pursue their dreams.
Additionally, America should use tax incentives to spark investments by African American companies to develop joint ventures with their African counterparts to collaborate on job training and the implementation of massive infrastructure projects across the continent. The Chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Congressman Gregory Meeks, has provided a fine roadmap with his Africa Urban Development Initiative.
Concern for COVID-19
I implore the administration to match its donations for COVID-19 vaccines with an investment in Africa’s healthcare infrastructure in key countries like Kenya, Senegal and South Africa. The continent needs more than the gift of vaccines, it needs material investments that will position Africa to manufacture its own vaccines. This must be demonstrated with a commitment to strengthening research and development as well as building manufacturing plants that empower Africa to tackle COVID-19 and proactively prepare for the next challenge with a sense of strength and autonomy.
African American support was Biden’s not-so-secret weapon in winning both the primary and the presidency in the last national election cycle. With the midterms around the corner, his domestic policy wins would be well complemented by an unprecedented focus on U.S.-Africa relations. Black Americans are not only a critical voting block but can be the decisive factor in driving the president’s reset with Africa. At the upcoming summit, there should be a series of events that feature African American business executives, faith leaders and academics who are poised to be active agents in implementing the new U.S.-Africa focus.
Importantly, many of us have deep ties with our counterparts on the African continent and bring a rich and holistic Pan African perspective. For the first time, Bloomberg recently reported that young adult Africans rate China as more of an influence on them than the U.S. This is alarming but not dispiriting. Together, President Biden, Secretary Antony Blinken, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield and Congressman Meeks, working alongside African American leaders, all have a unique and rare opportunity to take U.S.-Africa engagement to an unprecedented level. My five congregations and 1.15 billion Sub-Saharan Africans are calling on us to do the right thing.
Bishop Joseph W. Tolton is the President of Interconnected Justice, a pan African network connecting Africans with people of African descent globally for collaborations in the area of advocacy and policy, media and culture, and leadership development.