By Herman J. Cohen, Career Ambassador
When I joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1954, Africa was seen as the lowest of our foreign policy priorities, with little strategic importance for global affairs. Sixty-seven years later, most observers continue to treat Africa as a minor element of the American agenda. This is a profoundly myopic mistake. The opportunities and risks in Africa, a grouping of 55 dissimilar countries. are astounding: the particulars of U.S. engagement could make the difference between a green and prosperous future, or a repeat of Afghanistan. Yet under President Biden, the foreign policy intelligentsia is sustaining the previous administration’s mistake of viewing Africa as a battlefield for competition with China and Russia. The Biden administration must not miss its chance to break this cycle of reactive foreign policy theory crafted with little ambition for what a motivated policy can accomplish.
Instead of playing catch-up to China, Russia, and others, we should surpass the initiative they have taken in Africa. We must be so involved as to spot new opportunities on our own and recognize their inherent value, rather than as an ostensible means to sneak in another win against faraway adversaries.
Every recent U.S. president has launched a signature Africa program: President Trump’s was Prosper Africa, a brainchild of John Bolton that sought to incentivize business deals with African nations for the explicit purpose of competition with Russia and China. The Biden administration is promising to “reboot” the project, asking Congress for an another $80 million. But under President Biden, great power competition will remain the underfunded program’s organizing principle. Our adversaries are not making these mistakes. When China finances and builds a multi-billion dollar railway in Kenya, their primary consideration is not how it may erode American influence. (read the full article at medium.com/@acnsl2020)