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China, Africa and the New Biden Administration

U.S. President-elect Joseph Biden. Andrew Harnik / POOL / AFP

There’s palpable excitement in dozens of capitals around the world about the prospects of a new government in Washington, D.C. This is especially true in Africa, where U.S. relations with a number of countries on the continent felt like they were rapidly deteriorating and on their way towards some kind of breaking point.

But now with a new incoming president, the word that stood out in a lot of this weekend’s initial analysis is “reset.” And a big part of that reset of U.S. foreign policy in Africa involves how the incoming administration is going to frame the issue of China’s presence on the continent.

Not surprisingly amid the ongoing pandemic and a worsening economic crisis, expectations are running high that revitalized U.S. international leadership will help to re-balance foreign policy in many African countries that critics contend have tilted too far towards Beijing.

But African policymakers and other stakeholders are going to have to be patient. Whatever the new president does will take time, given the enormity of the challenges that he faces at home governing a bitterly divided country amid the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreak.

So, with that in mind, here are a few ways the Biden administration will likely deal with the Chinese in Africa:


  • New pragmatic, less ideological leadership on the National Security Council, State Department, Development Finance Corporation, U.S. Exim Bank, and among politically-appointed ambassadors like Lana Marks in South Africa and Kyle McCarter in Kenya. China will probably not be as prominent in Africa-focused foreign policy initiatives.
  • More engagement at critical multilateral institutions like the WHO, WTO, IMF and other organizations that are disproportionately important to African states. This will potentially narrow China’s growing influence in these bodies where Beijing’s been very effective of late in setting agendas.
  • No reduction in U.S. government spending or resources allocated to Africa in 2021 or 2022. Even though Biden is going to be under intense pressure from Mitch McConnell and the Republican caucus to cut spending, there’s still widespread support for Africa-focused public health, military and diplomacy programs among both Democrats and Republicans. Plus, countering Chinese influence in Africa will remain a top priority for legislators on Capitol Hill.


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