President Cyril Ramaphosa will meet his US counterpart Joe Biden in Washington on Friday for a meeting aimed at further cooperation on trade, investment, climate change and health issues.
This follows a renewed American focus on the continent.
The US unveiled its new strategy in Africa, promising to expand its “circle of engagement” with other countries and work for the benefit of both Africans and Americans.
Washington, under President Biden, US interest in Africa can be expanded further than in previous years.
Last February, just days into Joe Biden’s presidency, the new administration made it clear that it would do things differently.
State Department spokesman Ned Price says, “Africa is a priority for the Biden administration. // We seek to engage our African partners early and often in pursuit of our shared interests and shared values.”
The wife and daughter of the former president visited a number of African countries. Donald Trump himself did not do this.
Indeed, White House insiders claimed he disparagingly described the continent as a “hole country”.
This was a significant change from President Obama, who visited several African countries during four trips during his presidency.
President Biden is yet to visit the continent, but now the US is launching an offensive against Africa.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has made three trips to the continent since November.
His most recent visit included a visit to South Africa, where he unveiled Washington’s long-promised “strategy for sub-Saharan Africa.”
Tony Carroll has focused on South Africa for most of his career.
Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies Adjunct Professor Tony Carroll says: “I think this is an important moment for us to re-establish a good working relationship with South Africa at the highest level. I think it hasn’t been there for a number of years – not to dwell on the past – but I think there’s been a gap between our presidents and I think there’s an opportunity now to reboot that.”
The African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA, which has been in existence for 22 years, has given dozens of countries duty-free access to the US market.
And the Biden administration is shipping more COVID-19 vaccines to Africa, even as there is still a huge vaccine disparity between the U.S. and the continent.
Nick Harper reports that while the Biden administration may be looking to reset or at least restore relations with South Africa, one pretty big bone of contention remains: the war in Ukraine.
Washington hoped that President Ramaphosa would join Western condemnation and sanctions against Russia, rather than maintaining a position of neutrality.
And Washington worries that another superpower, China, is only expanding its influence in Africa with billions of dollars in investment and aid.
But some experts say the U.S. should be interested in Africa for Africa’s own sake, not as a way to simply counter Beijing.
Rama Yade, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center and former French ambassador to UNESCO, says: “Sometimes we have the feeling that Africa is interesting. From Washington’s point of view, it is only interesting when we are talking about Russia or China. The challenge, as well as the opportunity, is how the US can change its policy toward Africa. This is the best answer that can be given to Chinese investors – just improve your policies and you will see that you will have no competition on the African continent.”
Perhaps Washington is hoping to rekindle relations with Pretoria at this week’s meeting. But perhaps only at the Biden summit of African leaders in December will the US get a chance to revive its relations with the entire African continent. – Reporting by Nick Harper, SABC News, Washington