In wake of the milestones achieved during the second-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit held in December 2022, Kamala Harris, the US. Vice-President announced a weeklong trip to three African countries (Ghana, Tanzania, and Zambia). This trip is expected to strengthen bilateral relations with these countries as well as a move to strategically reposition the United States as a valuable partner that believes in the African continent. Her visit was hinged on three core areas: women empowerment, digital inclusion as well as democracy, and good governance. This article details matters arising from Harris’ visit to Africa.
kamala Harris’s Itinerary: Ghana, Tanzania, and Zambia
Ghana: Commending Leadership and Discussing Debt Relief
Harris began her visit to Africa in Ghana, where she met with the Ghanaian President, Nana Akufo-Addo. In her speech, Kamala commended President Akufo-Addo for his country’s support in the UN Security Council and its staunch defence of the UN Charter in the face of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. She further highlighted Ghana’s leadership position in regional security, citing, among other examples, Ghana’s co-hosting of Exercise Flintlock with Côte d’Ivoire earlier last month.
Harris reiterated the Biden-Harris Administration’s dedication to international cooperation on debt relief and its determination to keep pressing for all official bilateral creditors to offer a significant debt reduction for nations like Ghana that need it. She also met with the Ghanaian Youths at the Black Star Gate, reiterating the US commitment to investing in African innovation and creativity, which will unlock immense economic development and new possibilities for the African people.
Tanzania: Strengthening Trade and Pledging Collaboration
After spending three days in Ghana, Harris’ second trip was a visit to Tanzania, where she met with President Samia Suluhu Hassan. While making a joint press statement, Harris announced that the Export-Import Bank would sign a memorandum of understanding with Tanzania, opening the door for up to $500 million in U.S. exports to Tanzania in transportation, infrastructure, digital technology, and sustainable energy. She also shared news of a new collaboration focusing on 5G and cyber security while lauding the openness and transparency of the Tanzanian government’s response to the Marburg virus, praising its coordinated efforts.
Zambia: Homecoming and Supporting Economic Reforms
For the last leg of her trip in Africa, Harris made a final stop at Zambia. This trip was described as ‘homecoming’ by the Zambian President, Hakainde Hichilema, because, as a child, Harris came to visit the southern African country where her grandpa was serving as an Indian diplomat. While in Zambia, Harris made several public and private sector pledges to combat corruption, advance economic and political reforms, and improve agriculture. She also backed President Hakainde Hichilema’s request for a restructuring of the sovereign debt (which has grown to around $15 billion), most of which is to Chinese creditors.
Significance of Harris’ Visit to Africa
Over the years, several U.S. administrations have launched charm offensive that sought to build strategic relations with African countries via aid. However, with the radical infiltration of other superpowers like China and Russia, it has become clear to Washington that the era of foreign aid might have passed; this realisation could be responsible for the latest resolve of U.S. foreign policy shifted from an emphasis on national security alliances to one focused on trade partnerships.
Harris’ Message to the African Youth
In a meeting with Ghanaian youths and other youths, comprising enterpreneurs, students, and advocates, Harris emphasized that predictability, stability, and the rule of law are what businesses require in order to invest, and good governance provides these things. She further revealed that a strong democracy would birth effective government, making reference to a recent poll that revealed that the vast majority of Africans prefer democracies to other forms of government because they all want to ensure that their votes count, that power is transferred peacefully, that their civil liberties are respected, and that they can live their lives without fear of persecution.
Harris also stated the U.S. resolve to increase internet accessibility to foster development and open new avenues for creativity. She revealed that the United States would step up its efforts to raise billions of dollars in public and private funding from the United States, the continent of Africa, and other parts of the world in order to increase internet access for the benefit of all people living on the continent.
While also addressing women, Harris noted that women often lack the resources necessary to succeed despite making up a significant portion of the business world. She went on further to say that although women are the ones who help keep the peace and create bridges, they are still underrepresented at the decision-making tables. Harris expressed her belief that a woman’s economic standing is improved, and the financial standing of her children, her family, and her society is improved as well. She promised that the U.S. would redouble her efforts to reduce gender inequality with help from her international allies.
Significance of Harris’ Visit to Africa
“For too long, the U.S. foreign policy establishment has treated Africa like some kind of extra credit project and not part of the core curriculum. I see a big effort to change that thinking now. But it takes time.”
Over the years, several U.S. administrations have launched charm offensive that sought to build strategic relations with African countries via aid. However, with the radical infiltration of other superpowers like China and Russia, it has become clear to Washington that the era of foreign aid might have passed. Hence, the latest resolve of U.S. foreign policy shifted from an emphasis on national security alliances to one focused on trade partnerships. This sentiment has been re-echoed by Michelle Gavin, an Africa expert at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. ambassador to Botswana, in her words – “For too long, the U.S. foreign policy establishment has treated Africa like some kind of extra credit project and not part of the core curriculum. I see a big effort to change that thinking now. But it takes time.”
Recall that the Biden-Harris administration had made significant pledges, many of which are subject to congressional approvals, during the recently held U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit. This is not unconnected to China’s fast-rising exploits in the African continent, which the U.S Prime Minster described as “troubling.” At the summit, the United States and African nations signed a memorandum of understanding to facilitate the formation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). For African leaders, the renewed efforts of the Biden administration would boost infrastructural development and could be a positive shift for the U.S.
Harris’ visit to Africa was just to cement this agreement. In her address at Black Star Gate in Ghana, she mentioned that “the United States is committed to strengthening our partnerships across the continent of Africa — partnerships with governments, the private sector, civil society, and all of you. Partnerships are based on openness, inclusiveness, candor, shared interests, and mutual benefits. And to be clear, America will be guided not by what we can do for our African partners, but what we can do with our African partners.” The change in tone simply signifies the reality of the modified U.S. foreign policy in Africa. While many are skeptical that this renewed interest could be due to the Russia-Ukraine war, for African leaders, it opens a door of opportunities that they have all longed for.
Criticisms and Challenges of Harris’ Visit
Since the announcement of Harris’ visit to Africa, there have been a lot of reservations about her coming. While many have questioned the visit as suspecting, others have described it as a mere ploy to make Africa dependent on the U.S. Below are some criticisms Harris faced during her visit.
Ghana’s Anti-LGBTQ Bill
During Harris’ visit to Ghana, she reiterated her support for equality for all people while reacting to a question about the bill. However, this hasn’t been taken well by Alban Bagbin, Ghanaian Speaker of Parliament, who described Harris’ opinion as undemocratic and ‘should not be tolerated.’ In a meeting with a group of religious leaders, Bagbin emphasized that no one has the right to dictate to Ghana, especially in light of the debate over the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and the Ghanaian Family Values Bill.
The U.S – China Conundrum
In what was envisaged as the major headline for Harris’ visit, the U.S. Vice President apparently dodged being dragged into a seeming competition between the U.S. and China. During a brief conversation with reporters in Accra before her flight to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Ms. Harris said plainly, “This trip isn’t about China.” However, most people already believe this is about China and simply a power tussle by the superpowers. What other explanation could be given for the U.S. renewed love for the African continent if not to position itself as the only ‘true friend’ Africa can trust?
Over the years, the U.S. has invested hugely in Africa, especially in security. For instance, the United States African Command (USAFRICOM) has invested almost $250 million in security support resources across the continent under the Biden-Harris administration. However, there has been backlash over these resources as they are often allocated to militaries that have been accused of several human rights abuses, not limited to murder, rape, and torture. Surprisingly, Harris is pledging another $100 million in security funding in Ghana to help West African countries counter violent Islamist extremists. This raises a lot of questions – isn’t this another counter-productive military investment, considering what has happened over the years?
While the pledges made by Harris during her visit to Africa look juicy, her overtures have been described as an effort to make Africa dependent on the USA. With the influx of China and Russia into Africa, it has become imperative for the U.S. to maintain a grip on its allies. Evidently, this hasn’t been the case considering the neutral stance many African countries took during the United Nation’s (UN) vote on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
There is huge potential for improved US-Africa relations and opportunities for collaboration, especially in areas such as trade, security, and climate change. However, considering the continent’s diversity and unique challenges, it is important for the U.S. to take a more nuanced approach to its engagement with Africa.