Biden-Harris should prioritise 15-year AGOA extension

It is no secret that Biden-Harris will need all hands on deck mend to Trump’s foreign policy mess. Africa probably won't be top of mind, but a 15-year extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act is crucial

Not to be Missed

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Tonight, president-elect Joe Biden will make his entrance in the White House, ready to assume power as the US turns a new leaf. Africa will be watching closely too as policies under Biden’s watch will have a direct impact on, among others, agricultural trade, argues Ivor Price.

When Donald Trump leaves the US capital tonight with his tail between his legs, it will be a moment of great relief for many Africans too. Like many in his own country, we’ve had it with his delusions of grandeur and, quite frankly, even Dinner at Somizi’s was more entertaining than Trump’s late-night tweets.

With the possible exception of ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe who, last year, urged us to pray for Trump’s re-election, many of us couldn’t wait to see the back of him. (Can someone please double check that his sons, Eric and Donald Jr., have packed their bags too?)

President Tweety refused to concede a free and fair election, and instead incited his support base of working-class whites with conspiracies and rhetoric. The Biden-Harris administration today not only inherits a deeply divided nation, but also a number of questionable policies.

About those “sh*thole countries”

Lest we forget that Trump, while waging a war on immigration diversity, referred to Haiti and African nations as “sh*thole countries”. Of course, Africa is far from perfect too. We know. We live here.

Yoweri Museveni, who has served as president of Uganda since 1986. Photo: Supplied
Yoweri Museveni, who has served as president of Uganda since 1986. Photo: EA health

At the moment, we are witnessing the slow-motion car crash of Uganda’s democracy as Yoweri Museveni assumes office for the sixth consecutive term. Ironically, it is the same Museveni who helped topple dictator Idi Amin.

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You know, the man who once referred to himself as “His excellency president for life, field marshal Al Hadji, Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of all the beasts of the Earth and fishes of the sea, and conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in general and Uganda in particular.”

In Zimbabwe, tension is building as Emmerson Mnangagwa continues to stoke political fires while Nigeria lacks all the indicators of a democratic society, including free and fair elections and an independent judiciary.

And in South Africa, the governing party has bankrupted state enterprises to such an extent that President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his January 8 address, admitted that the ANC has been weakened by corruption.

Reversing Trump policies

In his first ten days in office, President Joe Biden is expected to reverse a number of Trump’s policies, such as reuniting migrant children with their caregivers and bills on the minimum wage and violence against women.

Together with Kamala Harris, Biden will have to urgently restore functional democracy in the US, while also mending global relationships. In many ways, Trump’s “America first” agenda has put the country on the back-burner as the US withdrew from many international treaties, agreements and organisations.

It should not come as a surprise if Africa isn’t too high on Biden’s global agenda. It would be prudent to first get the European Union back on track as America’s most important ally. A new report by the European Council on Foreign Relations suggests that Biden will be unable to halt his country’s decline on the world stage.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Supplied
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Wikimedia Foundation

Trump couldn’t leave a day too soon as there is no love lost between him and many European leaders, including Luxembourg’s foreign minister who called Trump a “pyromaniac” while Trump said Germany chancellor Angela Merkel was “stupid”.

Reversing the Trump-era will also require reparations with China, Russia and Iran, to name a few. Trump openly questioned the value of South Korea’s alliance with the US, and also frequently irked Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada.

Africa will be patiently watching to see whether a new dawn also awaits global policy direction as Biden aims to restore the dignity of the “shining city on a hill”, as the late President Ronald Reagan loved referring to the US.

AGOA is set to expire in 2025. Its nonrenewal would lead to 300 000 job losses in Africa, and put the continent back at least two decades.

Historically, the continent is only prioritised when US presidents achieve a second term. In his defense, the Trump administration unveiled its Africa strategy in his second year, although most of the details were later classified. Emphasis was placed on Africa’s self-reliance and the US was clear that it wanted African countries to “thrive, prosper and control their own destinies”.

This is not an unreasonable expectation, although African nations would certainly want to see a renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Should Trump have been elected for a second term, the future of AGOA would certainly be on the cards.

AGOA’s ticking clock

This trade agreement, signed into law 20 years ago by Bill Clinton, forms the framework for US-African relations. It gives qualifying sub-Saharan nations tax-free access to the US market for 1 800 products.

The reality is, though, that AGOA is set to expire in 2025. That is just four years from now. Its nonrenewal would lead to at least 100 000 job losses in the US and 300 000 in Africa, and put the continent back at least two decades.

It would therefore be unfair of a Biden-Harris administration to wait until 2025 to indicate whether the US has the appetite for extending AGOA. The continent’s future is at risk, and calls for a 15-year extension of AGOA should be a priority to encourage sustainable investment and robust economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa.

After all, if the US is set to re-brand itself as a city on a hill after four years of Trump, it should know that the eyes of all Africa’s people will be upon it too.

  • Ivor Price is a multi-award-winning journalist and co-founder of Food For Mzansi.
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