Africa hopeful of early gains from Biden’s first days in the Oval Office

Saturday January 23 2021
Joe Biden.

US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response as US Vice President Kamala Harris looks on before signing executive orders in the White House, on January 21. PHOTO | AFP


Africa may look up to new US President Joe Biden for early benefits in renewed investments on health and climate change, two crucial areas that had been threatened under the Donald Trump era.

In his inaugural speech, Joe Biden said on Wednesday he will seek to repair broken alliances with partners across the world, saying Washington will redeem its honour by being an example to the world.

“We will be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress, and security,” Biden told an audience at the Capitol, moments after taking oath of office as the 46th president of the US. Unlike his predecessor who spoke of ‘America first’, Biden warned “the answer is not to turn inward,” arguing that common problems that affect the world such as white supremacism, violent extremism, climate change and the Covid-19 affect the US just as they do elsewhere on Earth.

Biden’s Africa policy wasn’t clear in his campaigns except that his choice for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken worked under President Obama on security and Department of State portfolios, and co-operated with African countries on security issues.

On Thursday, Biden signed several executive orders including those that cancelled the US planned withdrawal from the WHO and another that returned Washington to the Paris Agreement.

The US being in the WHO is crucial for Africa. In 2014, during the Ebola outbreak in Africa, the then Obama administration committed as much as $6.2 billion, and deployed 3,000 military personnel to erect medical facilities and co-ordinate emergency response with the WHO.


A founding member of the WHO in 1948, Washington is the highest donor to the WHO, providing $400 million a year for programmes such as healthcare protective equipment, maternal and child health services, most of which are granted in Africa.

Brutal funding cut

Between 2016 and 2017, the US gave nearly $1 billion to the WHO, more than 70 percent of which was from voluntary donations. But Trump bickered with the WHO in 2020, accusing the UN health agency of covering up China’s misdeeds in the spread of Covid-19. Washington was due to effectively leave the WHO by July, a year after Trump gave notice. That will no longer be necessary.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the African Union Commission said on Thursday the return of the US to the WHO is crucial in the fight against Covid-19.

“I am delighted that President Biden [has] made the return of the US to the WHO one of his first decisions, including joining Covax.”

He was referring to the global initiative of 69 developed countries that is meant to bring together governments and manufacturers and ensure produced Covid-19 vaccines reach everyone.

America’s return to the WHO was part of Biden’s pre-election pledge which he argued the US would be safer in the organisation than outside of it. Trump had brutally cut funding meant for affordable and safer abortions.

The WHO expressed hope that Biden’s gesture will complete the equation.

“The WHO is a family of nations. We are all glad that America is staying in the family,” said Tedros Adhanom, the head of the WHO.

“We must work together as one family to ensure all countries can start vaccinating health workers and other high-risk groups in the first 100 days of 2021. With your commitment, we are one step closer,” Tedros said during the WHO’s Executive Board Meeting on Thursday where the US was represented by Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Biden also cancelled US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a 2015 document reached by UN members to progressively adopt green energy. Trump, a non-believer in climate change, had withdrawn in November 2019, citing the treaty’s potential to kill domestic industries and cause joblessness.

Trump often ignored his own scientists, despite the US being the world’s biggest emitter of pollutants contributing to global warming and climate change. The agreement is crucial for Africa because of the potential investments that may target conservation and green energy.

“By rejoining the (Paris)Agreement that we were instrumental in achieving, we will again lead the world in addressing the existential threat of climate change,” Ted Price, the State Department Spokesperson on Thursday.

The White House website said President Biden will “take swift action to tackle the climate emergency” by meeting the “demands of science, while empowering American workers and businesses to lead a clean energy revolution.”