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US-China-Africa nexus under a Biden administration

When the Biden administration assumes office on 20 January 2021, Africa hopes to exit the awkward diplomatic state of affairs presented by the current Trump administration’s laissez faire, even disparaging, attitude towards the continent, and the conundrum caused by the US – China squabble over the coronavirus and trade. It hopes for a reset of relations to those pre-2017. What do analysts expect?

This question formed the basis of the dialogue arranged by the Inclusive Society Institute. Making contributions to the discussions were:

  • Professor John Stremlau, Honorary Professor, Department of International Relations, University of the Witwatersrand

  • Dr Bob Weseka, Coordinator: African Centre for the Study of the US, University of the Witwatersrand

  • Ambassador Gert Grobler, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies, Zheijiang Normal University

  • Daryl Swanepoel, Chief Executive Officer of the Inclusive Society Institute

The dialogue concluded that:

​The competition between the two major powers, that is China and the United States, is not going to go away.

  • Africa has, in the last decades, enjoyed good relationships with both the United States and China, albeit on distinctly parallel tracks. This has greatly aided economic growth and stability on the African continent, whilst simultaneously advancing global development and sustainability. The relationship with China has, in the last four years continued to blossom; with the United States it has, however, in large measure, paused.

  • The approaching Biden administration presents a unique opportunity, not only for the US to revive and bolster its relationship with Africa, but for it to also take a fresh approach in its engagement with the continent. In recommitting the US to multilateralism, the potential exists for the US to reposition itself as both competitor and collaborator, thereby enabling themselves to acquire their fair share of the opportunities that abound in Africa. Such competition would bode well for the continent.

  • The real question is how Africa is going to respond as a collective to the Biden administration. They need to act in a comprehensive and cohesive manner, by developing an African position as regards its expectations from the new US regime. In developing that response, it will have to look at what is in its interest. It should avoid falling into the trap of, in a sense, reliving the cold war, by choosing sides. Africa will have to put its terms on the table and find a way to constructively work with both sides in a manner that best serves its interests.

In relation to the question on how Africa is going to respond as a collective, the institute intends hosting a think tank of thought leaders early in the new year to flesh out proposals for public policymakers to consider.


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