Africa is a continent of the future as by 2050 every fourth person in the world will be African. It also holds 30% reserves of critical minerals. Therefore, the strategic importance of Africa is set to rise only further. In this context, this week, the Biden administration unveiled its Africa Strategy. The launch of the Strategy was timed to coincide with the three-nation, Africa visit of Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The Strategy outlines the Biden administration’s strategic objectives, to be pursued in the next five years, in Africa as well as reaffirms its commitment to the rapidly changing continent. More importantly, the Strategy “reframes the region’s importance to U.S. national security interests”. The launch of the Strategy is an admission of the growing importance of Africa for the American foreign policy.
The Biden administration would like to pursue four strategic objectives in Africa: a) foster openness and open societies, b) deliver democratic and security dividends, c) advance pandemic recovery and economic opportunity, and finally, d) support conservation, climate adaptation, and a just energy transition. Critics might question as to whether there is anything new in these objectives apart from the focus on green transition. The Strategy discusses each of these objectives in some detail and fleshes out some of the key elements. The US makes it clear that each of these objectives will be pursued “in coordination with our allies and partners in the region and around the world, as well as with regional and global institutions”. It will be interesting to see the African response to the US’ stated desire in expanding openness and fostering democratic norms and values. As per the latest Freedom House report, Sub-Saharan Africa has only eight states that can be classified as “free” and the series of military coups since 2020 has only underscored the challenges facing democracies in Africa.
The Strategy paper has an interesting section called “Reflections on Three Decades of U.S. Policy”. It observes that “during the past three decades, U.S. policy, backed by strong bipartisan Congressional support, has prioritized development, including public health; trade and investment; democracy and governance; and peace and security”. However, the US is also aware that “some of our longstanding approaches have become insufficient to meet new challenges in a more contested and competitive world”. In a candid admission, the Strategy notes that the US’ “democracy promotion efforts and peace and security contributions have struggled to show the desired impact in recent years”. And yet, delivering democratic and security dividends is one of the key strategic objectives of the current Strategy. It is, perhaps, aimed at aligning the US’ Africa Strategy with its broader foreign policy goals as well as to address the domestic audiences.
The Strategy makes it clear that America is “committed to revitalize and modernize its traditional tools of statecraft to advance U.S. interests across a changing continent”. The launch of the Strategy comes as the great power rivalries are sharpening across the world including in Africa. In the evolving geopolitics of Africa, the US and the broader Western alliance faces a tough challenge from China and Russia. China is probably the most intensely engaged player in Africa amongst the great powers. Its economic, infrastructure, and diplomatic presence in Africa is all-pervasive and growing. The possibility of an upcoming Chinese base in Equatorial Guinea on the Atlantic Coast has raised alarms in the US national security community.
Russia too has staged a comeback to Africa, especially in the domain of security and resource-extraction. Russia’s private military contractors are operating in African countries like Mali and the Central African Republic. They project Russian influence with a potential deniability. The growing Russian influence is detrimental to the Western influences in Africa, especially for France and the US. Mali is a case in point. The military junta in Mali has closed French military bases and has turned to Russia for support in its fight against the Islamist extremists. Moreover, the Russian presence in the Red Sea has added a new dimension to the strategic rivalries in the region.
In this context, the US is “responding to growing foreign activity and influence in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as engaging in a region undergoing significant transformations to its socioeconomic, political, and security landscape”. The US will “deepen cooperation with other coastal Atlantic countries across Africa, Europe, and the Western Hemisphere; and address the artificial bureaucratic division between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa”. In a way, the US is adopting the ‘whole of the continent’ approach which is better suited to respond to the evolving geostrategic realities. The US has made it clear that it will “engage with African partners to expose and highlight the risks of negative PRC [People’s Republic of China] and Russian activities in Africa”. The Strategy paper mentions Russia seven times and PRC three times. In a veiled reference to China and its practices in Africa, Blinken, in his speech in South Africa, said that the world has seen what happens “when international infrastructure deals are corrupt and coercive, when they’re poorly built or environmentally destructive, when they import or abuse workers, or burden countries with crushing debts”.
For strategic analysts in India, the most interesting section is where the Strategy discusses the transcending of ‘geographic seams’ and brings Indo-Pacific into the discussions. The Strategy notes that “allies and partners in Europe, the Middle East, and the Indo-Pacific increasingly regard Africa as integral to their national security, and many are committed to working with the United States to advance high-standards, values-driven, and transparent investments, as well as address political and security crises”. Furthermore, it articulates that the US will “integrate African states in Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific forums”. India and Japan consider Africa as an inalienable part of their Indo-Pacific approaches. From the Indian perspective, the US’ acknowledgement and inclusion of Africa in the Indo-Pacific framework is a welcome development. It will definitely help the Quad countries, and their strategic partners with shared interests like France, to consider the evolving geopolitics in an integrated manner and to better respond to threats and challenges.
The Strategy ends by observing that “Africa’s peace and prosperity are prerequisites to bolstering Africa’s ability to solve global problems. We recognize that we have vital interests in common, and our path toward progress rests on a commitment to working together and elevating African leadership to advance our shared agenda”. It will be worth watching how the US’ Africa Strategy is implemented in practice and whether it will help it rebuild the influence beyond Africa’s security sector.
* Dr. Sankalp Gurjar, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, Sapru House, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: The views are of the author.
 The White House, “U.S. Strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa”, August 2022, p. 4.
 Ibid, p.6
 Ibid, p. 11
 Ibid, p. 11
 Ibid, p. 11
 Ibid, p. 11
 Ibid, p. 6
 Ibid, p. 12
 Ibid, p. 14
 Antony Blinken, “Vital Partners, Shared Priorities: The Biden Administration’s Sub-Saharan Africa Strategy”, August 8, 2022. Available at: https://www.state.gov/vital-partners-shared-priorities-the-biden-administrations-sub-saharan-africa-strategy/ (Accessed on August 10, 2022).
 The White House, “U.S. Strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa”, August 2022, p.5
 Ibid, p.12
 Ibid, p. 15-16