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Betting on Biden

Staecker Claus Kommentarbild App
Claus Stäcker
November 10, 2020

The governments of several countries in Africa are optimistic about their relationship with a United States run by Joe Biden. Dissidents, too, are hoping for renewed US support, DW's Claus Stäcker writes.

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Wilmongton, Delaware.
Image: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo/picture alliance

People in Africa have watched the US presidential election closely. During his nearly four years as president, Donald Trump's policies on Africa have not merely been unclear: They have been nonexistent. He mixed nations up and insulted many as "shithole countries." The ideal of the United States as a democratic model has diminished within Africa in recent years. With the news that 77-year-old Joe Biden has won the election, there is renewed optimism that the US government will not focus only on trade deals but will also rediscover its international role in promoting human rights and democratic standards.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari set the tone. "I urge Mr. Biden to deploy his vast experience in tackling the negative consequences of nationalist politics on world affairs," he said.

Stäcker, Claus
DW's Claus Stäcker

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta immediately claimed Biden as a "friend of our country," saying the former US vice president's victory presented "an even bigger and better platform for our two countries to collaborate more closely."

Read more: Will Donald Trump respect tradition with a concession speech?

And 76-year-old Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni called the United States a "natural ally" because both countries have large Black populations and a dominant Christian faith. Biden will be the seventh US president during Museveni's reign, which began in 1986. Museveni did not mention which democratic values Uganda might share with the United States — a prudent move in view of the fact that his police recently arrested opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi in front of running cameras. Also known as the musician Bobi Wine, the dissident had dared to file papers to declare himself a presidential candidate. It is the umpteenth time that Kyagulanyi has been arrested — and he again reported being tortured in prison. 

Read more: US President-elect Biden pledges to unify nation in victory speech

Can Biden help?

In the Ivory Coast, some sources report that opposition leader and former Prime Minister Pascal Affi N'Guessan has been tortured after he was arrested on November 7. This seems like a campaign of revenge by President  Alassane Ouattara, 78, who was awarded a third time in office earlier in a November election largely boycotted by the opposition — though the constitution allows presidents just two terms. Opposition leaders formed a kind of shadow administration after the election and are now being accused of "division" and "sedition."

Infografik US-Militärpräsenz Afrika EN

In Tanzania, in eastern Africa, 61-year-old President John Magufuli is coming somewhat unglued — even though he was comfortably confirmed in office with 84% of the vote in November.  A dozen opposition politicians are now in prison. A former member of parliament has fled to Kenya with his family. The presidential candidate Tundu Lissu sought protection in the German Embassy after receiving death threats and was flown to Belgium on Tuesday. In 2017, Lussu was riddled with bullets in an assassination attempt and survived after 19 operations.

And then there is the much-acclaimed reformer Abiy Ahmed in Ethiopia. He has just fired the head of the army, the regional head of intelligence and the foreign minister — and yet intends to resolve the domestic conflict with the breakaway province of Tigray by military means. A Nobel peace laureate as warlord: After he was awarded one of the word's such prestigious medals, it might have been expected that he would have sought different means to preserve the federal republic of Ethiopia.

Amid all of these developments, the bloody conflicts in Cameroon, Guinea, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo and the enduring troubles in Zimbabwe and Mali are being pushed completely into the background. There is no doubt anymore that Africa's autocracies are enjoying a second springtime, operating unhindered in the absence of the US as a superpower — from the veterans in Uganda, Cameroon, Guinea and Zimbabwe to young hotheads such as the 44-year-old Abiy in Ethiopia.

Joe Biden will not be able to correct all that has gone wrong, and many eyes are looking at his vice president. Senator Kamala Harris could lead efforts to reestablish relations with African countries. Renewed outreach would be welcomed by most. 

This commentary has been adapted from German.

Staecker Claus Kommentarbild App
Claus Stäcker Head of the Africa services with a keen focus on politics, demography and generational conflict@ClausStaecker