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Biden’s policy challenges in the Horn of Africa and Sahel regions

Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Monday, 07 June 2021















Biden’s policy challenges in the Horn of Africa and Sahel regions

US President Joe Biden has set a new tone in the policy towards Africa as compared to that of his predecessor, Donald Trump. It was significant that the Biden’s first speech in his capacity as US President on an international forum was delivered virtually on February 5, 2021, at the 34th African Union Summit. Biden remarked, “This past year has shown us how interconnected our world is and how our fates are bound up together.

That’s why my administration is committing to rebuilding our partnership around the world and re-engaging the international institutions like the African Union. We must all work together to advance our shared vision of a better future; a future of growing trade and investment that advances prosperity for all our nations; a future that advances lives and peace and security for all our citizens; a future committed to investing in our democratic institutions and promoting the human rights of all people: women and girls, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, and people of every ethnic background, religion and heritage”. “United States stands ready now to be your partner, in solidarity, support and mutual respect.

We believe in the nations of Africa, in the continent-wide spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation. And through the challenges ahead, although there is no doubt that our nations, our people, the African Union – we’re up to this task”, Biden said while concluding his speech. Biden’ speech reaffirmed commitment to multilateralism. The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, welcomed the message and said that the African Union looks forward to “resetting the strategic AU-USA partnership.”

On his first day in office, Biden repealed the Trump administration’s ban on travellers from Muslim-majority and African countries, including Libya, Somalia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania. Revoking the ban, the President said in a statement, “The United States was built on a foundation of religious freedom and tolerance, a principle enshrined in the United States Constitution.

Nevertheless, the previous administration enacted a number of Executive Orders and Presidential Proclamations that prevented certain individuals from entering the United States — first from primarily Muslim countries, and later, from largely African countries. Those actions are a stain on our national conscience and are inconsistent with our long history of welcoming people of all faiths and no faith at all”.

Two regions in Africa pose a major policy challenge for Biden – the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. As regard’s Biden’s policy in the Horn of Africa, a major decision has been taken by appointing Jeffrey Feltman, a former senior Department of State official, as Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa on April 23. This signals the US intention of assuming an active role in the region. The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said that Feltman’s appointment “underscores the Administration’s commitment to lead an international diplomatic effort to address the interlinked political, security, and humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa.” “At a moment of profound change for this strategic region, high-level U.S. engagement is vital to mitigate the risks posed by escalating conflict while providing support to once-in-a-generation opportunities for reform,” he added.

On Eritrea and Ethiopia, the US has taken a hard stance by holding their troops accountable for the humanitarian crisis in Tigray and announcing a visa restriction policy and imposing wide-ranging restrictions on economic and security assistance. In Somalia, the Biden administration has continued with Trump’s policy of withdrawing the US troops from the country. The Biden administration has also issued order that drone strikes outside three long time war zones must be approved by the White House.

As regards the US policies in the Sahel countries which include Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad, security analysts contend that Biden needs to be more active in light of the threat that Islamic militancy in the region poses.

In March 2020, the United States created a Special Envoy for Africa’s Sahel region to counter rising violence from groups linked to Al Qaeda and Islamic State which are expanding their foothold. Security analysts have stressed on upgrading the Sahel Envoy post to the status of a US Presidential Envoy who would report directly to Biden. Mali, which is under a second coup in a 9-month period, poses a major challenge for the US policy in Sahel. The United States of America is mulling sanctions on Mali over the detention of civilian leaders of Mali’s transition government. Ned Price, the US Department of State Spokesperson said, “A democratic, civilian-led government presents the best opportunity to achieve security and prosperity in Mali and the wider Sahel region.

The Malian transition government’s commitment to a civilian-led transition and democratic elections in 2022 set the stage for Mali’s continued engagement with international partners to advance democracy, human rights, peace, and security effort”. 

In the Sahel, the US also needs to step up its counter-terrorism operations. Currently, the US dominant strategy is to provide weapons and training to partner countries’ security forces instead of deploying US troops to fight violent extremist group. Biden also needs a rethink on this strategy.


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