Biden is losing Africa and here’s why that should scare us

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Across the world, President Biden’s foreign policy has ceded ground to enemies of the U.S. Now, after decades of development work and hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to Africa, including saving countless lives through PEPFAR, the U.S. is rapidly losing the continent to warlords, Russian mercenaries and the Chinese Communist Party.  

In March, in a massive diplomatic failure, our military was unceremoniously asked to leave Niger. Adding insult to injury, Russian forces have taken over the newly vacated barracks built during the Trump administration to house counter-terror forces. This failure encapsulates how our enemies have taken advantage of U.S. investments in Africa for their own purposes.  

For the past 30 years, the Chinese foreign minister’s first foreign trip has always been to Africa. This has paid enormous dividends for China. In 2001, the U.S. traded roughly four times more with Africa than China — that ratio has since been reversed. In 2021, China traded $254 billion to America’s $64 billion. There are now over 10,000 Chinese companies operating in Africa with over $2 trillion in value. We focused so much on aid that we completely neglected trade. 

In short, Biden’s Africa policy has failed. The causes are legion, but to paraphrase Woody Allen, 90% of success is just about showing up. But President Biden has yet to visit the continent. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has paid as many visits to Africa as he has to Belgium.  

The consequences of this neglect are serious. During the Trump administration, Sudan joined the Abraham Accords, was removed from the State Sponsors of Terror list, and was on a path to greater prosperity and stability. 

The Biden administration was caught flat-footed by the emergence of a civil war in Sudan, which has now thrust 5 million Sudanese women and children into near famine. The U.S. still has no credible plan to end the war, and the administration pays little to no attention to it, despite far greater humanitarian problems than anywhere else on the planet. 

Increasingly, countries think they don’t need America since they have Beijing for the commercial needs and Moscow for their security needs. China and Russia are winning across the continent. The U.S. must start fighting and winning the great power competition in Africa. 

First, America needs to counter Chinese influence across the continent. That starts with trade. More than four years ago, the Trump administration initiated talks on a free trade agreement with Kenya that was close to completion. Once again, the Biden administration dropped the ball, allowing the trade promotion authority to expire. The U.S. must be able to close deals and build markets for our companies.  

Our embassies and diplomats must each serve as an ambassador of American commerce, helping our companies enter and win the economic competition. Unlike the Chinese, we don’t want a rigged game where the most corrupt bid earns a contract. 

Our foreign assistance must be conditioned on receiving a level playing field where our companies not only get a fair shot at winning projects, but profits are both fairly shared with African people and reliably returned to American shareholders.  

It is capitalism, not communism, that has lifted billions around the world out of poverty. Responsible African leaders realize the best way to help their poor is through education and entrepreneurship. It is not with a handout but with a hand up, through American-supported education and entrepreneurial opportunities, that Americans will grow closer with Africans.

Radical social agendas are a bigger turn off on the continent than the brownouts currently experienced as the result of failed green technology promises. Expensive solar and wind farms that are often obsolete before they are installed won’t do the trick there. Africa is a massive and diverse continent for which an ‘all of the above’ energy approach, which includes clean, reliable and affordable Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), is the best fit. 

Yet another way that America can compete in Africa is through robust energy exports — particularly by developing natural gas infrastructure. The first step to succeeding here is ending Biden’s political LNG export ban that kneecaps American companies and causes countries across the world to develop Russian and Qatari LNG imports instead. 

Africa has the potential to be the continent of the 21st century. If we want to be part of that future, we must show up with more than a lecture: the U.S. must position itself to be the economic partner of choice.  

Morgan Ortagus is the founder of Polaris National Security and formerly served as the spokesperson for the U.S. State Department under President Trump. 

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