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US approach to Africa should remain intact regardless of Trump-Biden poll showdown: former US envoy

Former US envoy J Peter Pham says the one area of American foreign policy that has enjoyed broad bipartisan support since the end of the Cold War has been Africa.
Former US envoy J Peter Pham says the one area of American foreign policy that has enjoyed broad bipartisan support since the end of the Cold War has been Africa.
Image: X/J Peter Pham

Investors can breathe a sigh of relief if they have fears that the outcome of November’s US elections may spur a radical shift in the policy of the world’s largest economy towards doing business with Africa.

This is according to former US special envoy for the Sahel and great lake regions, J Peter Pham, who spoke at the 2024 Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town on Wednesday.

“The one area of American foreign policy that actually has enjoyed broad bipartisan support throughout administrations, Democrat and Republican, since the end of the Cold War has been Africa.

“Africa legislation tends to sail through, with the exception of one or two sleepy people or confused individuals who won’t know, but otherwise 90% of the House or Senate vote for legislation,” he said.

In November, the US will take to the polls to vote in a high-stakes election where the incumbent president Joe Biden is expected to vie for re-election against Republican front-runner, former president Donald Trump.

The “America first” policy of the Trump administration raised fears that the world’s largest economy would leave its economic ties with Africa neglected.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act has looked to reverse the exporting of labour to cheaper markets outside the US in favour of more local American jobs.

South Africa’s closeness to Russia, amid the country’s ongoing military campaign in Ukraine, has earned South Africa bipartisan criticism, as Republican and Democrat politicians call for South Africa to be removed from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa).

Pham said the two parties might emphasise different points in the US’s relationship with Africa, but big programmes tend to enjoy support from Democrats and Republicans.

“I expect that continuity which is two, three decades plus to continue. Fundamentally, the policy will stand. Not because we are idealistic. We’d like to be, but it’s because it is in our interests. It’s in our national interest and it is for investing in Africa,” he said.

Pham said the US needed to diversify supply chains as it struggled to mine in its own territory even with geological resources.

Zambian minister of mines and minerals Paul Kabuswe said Africa must ensure that its nations collaborate effectively during the global energy transition.

He said most, if not all, coveted minerals are on the African continent and lay unexplored.

“Africa’s dominance in critical mineral reserves places us at the heart of the green energy future.

“Africa is rich in critical minerals that are essential for technology, renewable energy and manufacturing. There is a growing emphasis to move beyond mere extraction, to adding value, creating jobs and advancing development,” Kabuswe said.

Council for Geoscience CEO Musa Mabuza said African economies needed to develop capacity to explore its mineral endowment, as well as extract and trade them to the continent’s primary benefit.

“Not only do we have small fiscus, we have a growing burden on the fiscus to address socioeconomic issues.”

Mabuza said Africa deserved and needed a recalibration of its economic relationship with the global north, and developed countries had a responsibility to invest in “the fundamental building blocks” of the continent.

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