Executive Summary

Since the beginning and the fall of communism, America’s foreign policy has been focusing a lot on the Middle East and disregarded the African region. Given the ongoing civil wars in Africa, it is not a strategic or critical area that America can invest a lot in, building military bases, economic infrastructure, or empower the democracy of their African allies is not seen as a priority. Africa has been among the continents if not the only one with the richness, most expensive, and untouched natural resources such as gold, diamond, oil, and the most important being human capital due to the young ages living in the continent compared to others. By considering that, this paper describes an analysis of what could be the greatest foreign policy-related issue America is currently facing in the African continent or could be facing in the future. This paper will analyze how former American administrations have failed to capitalize on the potential of its African allies and will need to intensify relations in Africa in order to maintain its global position. In this paper, I will give a background about the history of America’s involvement in Africa, some of America’s successes and failures in the region. In this paper, I will also recommend three recommendations that could make better to reform and rectify the current, and the future of America’s foreign policy relations towards Africa.

The three recommendations of this paper will be: the creation of functioning and powerful trade and investment between America, and Africa, partnering with the African countries to defeat terrorism, pirates, and ending ongoing conflicts in the region, and finally, linking America’s aid and democracy to encounter China, and Russia’ political influence and spread of anti-democracy political behaviors in the continent. This paper will analyze the limitations and downsides of the suggested recommendations, to reform and rectify the current, and future of America’s foreign policy relations towards Africa. And finally, this paper will propose an alternative to one of the suggested recommendations and why it is not as good as being recommended. The main goal of this policy paper is to help the newly elected president Joe Biden prepare for his new role of re-adjusting and rectifying the current and the future of what could be the greatest foreign policy-related issue America is facing in Africa currently or soon.


Africa has been a home for more than one billion people with diverse cultures, languages, traditions, and histories. In many times the lack of homogeneity within the nations in Africa led to them to have a major conflicts such as civil wars which later also led to a major genocide happening between the different tribes that were living and sharing the same land. Due to the geographical locations, some of these nations in Africa were able to develop and progress furthermore than those who were in an erratic location. The current political systems in many nations in the continent of Africa are shaped by the European colonization in Africa and the aftermath that happened later when many of these nations got their independence back from the colonial. Many countries in Africa today are still under the political leaders who took the control of the nation when their nations freed themselves from colonization. Some other nations in Africa are still under the control of those political leaders who took the lead after their nation suffered from a bloody civil war like Rwanda, and Djibouti whose presidents are still in charge after twenty years.

During the end of the colonial period in Africa which happened in the mid-to-late ’50s and ’70s, many European colonizers could not resist finding another way of having access to the resources of their former colonies. Some of the European colonists due to their dominant power were able to claim many sovereignties in the continent of Africa even though they all had different procedures and aims. Since most of the African nations were under the control of many European countries after they got their independence back from their colonies many countries could not stand alone economically, politically, and socially and they needed a helping hand from their former colonizers. The lack of resource management and lack of industrial development allowed and gave another chance to the European colonialists to ‘recolonize’ their former African colony or protectorates. “Decolonization released African nations from their status as colonial subjects but failed to rid African nations of the sway of their former colonial rulers, other western powers, and a culture of political and economic exploitation and corruption” (African age,2011).

To create a better and effective American foreign policy towards Africa, it is significant that Biden and his new administration understand some of the major problems in many countries in Africa are facing, and the roots and causations of these problems. In the case of Africa, as stated by the journal released by the “World Happiness Report in 2017”, unlike many industrialized and developed nations in the west, there are common trending issues in many countries or in the continent of Africa. Some of the issues can be resolved by building strong state capacity and good governance. According to a survey filled by the citizens of forty-four countries in Africa, which was conducted in the “World Happiness Report in 2017” and Afro-barometer in (Figure1) revealed that these were some of the common and key issues mentioned by the citizens of randomly selected 18 African countries. These citizens stated and requested if their governments can prioritize and do something about them. Some of the common issues were poor governance, corruption, unemployment, population growth, insecurity, and drought, and famine. The main cause of the roots of poor governance in the continent has been for a long time the “dictatorship that merged from the independence from the colonial rule” (The African Exponent, 1,2019). The long last existence of poor governance in many countries in Africa caused the lack of creation and fulfillment of public policies and regulations that could have made it possible for the ruling governments of the African nations to provide some of the basic needs to their citizens such as healthcare, security, good and affordable education, and the ability to build public infrastructure.

Aside from that, poor governance allowed corrupted politicians to increase their term of office limits assigned by their constitutions. Corruption as among the common and serious issues that prohibited many nations in Africa to progress further contributed to the increased gap of economic inequality and job, and life opportunities between the rich and the poor in these nations. Despite the increase of unemployment being a worldwide issue lately, this problem affected African nations differently due to their outdated and poorly invested education system which could not equip the young people in the continent with the right tools and skills they need to have to succeed. On that note, Africa having a high number of unemployed youths living in the continent forced them to do nothing but to involve in dangerous crimes that could be a threat to the peace and the stability of their nations such as creating or joining existing terrorist groups or other pirates and militias.

For the newly elected president Joe Biden and his Administration, it is a crucial and crucial step to understand and study some of the successful foreign policy tools and an approach used and implemented by America’s former governments. In the past, America was able to achieve some success in its foreign policy towards Africa by using the instrumental approaches of foreign policies such as economic sanctions- in which America used “The Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986” as a foreign policy tool to end the racism, and apartheid that was in South Africa passed by America’s Congress. This conditioned economic sanction was an effective tool that worked and played a significant role in ending the racism that was taking place in South Africa. In the past, another foreign policy approach used by the former American government was a ‘diplomatic approach’ such as ‘recognition of behavior’ in which Trump removed South Sudan from the terrorist list to make Sudan a new diplomatic friend and ally with Israel. ‘Praising Allie’ was another diplomatic approach used by former President Donald Trump and his administration and as a result, it brought a good ally in the diplomatic relationship between two countries that were both an American ally -Bahrain and Israel. As another successful form of diplomatic approach in 1777, America signed ‘Moroccan American Treaty Friendship’ which was the first bilateral treaty between America and another foreign nation signed by both nations. As a successful military-diplomatic approach, such as sending in and out troops, America was able to “work with the national government, municipal councils, entrepreneurs, and a range of civil society groups, including those representing women and marginalized communities, in their efforts to improve Libyan lives. Since 2011, the United States has provided more than $840 million in assistance for Libya” (U.S. Relations with Libya, 1, 2021).

The diplomatic approach of ‘Praising Allie’ was another diplomatic approach used by former President Donald Trump and his administration and as a result, it brought a good ally diplomatic relationship between two countries that were both American allies -Bahrain, and Israel. As another successful form of diplomatic approach in 1777, America signed ‘Moroccan-American Treaty Friendship’ which was the first bilateral treaty between America and another foreign nation signed by both nations. As a successful military-diplomatic approach, such as sending in and out troops, America was able to “works with the national government, municipal councils, entrepreneurs, and a range of civil society groups, including those representing women and marginalized communities, in their efforts to improve Libyan lives. Since 2011, the United States has provided more than $840 million in assistance for Libya” (U.S. Relations with Libya, 1, 2021).

The past and current American foreign policy towards helping underdeveloped nations or other nations who lost all their infrastructure, and government stability at wars like Europe in the devastation of World War II, the usage of ‘USAID (US Agency for International Development)’ has been a successful instrument foreign policy to make an impact and change overseas. America introduced at that was known as ‘The Marshall Plan’ or the ‘European Recovery Program’ which has been so far one of the exemplary programs that had shown why aid is an effective and successful tool to implement as part of the foreign policy strategies. Some of the main objectives of this program were to “generate a resurgence of European industrialization and brought extensive investment into the region. It was also a stimulant to the U.S. economy by establishing markets for American goods” (Milestones, 1, 1945-52). As a by-product of the success of this program, the Congress of America later in 1961 introduced and passed a new policy which was known as the ‘Foreign Assist Act-1961’.

The Congress of America declared that the end in view of this foreign policy ‘Foreign Assist Act-1961’ is to provide encouragement and be a tower of strength to support the people of developing countries, “in their efforts to acquire the knowledge and resources essential to the development and to build the economic, political, and social institutions which will improve the quality of their lives” (Foreign Assist Act,1,1961). To make this policy effective and change-making, the Congress of America emphasized that this policy should follow and focus on five principles. The main principles of the new act passed by the congress were by using the grant funding through the ‘Foreign Assist Act-1961’ to alleviate and help to reduce the physical display of poverty among the impoverished and developing countries, creating and implementing political strategies that could enable developing countries to be successful and self-sufficient in terms of economic development with a non-discriminatory distribution of resources and benefits, and finally, to create a new norm of protecting and respecting individual citizen’s civil and growth economic rights, and to promote the development and creation of good governance to fight against corruption and to help enable countries to be part of into an open and fair international economic system (Foreign Assist Act,1,1961).

In addition to that, according to America’s Agency for International Development (USAID) report, “In Fiscal Year 2019, USAID and the U.S. Department of State provided $8.3 billion (about $26 per person in the US) of assistance to 47 countries and 8 regional programs in sub-Saharan Africa” (USAID,2020). This funding was used in equipment, farmers’ training, building schools and hospitals, and other essential programs such as education development, empowering women, and youth. Today the strategy and the implementation policies of the USAID, based on its approaches seem to resemble and following the principles stated the Congress’s Foreign Assist Act,1,1961. Despite that, after the event of 9/11, during the Bush II’s, as part of the country’s new national security strategy, his administration concluded that using USAID to focus on building infrastructures wasn’t the best and ideal way and instead proposed using it as means of ‘state capacity building’ would help the American government to achieve more success in both its national security and its foreign policy overseas, especially in developing nations who are in failed and fragile states (The National Security Strategy of The United States of America, 4,2002). Nevertheless, over the past, America was able to achieve some success by using some of the elements and instruments of foreign policy approaches such as economics, trade, military, aid, and diplomacy in its foreign policy toward Africa.


Based on the background information stated in this research paper and my subjective experiences from living in some countries in Africa, I am recommending to the newly elected President Joe Biden to do the following recommendation in order to reform and create a successful American foreign policy towards Africa. My recommendations are: –

  1. The creation of functioning and powerful trade and investment between America, and Africa.
  2. Partnering with the African countries to defeat terrorism, pirates, and ending ongoing conflicts in region.
  3. Linking America’s aid and democracy to encounter China, and Russia’ tyranny political influence and spread of anti-democracy political behaviors in the continent.

America-Africa Trade

In the decade, the trade relations between America and Africa declined by a lot since these past American Administrations their interest in the region went undercut while other countries like China, and Russia competed filling the open spaces and trade opportunities left by the American government. The increase of the economic growth of the continent was playing an important role to make the countries in the continent achieving self-sustainable economic goals since they were receiving less aid and were engaging more in participating in the international trade.  According to Meltzer, “since 2011… only approximately 1.5 percent of U.S. exports are to sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, economic growth in Africa from 2004 to 2014 averaged 5.8 percent, though in 2015 growth was only 3.75 percent” (Meltzer, 1,2016). One of the main reasons leading to this huge economic growth decline from 2015, as Meltzer stated was due to the slowing growth rates of export from China. In 2000, the Congress of America passed a new act to increase and support the engagement of trade interactions between America and Africa. This was known as the ‘African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

This act has been the centerpiece of America’s economic policy and private enterprise engagements with Africa. The main goal of this act was to create and promote a platform for the African countries to receive duty-free access to America’s market for over 1000 products (Office of the United States Trade Representatives, 1). In addition to that, America provided another system “Generalized System of Preferences” in which developing countries around the world included already members of the AGOA were able to export “more than 5,000 products that were free eligible duty-free access” under this system (Meltzer, 1,2016).  According to the Office of the United States Trade Representatives, to meet the requirements of the AGOA, countries must make an advancement route of building a market-based economy and creating a functioning rule of law. Additionally, as part of the requirement, this act encourages and requires the member states and potential one to eliminate trade barriers and systems to fight against corruption as well as to increase their support of protection of human rights (Office of the United States Trade Representatives, 1). Re-evaluating the membership of the AGOA and supporting more potential countries from Africa to join this agreement can increase the trade interaction between American and Africa.

Increasing the trade and investment partnership between America and African countries based on bilateral agreements might not the best approach due to the drastic changes in the international trading system. Inviting and helping eligible African countries to participate in the international trade agreements between America and other American allies and continents. will increase many African countries their growth domestic product since some of America’s trade partners represent half of the world’s global growth domestic products as well as both the global’ imports and exports percentages. This will allow some of the African countries with strong economies to involve and present their views in large global trade negotiations. This will allow many countries in Africa to receive investment. And in return, some of the African countries can support and be behind the implementation of the policies being used to reduce the increase of global warming and greenhouse gases.

To make this trade and investment between America and Africa happen, according to Meltzer, Biden’s Administration must make and expands trade in agriculture exports, manufactured goods, services and digital trade between America and members of the AGOA countries will be a crucial step and will carry immediate growth and support in these developing countries. Reducing tariffs on agriculture exports from AGOA members will support their economic development. “According to one study, complete elimination of tariffs on agriculture exports from sub-Saharan Africa would increase exports over $105 million compared to what it would otherwise be in 2025” (Meltzer,11,2016). However, the result of removing all tariffs from AGOA members will, “would only reduce U.S. production by $9.6 million” (Meltzer,11,2016). Some of the exemption agriculture products from this reduction of tariffs are sugar, tobacco, dairy, beef, peanuts, cotton, and green olives. These commodities are essential to the American farmers since their production heavily relies on them. Putting them in lower tariffs will make the American farmers’ market too challenging and can reduce the prices of their products.

Growing the American African trade especially in agriculture will help African countries to create job opportunities for the youths, and women since most of these groups involve more in the agriculture labor force. An increase in labor intensity in the agriculture sector in the African countries will contribute a lot to reducing the poverty.  the growth of job opportunities will reduce the crimes and the rise of threats to the region’s peace, and stability (Meltzer, 7,2016). On the other side, creating more trade and investment interactions between American and Africa will allow America to defeat China’s war on trade. This will give some of the American companies a new marker to sell their goods and services. Due to Africa’s momentous rise of technological adaptability and usage, might as well allow American tech companies to invest in these new opportunities. Maintaining this trade and its stability between America and Africa might lead the path in the future where America will not need to give or donate aid anymore since these nations are now financially stable.

Partnering with the African countries to defeat terrorism, pirates, and ending ongoing conflicts in the region.

Due to the opportunities that the continent of Africa offers attracted increasingly many diverse nations and global partners who are seeking their way to build and strengthen a unique diplomatic, defense and high commercial interest partnership with the countries in the continent. As the number of these global partners increase so does the security and peace stability of the continent. Some of the new political actors in the continent in these past years were Russia, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, and China. Meanwhile, some of Africa’s former colonial or trade partners are fading away from the political arena, such as Italy, France, and America it gave a chance to the new actors to fill the power vacuum they left behind (Coulibaly, 2019).

Inspired by the lack of economic stability and desperation of financial needs the number of African countries hosting foreign military bases in the region especially in the Horn of Africa increased. According to the Conversation, close to thirteen foreign powers are running functioning military bases in the continent including the private military groups. The African Union (AU) couldn’t do anything about the spread of the enlargement of the foreign military bases on the continent since the African Union’s Security Council doesn’t hold that much power over its members. “China has been particularly active with its military presence in the Horn of Africa. It has become more engaged since 2008 when it participated in the multi-national anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden” (Conversation, 2020). Camp Lemonnier- Djibouti’s military base established by America back in 2003 is now home to America along with China, France, Spain, China, Italy, India, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and many other ones (Conversation, 2020).

However, since the military bilateral agreements bring more financial supports to these hosting countries, and not all of these western countries’ goal isn’t to fight and end terrorist groups and pirates but some of them are only motivated their commercial interests, it’s very important Joe Biden’s Administration come up with better and different approaches to convince the hosting countries to not accept any more foreign military bases in their soil. “The presence of foreign forces on the continent played a significant role fighting terror groups… but there is a downside of having them is that the landscape has of the continent has become overcrowded by having all of them at the same place” (Conversation, 2020).

As stated by Bush II in his 2002 America’s National Security Strategy that the fragile and failing countries are more threat and danger to America’s security. Based on Bush’s perspective America can set a new example of as a foreign military in Africa by coming up with a better strategy to emphasize the state capacity building of the hosting countries. Teaching and supporting them to maintain law and order. Giving military training and equipment support to the military of these fragile nations to combat and fight against on their own any terrorist groups or privates should be the focus of America’s new foreign policy towards Africa. This will create interdependencies of defense, diplomacy, and development between America and the nations in the African region. Having well-trained and equipped militaries in the region who could have against anything that is a threat to their security, peace or the world’s stability should be the long vision of America’s foreign policy in the region. By doing this will allow America and Africa to have a greater emphasis on trade relations, trust between America and the African countries, mutual benefits, and the notion to not need to send American troops overseas to fight against terrorist groups.

Linking America’s aid and democracy to encounter China and Russia’s tyranny of political influence and spread of anti-democracy political behaviors in Africa.

The usage of aid has been an effective and promising foreign policy tool for so many different countries to influence politics overseas. Due to the diverse intentions of the aid providers in the region. Some of the Western countries and organizations in the continent used the offer of aid as an entry ticket to spread their political norms while others like China offered to aid with no strings attached at all. Since America has been using aid to solve and invest in the areas where a lot of Africans were not able to get a supporting hand from their elected governments. According to Sanny and Signe, “directing more aid towards efforts that directly and indirectly lead job creation, or at least making a better case for investment in areas such as education, infrastructure, and electricity is directly tied to economic growth and jobs” can change how the African citizens see the usage of ‘aid’ no a bargaining chip where countries who give want to dictate their politics but rather can see the aid providers as supporting friends whose their cost and benefits are mutually the same (Signe, Sanny, 4,2020).  A survey conducted by Afro-barometers in (Figure 3) showed that many African citizens dislike ‘conditioned or string attached aid’ even if the end goal of this conditioned aid is supporting the economic growth of their economy or promoting democracy and the protection of human rights. Or stating the result of this survey, it can be rendered as that the majority of African countries don’t like to be commanded or ordered by ‘outsiders’ (Signe, Sanny, 4,2020).  

In addition to that, even though this survey showed that the majority of the African countries are against receiving aid with requirements, Africa has a high younger population who could see their needs such as high support of human rights, more job opportunity, easier world to travel to, can support some of the ‘democratic ideals and institutions’ the American government want to achieve. Another survey conducted Afro-barometers(Figure 4) analyzing the percentage of African citizens who would support democracy and democratic institutions, having accountable government, respecting the presidential limit times or electing directly to their leaders(one-man-one-vote). A valuable lesson this survey shed light on to America’s foreign policy in the future is to support reinforcing and the accountability of governments who receives aid from America to support the protection of human rights, combating against corruption (Signe, Sanny, 8,2020). 

 If the future American foreign policies towards Africa are based on this view of supporting democracy and staying away from supporting and endorsing political dictators in the region, America will receive the support of the African people who are tired of seeing some of their society getting richer and richer while others are hitting under the poverty line due to the high corruption and poor governance in their nations. Overall, if America’s foreign policy and diplomatic strategies towards Africa keeps supporting the economic growth of the region, empathizing building state capacity and military, maintenance of law and order, enforcing contracts, reduction of corruption, protection of private property, human rights, improvement of the healthcare system, and education; since all of these are the most needed areas and supported by the majority of the African citizens will help America overcoming China and Russia’s influence in the region. By this approach of linking America’s aid and democracy to encounter China, and Russia’ tyranny political influence and spread of anti-democracy political behaviors in the continent, would be, “efficient, effective, and impactful, without necessarily having to match China’s pledged $60 billion in loans, aid, and broader financial support to the region” (Signe, Sanny, 10,2020). 


Since I recommended that the creation of functioning and powerful trade and investment between America, and Africa can increase the political and economic interactions between America and Africa, one of the reasons why this recommendation might be limited is due to the development and economic current stage of many African countries which makes them to not be ready to have a ‘fair trade’ with America. Besides the fairness of the trade, another problem that both America and the African countries need to overcome is the lack of applicable trade infrastructures such as airports, roads, and ports in order to prepare the trade market. Without appropriate and professional trade landmarks to put this recommendation into action is like going outside and looking for the stars on a bright sunny day.

Other limitations to my recommendation are the incompatibility of the American’s democracy and core values such as freedom of speech might go against the generations-old traditions and customs of many countries in the regions that don’t like to fit in or change despite whether their practices are good or bad. Having China and Russia in the region who are both willing to give aid and donations without conditions or strings attached limits the effectiveness of America’s aid since many leaders from the continent are favoring more to receive the money without any questions following by how it has been spent. This will put the American government in a position where not that many countries want to receive aid from America.


One of the alternatives to my recommendations is the option of Biden’s  Administrations leaving physically and politically the continent completely. The main reason why this alternative is not as good as my recommendations of creating American foreign politics that involves economically, politically, and physically throughout the use of the military is that leaving Africa behind will give a big win to major powers like Russia and China who have been active actors a lot in the region. According to Yachyshen, China’s plan of overtaking the region consist of two major plans- the first one the method known as the “Angola Model”. This method’s main goal is to give funding grants and loans to an underdeveloped resource-rich country with the hope that they will not be able to pay back the loan on time or nor later. This allows China to be in a position of demanding natural resources in return (Yachyshen, 1,2021). The second system “multiple Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOE) undertaking ambitious infrastructure projects ranging from railways, including the 3.2 billion USD Mombasa railway in Kenya, to dams, such as the 1 billion USD Soubry mega-dam in Côte D’Ivoire” (Yachyshen, 1,2021).  Djibouti is facing today similar situation as Angola since it couldn’t pay back the loans given by the Chinese government. Djibouti which is a geopolitical strategic area might end up in the hands of China.

In this alternative, China will overtake many more other countries in the region and it will not allow the American government to have a voice or influence in the region. On top of that, China overtaking developing resource-rich countries in the region will make it harder for America to compete against China in the global market and trade. This might be another reason could lose its trade war against China.


In today’s reality, many powerful nation’s foreign policies are failing due to the misalignment between their cost and benefits compared with the other countries they want to help. For example, if a nation’s foreign policy overseas is to invade another one or fight against a particular group and in that note if the nation who is using this strategy is paying less the price of their results such as dealing with the aftermath of that nation’s failing and this type of foreign policy will be work. As a nation trying to use this type of foreign policy, you will always keep failing and lose potential ally members. It is insane to see America using the same foreign policy towards Africa in the past thirty years despite whether there are new challenging members in the region, or as a result, there had been more failures than successes. However, Biden’s Administration needs to reform its foreign policy towards Africa through the lenses of military, aid, diplomacy, and trade. Sooner or later, if this reform does not happen, many potential developing countries hoping to become a developed nation one day will say goodbye to democracy and good governance and, in return, will admire China and Russia’s politics and leadership. Disregarding interacting with the region will also be a significant loss to many generous American people who put into much work, time, and investment to elevate the developing nations in the region—coming up with a foreign policy that has the plan of creating a functioning and robust trade and investment between America, and Africa. Partnering with the African countries to defeat terrorism, pirates, and ending ongoing conflicts in the region, and finally, linking America’s aid and democracy to encounter China and Russia’ political influence and spread of anti-democracy political behaviors in the continent is the best way to approach and reform America’s foreign policy towards Africa through the eyes of America’s instruments of foreign policy.


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Sayidcali Ismail Ahmed is an alumnus of Abaarso School of Science and Technology (Somaliland) and Carroll High School (Indiana-USA). Sayidcali won a full scholarship sponsored by MasterCard Foundation Scholars (African Leadership Academy) to attend and do his undergraduate studies at Westminster College(Missouri- USA). He is double majoring in political science & Global and Transnational Studies and minoring in law. He is passionate about discussing, analyzing, and writing about geopolitics’ dynamics and the political changes in the world, especially in Africa.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints of Somaliland Chronicle, and its staff. 

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