The Special Assistant to President Joe Biden and Senior Director for Africa at the National Security Council, Ms. Dana Banks, in this interview anchored by Department of State’s Johannesburg Media Hub, speaks on how the United States (U.S.) Government is working to increase U.S.- Africa trade and investment through the Prosper Africa initiative. FELIX NWANERI and WALE ELEGBEDE report
President Joe Biden and his administration are dead serious about competing and confronting China in Africa. Can you talk a little bit about how the new commitment made at the U.S.-Africa Business Summit will help the U.S. counter China in Africa as far as trade is concerned?
I think that the United States is interested in investing and increasing investment in Africa for the basic, sound potential and possibilities that exist on the continent. The way we do trade and investment is quite different from other countries, and particularly in China that you mentioned.
The reason why we are re-envisioning or have re-envisioned Prosper Africa is because we see it as a genuine partnership based on a commitment to shared prosperity. And that is how the U.S. does foreign policy; it’s in line and consistent with our goals and with our beliefs as Americans. Africa’s increasing integration into global markets, the demographic boom, and of course the thriving culture of entrepreneurship presents a remarkable opportunity for us to strengthen those economic ties and promote new opportunities for both U.S. and African businesses to fuel economic growth and job creation and greater U.S. participation in Africa’s future. So, that is really our goal in this. Obviously, the Build Back Better World initiative is one that will play on more of the infrastructure type of deals and engagements in terms of health infrastructure and actual hard infrastructure in countries, digital infrastructure, things that countries need in order to prosper and to grow and to also make it a more conducive environment for investing.
And so we don’t see ourselves as necessarily in competition with China. Obviously, there are some challenges related to Chinese engagement, and we will address those directly as necessary, but our engagement with Africa is focused on the mutually beneficial relationship and partnership that we see with countries across the continent.
The Biden administration has made it clear that the U.S.–China relationship for the future is one of a competition between democracy and authoritarian governance. The other side of that is with the new administration’s push. Can the Biden administration match Chinese engagement with Africa, and what role does democratic values play and human rights play in President Biden’s plan for Africa?
We issued the interim strategic guidance early on in the administration, and obviously, we are currently in the process of drafting the full National Security Strategy, which we hope to release later this year. But I think and as we’ve seen with various executive orders and national security memoranda specifically as it relates to anti-corruption, democratic values, we know, are at the core of American principles, and certainly are at the core of the Biden administration’s goals in engaging across the world and particularly in Africa.
And it is a priority for the Biden- Harris administration to elevate democracy, good governance, rule of law, and human rights as issues across our foreign policy because this is fundamental to who we are and this is fundamental to what the U.S. stands for. And our support for citizencentered governance and respect for human rights seeks to reduce instability, fragility, and resurgent authoritarianism, as you mentioned.
So, really getting at the root causes of instability and drivers of conflicts that we see across the continent, such as in northern Mozambique and the Sahel – very acutely we see it there. But we also know that there has been worrying backsliding in democracy and respect for human rights in places on the continent. and that is a concern. But I think that what we hope to do is work with our partners, work with governments, work with civil society to address these issues, and again, making our values and that of democratic governance and the rule of law a cornerstone of our strategy, of our diplomacy, and, of course, of our engagement with our African partners going forward.
Can you clarify a little more and maybe go beyond what you shared already about what you’re willing in this new initiative?
I am happy to give you a few specific examples of how Prosper Africa has already sort of lived up to what we are envisioning now for this reimagining phase of it and the types of deals we and the activities and engagements we will continue to do. And I just want to mention that all of this information can be found on Prosper Africa’s website, and we hope to have a fact sheet on the White House website shortly to enumerate all the entire reimagining of the initiative and some more details that you can refer to.
I would like to know if the $80 million requested by President Biden is ready and available and let’s see about that is ready and available, and how it will be used, allocated to different sectors, how those funds will be used and if there are any particular sectors which are being targeted?
That request is part of the President’s overall budget request to Congress. That is also publicly available information, so you can look and see what all is included, not just the $80 million but the President’s entire request. And we cannot sort of get ahead of what Congress may eventually approve, but what we’re hoping that will do is to support, as I mentioned, some initiatives that will be in line with what Build Back Better World initiative envisions in terms of infrastructure financing.
I mentioned the Development Finance Corporation, additional deals, but also to try to assist the 17 U.S. Government agencies as they seek to do their work on the continent, whether that’s increased match-making for businesses for American investors in key sectors on the continent, whether it’s healthcare, agriculture, the power sector. Those are some of the key sectors that we will be looking at. So, that’s generally how we envision using, if approved, this $80 million that has been requested, and really, Prosper Africa was a new initiative started in 2019.
There is a history of wonderful initiatives being started in previous administrations that have carried over. Just to name a few: PEPFAR, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and Power Africa. So this is an initiative that definitely we felt had hope, had promise, and we wanted to build it up better, to build Prosper back better to make sure that it truly meets the needs of not just the American investors, but the sectors and the businesses in Africa where we seek to invest, and that is also why we added the element of diaspora businesses and support to women-owned businesses and small and medium enterprises on the continent.
Do you see Prosper Africa replacing the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), when the latter ends in 2025?
I know there is a lot of consterna-tion and concern about the looming legislative end of the AGOA legislation, seeking to sunset in 2025. I think we’re still having conversations with our colleagues at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office in how we can take sort of the next chapter of AGOA. Because even if AGOA sunsets in – well, the legislation does it in 2025, but if there is not another round of AGOA that comes up, then what would be the next element? What is the next step in the trade relationship with the U.S. and Africa? I think the AfCFTA is one way that we are looking at increasing – going back to the previous question about the $80 million – increasing some of the engagement that we want to see with the continent through a mechanism that was approved by host countries on the continent, and we want to use that to try and help for our engagement, because this is something that African countries have said that they want.
So, we want to see how we can support that and look at sort of the next level of trade, of a trade relationship with Africa as a bloc but also with individual countries. So, it’s something that we’re still reviewing and we’re looking at, and I would not necessarily think of the sunsetting of AGOA as necessarily a bad thing. I think that larger countries on the continent have been able to take advantage of AGOA benefits, and some of the countries, frankly, have not yet been able to. So, I think we need to look at sort of new ways to make sure that our trade relationship with all of Africa, with the entire continent, is one that’s mutually beneficial for all of us.
How is this initiative, Prosper Africa, likely to impact on the work being done by Power Africa and USAID? Is there a specific focus on power in the Prosper Africa programme?
As I mentioned earlier, Power Africa was an initiative that came about under the Biden administration and really has emerged as one of the strongest and most enduring, I think, and most tangible initiatives that we see that really makes an impact in the lives of people across the continent. And so, of course, power is a sector that we are definitely looking at as one of the priority sectors for engagement with Prosper Africa, and I’d like to also sort of fold in climate as well because the climate sector is one that we are looking at.
So I’ll just mention, and going here to some of my facts just to make sure that I have my numbers accurate, so Power Africa and the African Trade Insurance Agency recently signed a memorandum of understanding that extends their cooperation through 2022 to help increase investments into African member countries and two-way trade flows between Africa, the U.S. and the rest of the world. ATI facilitates exports, foreign direct investment flows into, and trade flows within the continent. That’s just one example of how Power Africa is incorporated into Prosper Africa. And then another point I’ll just make: Recent commitments from Power Africa, from the Development Finance Corporation, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, as well as the U.S. Africa Development Foundation, will support the expansion of off-grid energy solutions in Africa, which represents a $24 billion opportunity annually. Also, through its global partnership for climate-smart – here we go – for climate-smart infrastructure, U.S. – the U.S. Trade and Development Agency plans to dedicate up to $60 million over the next three years to advance climate-smart infrastructure solutions that will open emerging markets to the export of U.S.- manufactured goods, technologies, and services. A significant portion of these funds will support resilient and low-carbon infrastructure solutions across Africa. And of course, I mentioned the West African Power Pool cooperative agreement with the MCC earlier as well.
The U.S. has been considered as one of the most difficult countries or markets to penetrate for African producers. How will this initiative help make it easier for our producers to export to the U.S.?
What we’ve always done as the U.S. Government and various agencies that are involved in Prosper is that, through USAID, for example, we help support local entrepreneurs with advising services, with also support for growing their businesses in trying to understand how to best market their products for potential export to the United States. So, we will continue to do that. We will probably beef up some of those services to make sure that we’re truly focusing on the key sectors, but also helping some of those smaller businesses, those smaller entrepreneurs. I’ve traveled across the continent and have seen so many wonderful, really inspirational examples of entrepreneurship from textiles to shea butter to jewelry, and I think to myself, this would sell like hotcakes in Target or in Macy’s. So, I think that Africa is definitely à la mode, as they say, and products from the continent, and so I think that this is what Prosper Africa will do and will continue to do and will seek to do more of in the future – to make sure that those smaller businesses, those women-owned businesses are on the ground, have the resources and the tools that they need to be able to connect to investors in the States and hopefully connect to diaspora businesses and women-owned businesses in the States who truly understand what it is about – what different types of products and handicrafts that can really sell to markets here in the U.S. So I’m very excited about that.
Does the U.S. believe that the incidents in South Africa in the last couple of weeks of quite massive rioting and looting and so on will impact on business confidence from the U.S. in South Africa, and possibly either cause U.S. companies to disinvest or discourage new companies from investing?
I think we were definitely concerned by the recent protests and subsequent rioting and looting in South Africa, but we are also encouraged at the way that South Africans have pulled together in the wake of that to rebuild the country and how President Cyril Ramaphosa has marshaled the resources of the government, also of the private sector, to help companies build back and to help individuals who were affected by the looting. And I think that for Prosper Africa, which is an initiative of 17 U.S. Government departments and agencies, each bringing their own skills and expertise to the initiative to strengthen what they do to the benefit of American investors and key sectors on the continent; I think that it’s important – even more so now, in the light of this, and unfortunately South Africa is not alone; there’s instability and other concerns across the continent in various sectors and markets where investors are looking to invest, and that’s why it’s even more important that we have experts on the ground who can help advise our companies and businesses about the investment climate. And we will continue to do that. I think American investors are intrepid and they are looking for new markets and they absolutely realize that Africa is the fastestgrowing and potentially the most profitable markets for them to invest. So, that is what we will continue to do as the U.S. Government: advise, provide context and the like to ensure that there are good, sound investments in key sectors across the continent.
Can you provide us with an update on the relationship with Sudan? I know that there was a promise of wheat aid under the previous administration, if that has been fulfilled; and what obstacles remain towards the U.S. relationship with Sudan?
I think Sudan is at a pivotal moment in its transition to a fully functioning, or back to a fully functioning democracy. We stand with the people of Sudan. We definitely have strong and robust engagements going forward and some things coming up that I think will definitely demonstrate our commitment to our relationship and also to the people of Sudan. We have assistance packages. I don’t have the exact numbers but we really are supportive of the transition that’s taking place. I recently participated in a U.S.- Sudan Business Council event with Prime Minister Hamdok and was very encouraged by the opportunities that are burgeoning in Sudan right now for business, but also in terms of the opportunities that are being provided to its people through the government and through assistance from us and from international partners. So, I think there are some exciting things coming for our relationship with Sudan and for the people of Sudan.
How is the U.S. assisting coastal nations to provide security on the sea, especially in an era that piracy and other crimes are reportedly going high at sea?
We are concerned by the increasing threats that we’re seeing in the Sahel and the threats which that poses as those threats potentially move further southward and towards the maritime borders of countries like Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Togo. And we are working with our partners in the Sahel, the French, the EU and others to try to stem some of that threat that is currently present, the terrorist threat in the Sahel, but also the maritime security concerns, we are with our colleagues at the Department of Defense, we have some programs that we work with individual countries on helping to secure their maritime borders. But as I mentioned earlier, at the root of all of this is the root causes of instability, so we are also working with governments on that coast, in particular the Gulf of Guinea, to be able to better address the security challenges, but also service delivery to their citizens to prevent, to stem, hopefully, this threat from further encroaching on the maritime borders and threatening the lives and livelihoods of people in the Sahel and down into littoral West Africa. It’s one that we’re definitely engaged on and we will continue to work on that.
Do you have any final words?
Yes, I’m glad you asked. Since no one brought this up, I’m actually surprised that no one brought it up but I did want to highlight, because as I started my remarks saying how the last year and the pandemic has shown how we are interconnected, and as I’m sure you’re aware that President Biden, back in May, announced that we would be sharing with – globally 25 million vaccines, vaccines doses around the world and on the continent. And we have been, over the past three weeks, working through the African Union and COVAX delivering first rounds, in some cases second rounds, of doses to our African partners. And just today, we are happy to announce that we will be sending over five million doses to South Africa as well as four million – five million doses – over five million doses to South Africa of Pfizer vaccines as well as four million doses of Moderna vaccine to Nigeria. So, it just so happened that the shipment was timed today for my Media Hub call, but we have been delivering to countries across the continent for the past three weeks.
So, we’re very excited about that and we hope that these will go a long way in helping to provide safety and health security for the people of Nigeria and South Africa, which will then enable them to get back to their regular activities, their economic activities, and help them to build back better.
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