Kamala Harris Visits Africa: A Move to Strengthen US-African Economic Ties


REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko

The US vice president kicked off a historic trip to Africa on Sunday 26th March 2023, to strengthen economic ties with African countries. Kamala Harris during her weeklong trip visited Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia. She said that the United States is committed towards increasing investments in Africa.

In general, America has been working with Africa for decades. It has well established programs like the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which grants preferential access to US markets for African products. The US has played a significant role in promoting economic integration and regional trade. Nevertheless, after reaching an all-time high in 2008, U.S. trade with AGOA participants has decreased to almost its pre-AGOA level.

In addition, other programs established in Africa include the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Power Africa initiative and foreign aid with billions of dollars in aid each year to support a variety of development projects, such as health, education, and poverty reduction. Until recently, the primary method of the United States employed to further its objectives in Africa is the distribution of assistance.

In the wake of the United States absence which intensified during Former President Donald Trump’s administration, ignoring Africa, never visiting the continent and disparaging some African nations in a 2018 meeting as expletive countries therefore creating a gap for other nations in strengthening trade ties in Africa, particularly China. However, Harris’s visit to Africa is majorly aimed at countering China and Russia’s influence in Africa. And, consequently, the growth of investments from these countries and their influence.

Harris during her visit pledged $100 billion dollars to four African states to address security, governance, and development issues in the region. Though it is a welcomed development, According to estimates by the African Development Bank, Africa needs at least $100 billion per annum to plug its infrastructure finance deficit and another $50 billion to invest in climate adaptation. The US support is commendable but however unlikely to radically change the continent.

It is not new that China has invested heavily into the continent for over a decade, dishing out loans, building infrastructure and even resource developments while Russia on the other hand deployed troops from the Wagner group to aid the government in several African countries. According to the Council of Foreign Relations, “China-Africa trade has soared since 2000, with China surpassing the United States as the largest single trade partner in 2009” with Chinese trade reaching over $250 billion dollars in 2021. On the other hand, the EU in 2019 launched the “African Continental Free Trade Agreement” which aimed at reaching every country in the continent. Some Analysts, however, stated that it could only be possible to reach a continent to continent free trade agreement if only the EU would remedy its asymmetrical trade relationships with African partners. The recent competition between U.S and other nations in Africa has been described as “Scramble for Africa” says Professor Bopkin an economist and professor in finance, a senior lecturer from the University of Ghana, referring back to the 19th century era when African continents were subdivided amongst European Nations leading to the exploitation of African Countries and Colonialism.

Basically, the US channels most of its investments in Trade. During the last US-Africa summit in December 2022, the United States mapped out $55 billion to Africa over the next three years, with about $20 billion going into health programs, $15 billion for trade and investment, $1.1 billion for climate adaptation and energy transmission and $358 million for women initiatives. In 2021, the United States involved in a two-way trade and investment deal across Africa worth 83.6 billion in 2021. Majority of the initiatives are intertwined with broader US goals and values in Africa. The US trend towards economic integration in Africa isn’t just about Africa’s interest but an avenue which presents opportunities for the U.S and its firms as well. These initiatives and agreements are largely tied to US values and interest in Africa and future trade pacts are most unlikely to deviate from the previous ones even though the US strives to counteract European, Russian and Chinese influence in Africa. No doubt, the US has contributed to the growth and development of Africa but the U.S at the same time have to start treating Africa not as a subject of geopolitics but as a geopolitical player.