Former US Special Envoy to the Sahel Ambassador J. Peter Pham and former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ed Royce provided their perspectives at an Atlantic Council event about Republican views on US-Africa relations. In this conversation, moderated by Africa Center Senior Director Ambassador Rama Yade, they shared their views on how the United States should approach its foreign policy toward the continent and discussed some of Africa’s most significant developments, including the recent BRICS summit and the series of military coups that have roiled the Sahel region.
Congress and US-Africa Policy
Referring to his experience at the House, Royce said Congress has passed many successful initiatives toward Africa in the past – including the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and Electrify Africa. Congress, Royce said, is also taking the lead on the Development Finance Corporation, which he said needs to be strengthened to be competitive against Beijing in Africa.
According to Pham, US-Africa policy has been bipartisan and continuous across presidential administrations with the main differences being in execution and emphasis. Pham argued that the Biden administration, which released a new Africa policy, should pay greater attention to North Africa and its connections to sub-Saharan Africa. He stated that fundamental reform of institutions, especially regarding anti-corruption, is important for financing Africa’s development.
Royce said that the BRICS Summit is a tool for Beijing to advance a China-centric view of foreign policy and economics. He stated that US policy focuses on human rights, liberty, and the rule of law in contrast to what he characterized as a single-leader model in China.
Pham said that the 2023 BRICS Summit in Johannesburg was a “flash in the pan.” He noted that the bloc’s members have serious geopolitical challenges. According to Pham, the reality of the summit was more “mundane” than the media portrayal.
Coups in the Sahel
On the series of coups in the Sahel, Pham said that each country in the Sahel is unique, and each coup had its own distinct causes. Nevertheless, the main issue in the Sahel, he said, is a crisis of state legitimacy. He said that the state “does not touch the lives of people” and that there is little service provision or government protection throughout the region.
Regarding the coup in Niger, Pham said that military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States would have been helpful in the first few hours after the coup, but that it is now too late for such an intervention to succeed.
Royce said that the United States should support the region by helping ensure elections are fair and free, assisting civil society, and recognizing the winners of democratic elections.
Russia and China’s role on the continent
When speaking about African countries’ relations with US adversaries, Pham said the United States has the right to know who its allies on the continent are. He argued that South Africa is “doing a very bad job” of looking after its own interests by supporting Russia because, he said, the United States is a larger trade partner to South Africa than Russia.
Royce said that Russia and the Wagner mercenary group destabilize countries across Africa and exploit conflicts, such as the ongoing civil war in Sudan, to acquire gold and other assets amid the chaos. China, according to Royce, plays a role in spreading corruption in African countries. Royce noted that there are critical minerals in the DRC that could support the global green energy transition. He argued that the United States must ensure that these critical minerals are not monopolized by China.
Sakina Traoré is a 2023 Mandela Washington fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.
Sibi Nyaoga is a young global professional at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.
The Africa Center is pleased to welcome former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce and former US Special Envoy for the Sahel Region J. Peter Pham, hosted by Africa Center Senior Director Rama Yade, for an event on Republican views toward US-Africa relations. Following a conversation with two Democrat members of the US Congress in May, this event will help inform a greater understanding of a bipartisan approach to US foreign policy toward Africa; it will also include discussion about current developments on the continent.
Leading up to the 78th United Nations General Assembly, the Africa Center will be assessing the renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), congressional oversight of US foreign policy in Africa, great power competition on the continent, instability in the Sahel and Great Lakes regions, and the war in Ukraine’s consequences for Africa. The Atlantic Council’s Africa Center continues to host premier voices on US-Africa policy as part of its mission to shape the global future.
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The Africa Center works to promote dynamic geopolitical partnerships with African states and to redirect US and European policy priorities toward strengthening security and bolstering economic growth and prosperity on the continent.