President Biden’s Africa Policy

LSE IDEAS Strategic Update by Rebecca Rattner and Bjorn Whitmore

Urgent action

American policy must first take urgent action on COVID-19 and the Ethiopia conflict. As the Biden administration rushes to get a COVID-19 vaccine to Americans, it should also provide more dedicated and visible support to the World Health Organization (WHO) and COVAX initiative to ensure vaccine access in African countries.[14] Leadership on this front will save lives, accelerate economic recovery in Africa and give immediate credibility to Biden’s overtures of partnership and multilateralism.

Targeted regional strategies

East Africa


Diplomatic transformation will be at the core of success for a rejuvenated American approach in Africa. Relationships with leaders are indispensable to advance common priorities, renew American credibility, and create non-financial levers for influence. Biden set the right tone with his remarks at the AU summit, but must back this up with official State visits, as well as adopting a more expansive, people-centric approach to diplomacy. In-depth contextual knowledge and strong relationships are needed to identify the right opportunities for investment, build trust, and maintain productive cooperation. The character of America’s diplomatic corps should be defined by individuals prepared and empowered to engage in this effort. America must complement formal diplomacy with investments in academic, commercial, and cultural exchanges that allow citizens from both sides of the Atlantic to increase mutual understanding and lay the foundations for long-term solidarity with Africa’s next generation of leaders.

Bringing Biden’s principles to bear

Implicit in Biden’s repeated call for America to lead by the “power of our example” is an acknowledgement of the failed promises and missed opportunities that have marred American foreign policy in recent years. Biden is famously comfortable with the politics of compassion, collaboration, and respect, and has promised to reflect them abroad. Leading by those principles must be a global endeavour that meets the new realities of our time, when America’s leadership is in question and power is no longer reserved for the global North. But success will hinge on the ability of Biden and his talented yet conventional foreign policy team to shift the historical perspective of American foreign policy and take a principled and ambitious approach in Africa, and elsewhere.

About the Authors

Rebecca Rattner is a fellow at the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional Law and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. Her work focuses on international law and rights protection in armed conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa. She previously served as a law clerk to Justice Johan Froneman of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and Judge Theodor Meron, then President, of the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals. She holds an MSc in Human Rights from LSE and a JD from Harvard Law School.


[1]President Biden’s Message to African Union Summit Participants,” The White House, 5 February 2021.



LSE IDEAS is LSE’s foreign policy think tank. We connect academic knowledge of diplomacy and strategy with the people who use it.

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LSE IDEAS is LSE’s foreign policy think tank. We connect academic knowledge of diplomacy and strategy with the people who use it.