Towards an African Policy Framework for Engaging the United States of America (USA)
Concept Note and Call for Book Chapters
Monday 08 February 2020
This concept note follows various discussions between the African Centre for the Study of the US (ACSUS) based at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa (Next Gen) programs of the New York-based Social Science Research Council (SSRC), and the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD), associated with the University of South Africa (UNISA), and Africa in Fact, a publication of the Good Governance Africa, a Johannesburg-based think tank.
The initiative seeks to draw on the expertise and networks of the three organizations to produce and publicise knowledge on an African Policy Framework for engaging the United States of America during the Biden Presidency. It will proceed in a three-step-process described below.
Background and Context
The partners worked together in convening virtual town hall debate sessions weekly from August 7 to November 11, 2020. In all, the sessions brought together over 40 speakers discussing multiple themes and dimensions of what the 2020 US elections meant for Africa. The current initiative was agreed on during the ultimate session.
The virtual sessions were motivated by the fact that the occupant of White House often dictates and shapes relations between the US and Africa. The 2020 campaigns and the eventual transfer of power however, turned out to be unprecedented on several fronts. After a series of controversies amidst the new Coronavirus pandemic, Joe Biden won the 3rd of November 2020 elections becoming the 46th American President. This ushered in renewed optimism for the reinvigoration of Africa-US relations following the low level to which Africa-US engagements sank during Donald Trump’s presidency.
Ironically, African interest in the elections and its aftermath was anything but low key! Public commentary, and public interest in the landmark elections across the continent remained high as attested by widespread media coverage. Indeed, broad public animation increased after the January 20, 2021 inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, as President and Vice President of the USA.
Fortuitously, the unrelenting popular and intellectual curiosity in American electoral politics provides an opportunity for scholars and intellectuals focused on Africa-US relations to fill extant gaps and imagine new opportunities for coherent and mutually beneficial policy engagements with the new occupant of the White House. The absence of a coherent African policy position towards the USA has long been identified as one of the factors impeding the continent’s productive engagement with a global power, whose foreign policy is so impactful on Africa’s cultural, political, economic and security interests. Addressing this gap and exploring new opportunities for recalibrating and strengthening Africa-US ties requires new thinking and a proper understanding of the continuities and emerging priorities on both sides. It would include a critical grasp of the perspectives of African intellectuals and elites to the recently concluded elections, opportunities opening up in the context of an informed understanding of goals of the policies of the Biden administration towards Africa, and articulating Africa’s priorities and integrating them into the continent’s engagements with the USA. These would help in laying the foundation for transforming the asymmetrical nature of Africa-US relations for the mutual benefit of both parties. In this regard, the following questions are pertinent:
• What should constitute the key elements in an African Policy Framework for Engaging the USA during the period 2021-2024?
• What are the expected areas of convergence and divergence, continuity and change in Africa-US relations, and how can these be effectively managed for mutual understanding and benefits?
• How can Africans effectively articulate and pursue national and regional priorities in the context of Biden’s policy of repositioning the US as a global leader?
• Which actors and communities would be most strategic and proactive in shaping Africa-US engagements and the terms of engagement in the coming decades?
These and other forward-looking questions speak to the much-needed African agency that will act as a driver bringing together scholars, decision-makers, civil society activists, citizens, and private sector actors to rethink, identify and debate the critical issues underpinning Africa’s place in the emerging global order, and negotiate and build innovative frameworks of more effective and strategic policy engagement with the United States. It would also require building consensus on an agenda for engagement, drawing on informed knowledge, diplomatic experience, and expertise in various fields. Policy formulation and plans of action at the state and non-state levels, and at bilateral and multilateral levels will require strategic consultations and networking. Africans will have to provide leadership for the project of building a coherent continental policy for engaging the United States in a rapidly changing world order.
• Produce knowledge on the means and ways in which Africa can strategically engage the US during Joe Biden-Kamala Harris administration, and beyond.
• Based on the above, engage in knowledge production in the form of a) thought leadership articles and b) an edited book volume to be published in the course of 2021.
• Develop, endorse, and publicize a concise African policy framework for engaging the US.
• Avail the knowledge produced during the project to interested individuals and organizations, especially the policy community at continental, regional and country levels.
• Connect African and US scholars, policy makers, practitioners, and professionals with a keen interest in fostering mutually beneficial relations on both sides.
The development of an African Policy Framework for Engaging the US would be a systematically and effectively managed. We therefore propose a gradual four-tier process as follows:
• The writing and submission of about 20 thought leadership articles for publication by the Africa-in-Fact (see a brief guide below).
• The development of a concise, but comprehensive African Policy Framework for Engaging the US, by the partners.
• The launch and publicity of the framework.
• The publication of an edited book volume broadening the thought leadership articles and providing further detail and nuance on the framework
Note: The writers of the thought leadership articles are encouraged to convert their pieces into chapters for the edited book volume. Further information to be made available later.
Issues and topics
The focus for each of the above processes and outputs is to contribute towards a comprehensive African policy framework for engaging the US. Participants are advised to offer perspectives that would assist African state and non-state actors in engaging and negotiating with the US. The primary audience will be African leaders and institutions that interface with their American counterparts. We are looking to contribute towards an intra-Africa or Afro-centric framework and position towards the US. Drawing on African perspectives, contributors can write on the following topics and any other related one.
• African policy or strategy towards the US.
• African agency.
• Specific countries and regions of Africa.
• Bilateralism versus multilateralism.
• Constitutionalism, democracy, and human rights.
• African elections.
• African Americans and Africa, diaspora, and race relations.
• Defence, military, deradicalization and counterterrorism.
• Peace and security.
• Diplomacy, public diplomacy, and soft power.
• People-to-people and cultural exchanges.
• Geopolitics and geostrategy.
• Environment and climate change.
• Foreign aid.
• Trade and economics.
A blend of seasoned scholars such as established professors of politics and international relations, emerging scholars including PhD candidates and recent graduates, fellows, and affiliates of the partner organizations.
Submission of about 20 thought leadership articles for publication by the Africa-in-Fact.
Publication of thought leadership articles.
Commencement of the process towards an edited volume on African Policy Engagements Toward the US by the partners.
The launching of the framework.
Guidelines for the Thought Leadership Articles
The whole idea is to make this initiative as straightforward and painless as possible. The simple style guide is as follows:
• Word count of between 1500 and 2000 words.
• Background and context kept to the minimum.
• Focus on specific innovative strategies and action plans.
• Pieces rendered in compelling, easy-to-read, and engaging language.
• No footnotes or in-text references; academic works/authors infused into the write ups.
• Hyperlinks may be used but not mandatory.
• Options to focus on the continent, regions or to individual countries.
• Write ups situated in specific disciplines, fields, professions, or trades.