It is a new dawn for the United States of America! President Joe Biden’s rise to the American presidency is an inspiring story of courage and fortitude- 33 years after he first ran for the Presidency in 1988. The 46th President was inaugurated on January 20, 2021, and inherits the arduous tasks of healing a deeply divided nation, controlling a rampaging pandemic and decisively dealing with internal security: challenges of white supremacy and domestic terrorism. The world heaves a sigh of relief with the emergence of President Biden who is expected to restore the United States to the forefront of multilateral efforts to tackle global problems such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and worsening inequality.
The last four years of the outgone American President Donald Trump’s tenure was particularly chaotic as regards his relations with Africa. President Trump scarcely hid his disdain for the continent. The outgoing president never set foot in any African country throughout his time in office breaking from the recent tradition of American presidents who visited at least 2 African countries officially. He dismissed African states as “shithole countries” and mocked the Nigerian president as being “lifeless”, one of the handful of African leaders that he hosted in the White House. He implemented blanket travel bans on African states thereby disrupting trade and other relations between America and Africa. China was able to take advantage of this gap to strengthen cultural, trade and educational ties with the African continent.
The advent of a new American President holds great promise for the rest of the world. What do African youth desire from the President Biden administration?
First, eradicate the travel bans that block African youth from being able to access education and other opportunities in the United States. The United States is one of the top schooling destinations for African students. Students from Nigeria alone spend more money to gain American education than from several other Western European countries. The travel bans imposed by the Trump administration denied African students the opportunity to get quality education from reputable American universities thereby limiting the development of their capacity.
Furthermore, the Biden administration should support and amplify youth resistance to bad governance in Africa. Just as is the case in the United States recently, human rights abuses have worsened within the African continent. Young people have been stereotyped as violence perpetrators and continue to battle mistrust from their leaders and law enforcement agencies. The Nigerian youth staged the #EndSARS peaceful protest against police brutality in October 2020 which was met by high-handed tactics by the authorities resulting in the massacre of unarmed youth protesters by the security forces on October 20 2020. Then, Democratic Presidential Candidate, Joe Biden, condemned the violent crackdown in a statement and called on the Nigerian government to instead dialogue with the protesters. Police brutality has also been a recurring issue in Kenya while the Ugandan government has clamped down on political opposition and youth even shutting down the internet in the process. African youth are politically conscious and committed to social change. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo of bad governance and underdevelopment across the continent. The new US administration can leverage on their existing bilateral relationships with African governments to pressure them to undertake the large scale reforms required to provide youth with the opportunities to contribute to governance and development in their societies.
Also, President Biden should strengthen American investment in African youth capacity leadership programs. Africa is the world’s youngest continent with over 60% of its population under the age of 25. The United States has flagship programs that build the leadership capacity of African youth most notably the Mandela Washington fellowship and Young African Leadership Initiative. The incoming administration should do more to expand the scope of these programs to make them more inclusive and ensure that African youth leaders are immediately supported to scale up their development initiative in local communities. The protracted conflict has led to an increase in the number of vulnerable African youth including internally displaced persons and refugees. Future leadership programs should target these youth rather than focusing solely on elite youth.
Finally, the administration should prioritise the passing of the Youth, Peace and Security Act (YPS) into law in the United States House of Congress to favourably impact youth peacebuilding globally. The YPS Act seeks to mainstream youth interests within the implementation of US government-funded programs, appoint a Youth Focal Point in US government agencies for youth activities, promote the development of an inter-agency youth, peace and security strategy and support youth-led peacebuilders on the ground especially in the Global South.
In December 2020, Building Blocks for Peace Foundation -a Nigerian youth-led peacebuilding organisation was privileged to have one of its leading directors interact with the sponsors of the YPS Act- US Congresswomen, Susan Brooks and Grace Meng where he described the monumental impact of the YPS Act on African peacebuilders including providing a youth-sensitive fund to scale up interventions in vulnerable communities, challenging the persistent negative stereotype of youth as violence perpetrators rather than partners for peace as well as creating strong partnerships with international and local actors to create sustainable impact. The Biden administration should work to secure bipartisan support for passing the YPS Act into law to empower youth in Africa to end violent conflicts on the continent and finally silence the guns.
Congrats Mr President! We are rooting for your success.
Research Director, Building Blocks for Peace Foundation