This article is part of Election 2020: America Votes, FP’s 24/7 coverage of the US election results as they come in, with brief dispatches from correspondents and analysts from around the world. The America Votes page is free to all readers.
The United States is at its best when it serves as a symbol of democracy for the rest of the world. This symbolism isn’t always deserved, and in fact, it has appeared hypocritical in several places in US history. For the past four years, under Donald Trump’s presidency, this feeling of hypocrisy has bordered on farce. The United States seemed to be rejecting many of the values it most wanted to promote overseas – the rule of law, democratic norms, and respect for the voices of citizens. When the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Africa Reacts series was first compiled, the decline in democratic norms in the United States was felt, protecting leaders who deliberately harmed their citizens.
With Joe Biden elected President and Kamala Harris elected Vice President, this moment could mean a reset. Within minutes of major US networks launching the race for Biden and Harris, the world began to celebrate. In Tanzania, Zitto Kabwe, an opposition leader who lost a parliamentary seat in the country’s recent flawed elections, tweeted that Biden-Harris’s victory represented hope for democracy at a time when its values are under siege. Many citizens on the African continent agreed with Kabwe. Right now, America, the symbol, seems to be resurfacing.
However, in order for the symbol to truly regain power and legitimacy and for the Biden Harris government to regain credibility in sub-Saharan Africa, it must first deliver at home. Implementing comprehensive police reform and an agenda to improve the lives of black Americans will be essential.
The work of the new administration will be stopped at home and abroad. Nevertheless, the Democrats want to have an ally again on the African continent. In Biden and Harris, they hope for a government that will strengthen the voices of citizens who stand up for human rights and advocate much-needed reforms. They also hope for a government that will reassess how (and to whom) the US government is providing assistance in the security sector, reprioritizing international agreements, speaking with moral clarity, and no longer providing cover to authoritarian would-be.
It is unlikely that the new government will fulfill all of these hopes and aspirations. However, if Biden’s statements and attitude during the campaign are any indication, then Democrats in the African continent will win some much-needed victories.