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Why Biden’s Africa policy matters to Albuquerque

Judd Devermont 

President Biden’s policy reset toward sub-Saharan Africa will have significant implications for Albuquerque. He has pledged to reengage the continent while connecting U.S. foreign policy to the “needs and aspirations of the American people.” This is vitally important in a city where defense and technology industries, as well as its political representatives and cultural leaders, are deeply engaged in African issues.

In his first 100 days, President Biden reversed some of his predecessor’s most deleterious policies. He revoked President Trump’s travel ban on Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Tanzania; joined the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative to facilitate the delivery of coronavirus vaccines; and supported former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as head of the World Trade Organization.

Biden swiftly reached out to African partners, sending a video message to the African Union, inviting five African leaders to April’s Climate Summit and dispatching his Secretary of State on a virtual tour of Nigeria and Kenya. This stands in stark contrast with Trump, who met with fewer African counterparts than any predecessors starting with John F. Kennedy, and made disparaging comments about African countries.

Biden’s policy toward the region is, however, more than just a Trump reversal or an Obama redux. It includes an affirmative agenda, promising to increase diaspora engagement, advance global health and green economies, and launch an urbanization initiative that partners U.S. and African cities.

Albuquerque already plays an important role in advancing U.S. interests, and contributing to peace and prosperity in sub-Saharan Africa, and it could deepen under President Biden. Sandia National Laboratories staff have trained South Africans and Congolese officials on best practices for nuclear safety and protection, as well as worked with African counterparts on solar energy projects. Several technology and defense companies with a presence in Albuquerque are active in Africa. Intel Corporation, for example, is invested in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, and established a regional hub in Kenya. In 2017, Honeywell International Inc., located in Albuquerque, signed an agreement to “provide full avionics and mechanical spares support and retrofit, modification and upgrade solutions” for Boeing and Airbus aircraft in Africa.

Albuquerque’s mayor, New Mexico’s governor, and one of its senators have strong personal and professional ties to the region, and could position Albuquerque as a key partner for the president’s new urbanization initiative. Mayor Tim Keller’s wife conducted her doctoral work in southern Africa, studying water resource management. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, whose nephew has been deployed to Djibouti, added her voice to several African issues during her time in Congress, including on Sudan and on Boko Haram in Nigeria. I had the honor of delivering expert testimony at a hearing on China’s role in Africa before Sen. Martin Heinrich.

Albuquerque’s people-to-people engagement with the region is also notable, serving as an exemplar of how U.S. foreign policy makes us stronger at home and stronger in the world. Albuquerque has sister city relations with Lusaka, Zambia, and the ABQ BioPark has collaborated with the Zoo National d’Abidjan in Cote’d’Ivoire. Albuquerqueans are doing significant work in public health, from the University of New Mexico’s research activities in Kenya to the African diaspora’s prominent role in the city’s hospitals and treatment facilities.

President Biden’s policy toward Africa is a step in the right direction for U.S. national interests and for Albuquerque’s ties to the region. It is part of a refreshing policy pivot, committed to the idea the most important measure of Africa’s importance to the United States should come from a community’s political, professional and personal connections to the region.

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