Critical Conversations

Biden’s Partnership Offer to Africa: Handshake Beyond the Elbow?

President Joe Biden’s message to African leaders, meeting virtually at the African Union 2021 Summit about two weeks ago, was a very exciting and soothing one.

Speaking in a video address, his first speech to an international forum as U.S. president, he said, “The United States stands ready now to be your partner in solidarity, support and mutual respect.” 

Continuing his remarks, Biden outlined what he called a shared vision of a better future with growing trade and investment that advances peace and security:

“A future committed to investing in our democratic institutions and promoting the human rights of all people, women and girls, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, and people of every ethnic background, religion and heritage.”

Biden added that he hopes to attend the next African Union (AU) summit in person.

Even as Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat welcomed the message and said the African Union looks forward to “resetting the strategic AU-USA partnership,” he probably did not realize that there could be some uncomfortable interest embedded in this exciting offer. 

Many who suspected this open offer had their fears confirmed when news filtered within days that Joe Biden is threatening to sanction countries that refuse to make laws to accommodate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) people.

The US President had issued a presidential memorandum aimed at expanding the protection of the rights of LGBTQI people worldwide. Sanctions against recalcitrant nations may include financial punishment. The memo reads in part:

“When foreign governments move to restrict the rights of LGBTQI persons or fail to enforce legal protections in place, thereby contributing to a climate of intolerance, agencies engaged abroad shall consider appropriate responses, including using the full range of diplomatic and assistance tools and, as appropriate, financial sanctions, visa restrictions, and other actions.”

The memo directed US agencies working in foreign countries to work harder to combat the criminalisation by foreign governments of people of LGBTQI status or conduct. It equally directed the State Department to include anti-LGBTQI violence, discrimination and laws in its annual human rights report.

According to an African proverb, when a handshake goes beyond the elbow, it becomes another thing. This display of support and partnership for Nigeria and Africa and the veiled threat that followed seem to point that Joe Biden’s offer might eventually go beyond the elbow and public analysts are beginning to be uncomfortable with it.

It is a known fact that Blacks contributed a great deal to the election of Joe Biden as president. He won key states in many black communities. Joe Biden was equally supported by many Nigerian- Americans, and remarkably the President has responded well by appointing prominent black members into his cabinet including a good number of Nigerians. Names like Adewale Adeyemo, Osaremen Okolo, and Funmi Badejo readily comes to mind. He also played a major role in facilitating the recent appointment of Okonjo Iweala as Director General of World Trade Organisation (WTO) with his endorsement.

Many observers initially felt that Joe Biden, in his special rapport with Africa, was returning support to peoples of black origin that backed him during the elections. But with the presidential memo that followed, it became obvious that Joe Biden might have things up his sleeves.

Worthy of mention is the fact that there have previously been strong pressures on African countries to join the rest of Europe and America in making laws to accommodate people of LGBTQI status. It was quite visible during Obama’s administration when he requested former president Goodluck Jonathan to bring this to manifestation. The request was met with an uncharacteristic stern opposition from the former Nigerian president. It was also reported that Jonathan’s refusal was the reason he got little or no support from the US in the fight against insecurity and other challenges during his tenure.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, disparaged every promotion of LGBTQI by the Obama administration while in office. This was one of the major reasons a good number of hard-line Christians and evangelicals rallied round Trump during his tenure and in the period of the last US elections.

The Trump administration even cut funding to organisations, such as Marie Stopes, that provides contraception and safe abortion services in several African countries.

Many analysts believe that Biden will be walking on the footprint of Barrack Obama and will stop at anything to achieve his goal of protecting LGBTQIs across the globe.

Threat of sanctions by Joe Biden is already shaking grounds in other African countries.

Angola has recently brought into effect a new law decriminalising homosexuality. The law took effect on Wednesday, 10 February, 2021. The Angolan Government noted that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is now reprehensible and even warrants imprisonment.

Nigerian novelist, Elnathan John, while reacting to this development, predicted that Nigeria would likely adopt a law decriminalising homosexuality in the near future.

He wrote on his twitter handle, “So apparently the law decriminalising homosexuality in Angola goes into effect today. For those who think Nigeria is not ready, there are African countries doing this. It is possible. No decent society should have laws punishing people for their sexuality.”

Among existentialists, history comes as a repetitive recycling machine. What we saw in the past comes in form of a dejavu in the present as we are set to witness another attempt to get Nigeria to legalize LGBTQI. All eyes are now on the man at the centre. President Buhari in the past had stated his mind clearly when he met with former US president, Barack Obama at the White House on Monday on July, 21, 2015.

According to a tweet by Femi Adesina, Buhari’s Special Advisor on Media and Publicity, the issue of gay marriage came up during one of Buhari’s meetings in the US and he was clear that “sodomy is against the law in Nigeria, and abhorrent to our culture.”

Read Also: Nigerians in Biden’s Cabinet: Motivation for Youth Participation in Politics

What will Nigeria’s response be with a likely renewed onslaught from the new government of Joe Bidden that will clearly categorize the nation as a homophobic country due to her anti-gay laws? Will she give in or maintain her grounds?

Piercy Mabel

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