On Africa Day, Celebrating U.S.-Africa Partnership and Cooperation

May 24, 2021 By Zach Cohen and Joan Steiger

Africa Day 2021 marks the 58th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity—now the African Union—and is a celebration of the diversity and independence of Africa’s 54 countries. The U.S. has a long and robust bipartisan history of support for building partnerships across the continent, especially when it comes to strengthening public health, developing local infrastructure, supporting political stability, and advancing trade.

While Africa has faced new challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, including rising food insecurity and a disruption of mass immunization campaigns for treatable diseases, America’s investments in partnerships and initiatives have made a significant impact in recent decades, driven by bipartisan support in Congress and transcending presidential administrations.

In celebration of Africa Day 2021, here are five areas where the United States’ partnership with the African continent has led to tremendous progress in recent years.

1. Public Health

U.S. global health programs have had a dramatic impact for millions across the African continent, from responding to and containing several Ebola outbreaks in recent years, to strengthening the continent’s public health infrastructure in close partnership with Africa CDC. Two of the most notable and impactful bipartisan initiatives are the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI).

  • PEPFAR was launched in 2003 by President Bush to curb the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which was particularly devastating in sub-Saharan Africa. Since then, the initiative has helped save more than 20 million lives in 50 countries and has seen robust bipartisan support across four successive administrations and 10 sessions of Congress. PEPFAR has also contributed to stronger local health systems that have helped communities respond to additional health challenges—thanks to PEPFAR’s significant investments in response capacity, Nigeria and Uganda fared far better during the 2014 Ebola crisis than countries without PEPFAR investment.
  • PMI was first authorized in 2005 to reduce malaria-related deaths across 24 African countries. Since then, it has saved 7.6 million lives and prevented 1.5 billion infections, and PMI partner countries have seen a 60 percent decline in malaria death rates. In 2020 alone, the initiative delivered more than 40 million insecticide-treated malaria nets and protected 19 million people through indoor residual spraying of insecticides.

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was launched in 2003 by President Bush to curb the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which was particularly devastating in sub-Saharan Africa. Since then, the initiative has helped save more than 20 million lives in 50 countries and has seen robust bipartisan support across four successive administrations and 10 sessions of Congress.

2. Economic Ties

In 2020, Africa suffered its worst recession in decades, but the continent is projected to begin recovering in 2021. By 2050, Africa will have at least nine megacities—cities of more than 10 million people—which will be a magnet for an expanding consumer class. U.S. economic engagement with Africa is focused on accelerating trade and private sector investment through a whole-of-government approach from the Departments of State and Commerce, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Development Finance Corporation, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. These investments are especially important as China is continuing to expand its economic reach on the continent—in 2009, China surpassed the U.S. as Africa’s largest trading partner.

Two bipartisan initiatives that have laid the foundation for growing trade relations between the U.S. and the African continent are the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which was led by Congressional leaders including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and the Prosper Africa initiative that spans 17 U.S. Departments and Agencies.

  • AGOA is a bipartisan initiative that has been the cornerstone of U.S. trade policy with sub-Saharan Africa since 2000. The initiative was first signed into law by President Clinton, and was subsequently extended by President Bush and reauthorized by President Obama through 2025. AGOA provides duty-free access to the U.S. market for 6,500 products from currently 38 eligible sub-Saharan African countries.
  • Prosper Africa is a whole-of-government initiative launched in 2018 under President Trump to increase two-way trade and investment between the U.S. and African nations. The initiative has already supported more than 500 deals, catalyzing $47 billion in new exports and investments. Prosper Africa is also contributing to Africa’s economic recovery from the pandemic—such as investing in a woman-owned social enterprise in Ghana to create new jobs and boost trade with the U.S.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a bipartisan initiative that has been the cornerstone of U.S. trade policy with sub-Saharan Africa since 2000. AGOA provides duty-free access to the U.S. market for 6,500 products from currently 38 eligible sub-Saharan African countries.

Photo credit: Millennium Challenge Corporation

3. Electrifying Africa

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 600 million people still do not have access to electricity, representing one of the biggest constraints to economic growth on the continent and creating obstacles to healthcare and education. The U.S. is helping African countries tackle these challenges through Power Africa, an initiative launched in 2013 under President Obama to provide 60 million new households and businesses with electricity by 2030 by leveraging the support of the private sector alongside African governments and U.S. agencies.

  • As of 2020, Power Africa has created 18.8 million new electrical connections, benefiting over 88 million people and creating a more connected continent. The initiative has also generated a significant return on investment at home—more than 150 private sector firms are part of the Power Africa partnership network, including both big and small American companies like General Electric, Citi, Symbion Power, Hecate Energy, and others. Every dollar committed to Power Africa has catalyzed $6 in commitments from the private sector and other governments. Power Africa was codified into law by the Electrify Africa Act in 2016, signed by President Obama with bipartisan Congressional support including from Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Chris Coons (D-DE).

The U.S. is helping African countries access electricity through Power Africa, an initiative launched in 2013 under President Obama to provide 60 million new households and businesses with electricity by 2030 by leveraging the support of the private sector alongside African governments and U.S. agencies. As of 2020, Power Africa has created 18.8 million new electrical connections, benefiting over 88 million people and creating a more connected continent.

4. Youth and Education

On a continent of 1.3 billion people, almost 60 percent of Africa’s population is under the age of 25, making it the world’s youngest continent. The U.S. is focusing on Africa’s youth through education and empowerment programs in order to help children and young adults develop their skill sets and expand their educational and employment opportunities—ultimately preparing them to become the next generation of African leaders.

  • Educating girls has been a primary focus of U.S. education programs across the continent. Girls face many obstacles to getting a quality education, including poverty, pregnancy, gender-based violence, and geographic location. By helping address these roadblocks, girls can tap into their potential and learn lessons and skills that can improve their quality of life and boost their earnings. For every extra year a girl stays in school, her income can rise by a quarter, most of which she reinvests in her family and her community, creating a ripple effect: stronger economies, healthier communities, and more stable and security societies. The issue has strong bipartisan support—the Keeping Girls in School Act, which passed the House in 2020 and would bolster support for girls’ education, has over 100 bipartisan cosponsors.
  • Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is a U.S. program started in 2010 that supports young African leaders across sub-Saharan Africa through leadership and professional development training and networking opportunities through a virtual online community and four regional leadership centers based in Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and South Africa. Since 2015, YALI has provided more than 20,000 young leaders with leadership training in public management, civic engagement, business and entrepreneurship, and now boasts over 700,000 members in its virtual community. As part of YALI, about 700 young African leaders visit the U.S. for six weeks to study at U.S. colleges and universities, connect with Americans, and participate in campus activities.

Educating girls has been a primary focus of U.S. education programs across the continent. Girls face many obstacles to getting a quality education, including poverty, pregnancy, gender-based violence, and geographic location. By helping address these roadblocks, girls can tap into their potential and learn lessons and skills that can improve their quality of life and boost their earnings.

5. Agriculture and Climate Resilience

Agriculture plays a pivotal role in Africa’s growth and development. In sub-Saharan Africa, 60 percent of the population are smallholder farmers, while 23 percent of the region’s GDP comes from agriculture. But changing weather patterns and extreme-weather events like droughts and heat waves are majorly impacting farmers and their crop yields, which in turn affects economic development, food security, peace, and security. As these patterns continue to fluctuate, the U.S. is incorporating climate resilience into USAID Feed the Future and other regional programs in order to help farmers to adapt and mitigate to the impacts of climate change.

  • USAID’s global food security initiative, Feed the Future, has helped lift more than 23 million people from poverty and supports research on climate-resilient crops. As one example, in East Africa, agriculture drives the economy but has long been vulnerable to droughts and floods. Comprehensive resilience programs in Ethiopia have demonstrated that communities can weather severe droughts, while neighboring communities without interventions have seen their food security decline by 30 In addition, these programs have provided 100,000 maize farmers with hybrid varieties that have doubled their crop yields.
  • Increasing clean water access is also a priority of U.S. investments as extreme droughts and water scarcity continue to rise. Access to safe, clean water is essential to create resilience, reduce conflict, and help communities adapt. As one example, in Cabo Verde, only 9 percent of poor households have access to a public water supply—conditions made even worse by a 2017 drought. The Millennium Challenge Corporation’s climate-resilient development programs in the country include a nearly $40 million project to construct water infrastructure, and the program has already created more than 3,500 new connections to the water network in this water-scarce nation.