Charlie Robertson – Head of Macro-Strategy at FIM Partners and author of The Time-Travelling Economist

The author is Head of Macro-Strategy at FIM Partners and author of The Time-Travelling Economist. The article first appeared on, a service from the Financial Times. 

For first-term US presidents, domestic affairs are the top priority. In the case of Joe Biden’s government, any bandwidth in the international arena is now fully taken up by tension with China, Vladimir Putin’s war, and now Israel and Gaza. Policy on Africa barely gets a look-in. 

It’s a big shift from 10 to 20 years ago, when George W Bush (with initiatives tackling HIV relief and promoting debt forgiveness) and Barack Obama (who led the ‘Power Africa’ initiative) did focus some attention on the continent.  

President Trump’s focus on limiting immigration, including from Africa, which he reportedly described as “shithole countries” (a quote he denied on X), marked a change of tone. His administration’s interest in Africa seemed mainly about countering China.  

President Biden has sparked different headlines. He invited a minority of African leaders to his democracy summit in 2021, and suspended countries including Ethiopia and Uganda from the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act which provides duty-free access to the US. Civil wars in Libya and Sudan, and a spate of coups in west Africa, have triggered minimal US response. 

Where the US has stood up is via greater support for IMF and World Bank involvement on the continent, including the $500bn Special Drawing Rights expansion of the IMF’s balance sheet in 2021 which has helped limit Africa’s sovereign defaults to Ethiopia, Ghana and Zambia. The US has backed hefty IMF/World Bank support to Kenya, putting multilaterals on course to represent 60% of its debt until 2035, IMF reports show. 

Geopolitics is still a factor. Like his predecessor, President Biden wants to counter China, which surpassed the US as Africa’s largest trade partner in 2009, and Russia whose arms sales and interest in exploiting Africa’s natural resources has seen it support a number of the continent’s undemocratic leaders. US financing for a railroad across Angola is a recent example of US efforts to peel one big player away from China’s influence.  


With the upcoming US election, it’s unlikely the country will become more proactive in Africa. The continent’s gross domestic product of $2.9tn in 2023 was less than California’s, limiting the economic imperative. Unless there’s peace in Gaza and Ukraine, US officials just won’t have the bandwidth.