Monday, April 10, 2017

Sub-Saharan Africa: Key Issues, Challenges, and U.S. Responses

The 115th Congress and the Trump Administration are reviewing existing U.S. policies and programs in sub-Saharan Africa (henceforth, “Africa”) as they establish their budgetary and policy priorities toward the region while also responding to emerging crises. Africa-specific policy questions did not feature prominently in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, and the views of the Trump Administration on many U.S.-Africa policy issues remain unspecified. The Obama Administration’s Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa identified its policy priorities as strengthening democratic institutions; spurring economic growth, trade, and investment; advancing peace and security; and promoting opportunity and development. Analysts continue to debate whether that Strategy reflected an appropriate mix and ranking of priorities, as well as the degree to which the Obama Administration’s actions reflected its stated goals.

Congressional action on trade and electrification projects in Africa in the 114th Congress suggested some shared priorities with the Obama Administration. The Obama Administration’s efforts to promote greater private sector engagement and youth leadership in Africa won praise from various quarters. At the same time, analysts have probed whether the Obama Administration’s emphasis on building democratic institutions in Africa was matched with appropriate resource allocations, and whether President Obama’s stated support for democratic accountability was undermined by close U.S. partnerships with authoritarian-leaning states in East Africa and by a growing emphasis on security relationships.

Africa is a top destination of U.S. foreign aid. Following significant increases during the George W. Bush Administration in the 2000s, civilian-administered aid levels allocated for African countries remained largely flat during the Obama Administration, reflecting overarching budgetary constraints among other considerations. The areas of emphasis nonetheless shifted in some ways, with new presidential development initiatives focusing on electrification, trade, agricultural development, and health system strengthening. U.S. military cooperation and Defense Department-administered security assistance spending in Africa also increased substantially, in line with new congressionally enacted authorities for defense spending as well as Administration-led peacekeeping and counterterrorism initiatives. The United States has long been a top bilateral donor of emergency humanitarian and disaster assistance in Africa, as well as the top financial contributor to U.N. peacekeeping operations, the majority of which are in Africa.

The 114th Congress enacted several pieces of legislation that shaped U.S.-Africa policy and programs. These included the reauthorization of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA, P.L. 114-27), the Electrify Africa Act (P.L. 114-121), the Global Food Security Act (P.L. 114-195), the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt Wildlife Trafficking Act (P.L. 114-231), annual National Defense Authorization Acts (most recently, P.L. 114-328), and foreign aid and defense appropriations measures. Congress has also influenced U.S.-Africa policy through its oversight activities, and through Member statements and communications with the executive branch and African leaders.

To inform further congressional consideration of U.S.-Africa policy issues and challenges, this report provides background on the following:

Sub-Saharan Africa’s development and economic challenges;

U.S.-Africa trade, investment, and economic cooperation;

Governance, democracy, and human rights issues;

Peace and security issues; and

U.S. aid to Africa and other selected U.S. responses to policy challenges.

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