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Renewed Focus on Africa from Washington: Some African States Attracting African Americans


Recent accusations by the US ambassador to South Africa that the African nation gave ammunition and weapons to Russia in December 2022, during Russia’s war against Ukraine, illustrate the complexities of US-Africa relations.

Even if South Africa is investigating those claimsthe Biden administration is seeking closer ties with the African Union, a continental member organization, and 49 of the 54 African countries, including South Africa, on geopolitically and commercially issues.

The only African countries not courting the US are four who were suspended of the African Union, and Eritrea, a country with which the United States has no formal relationship.

The US is making this great African play the way it is competes with China to influence the future of the continent. And while this particular game between the US and China is relatively new, US involvement in Africa is not.

However, the way the US is involved in the continent has changed over time depending on the era, US interests and the needs of a particular African country. For example, in 1822, the US began sending freeborn African Americans and emancipated former enslaved African Americans to Africa, settling in the colony that would eventually become Liberia. That settlement was originally controlled by white Americans.

After Liberia became a self-governing, black republic in 1847, it relied heavily on US financial support. By 1870, that help came in the form of high-interest loans.

Decolonization and American interest in Africa

US involvement in other African states took root after several countries formerly controlled by colonial powers began to become self-governing. US policy objectives on the continent focused on US strategic interests and came in the form of military and economic aid.

For example, the US entered into diplomatic relations with Egypt in 1922, Sudan in 1956 And Ghana in 1957after those countries gained independence from the United Kingdom.

Starting in late fifties, when other African countries became independent, the US also formed diplomatic and commercial ties with them and tried to reduce the influence of the Soviet Union on the continent. In 1961 and 1962, the US convinced the West African countries to deny the Soviet Union commercial flyover and landing rights on their territory.

After the the Cold War endedThe United States it lacked clear policy objectives towards Africa, and interaction between the superpower and the continent diminished.

Renewed American interest in Africa

In the 21st century, the US began to turn its attention back to Africa as a way to advance its strategic interests and strengthen commercial and diplomatic ties with African countries.

In 2000, during the Clinton administration, Congress passed the African Law on Growth and Opportunity to open U.S. markets to eligible African countries.

Then, in 2003, President George W. Bush launched the global health initiativethe US president’s contingency plan for AIDS relief, which has been the most important US action on the continent since the nearly 250 years of enslavement of Africans – first as colonial America, then the US – from 1619 to 1865.

Known as PEPFAR, the initiative is credited Save 21 million livesmainly in Africa and the Caribbean.

More recently, the US has held on two summits between the US and Africa. President Obama host of the first in 2014, and President Joe Biden held the second in 2022. And, as part of the Biden administration’s Africa outreach, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia in March 2023 to discuss security and economic issues with leaders of those countries.

Vice President Kamala Harris and Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema walk outside the State House in the Zambian capital Lusaka on March 31, 2023.
Salim Dawood/AFP via Getty Images

It’s not just about diplomacy

Yet relations between the US and African countries run deeper than partnerships between governments or aid.

As Biden said during the December 2022 Dinner at the summit of the leaders of the US and Africa: “Our people are at the heart of the deep and profound bond that binds Africa and the United States together forever. We remember the stolen men and women and children brought to our shores in chains, subjected to unimaginable cruelty. The original sin of my nation was that period.”

Like the US courts Africa by and large, African countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia and others, courting African Americans, encouraging them to visit their ancestral homelands, set up homes, and establish businesses and economic ties. No country has made more effort than Ghana, who makes, for example special accommodations for Americans buying land over there.

Invitation to the motherland

In 2000, the Ghanaian Parliament has passed a law on citizenship, which grants the right to dual nationality to people of Ghanaian descent. African Americans have been able to do that trace their ancestry to Ghana and other African countries because of genetic testing. And the immigration law, passed the same year, includes a “Right of Abode” that allows anyone in the African diaspora to travel freely to and from the country.

In September 2018, Nana Akufo-Addo, President of Ghana, announced a memorial campaign the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans brought to Jamestown, Virginia with the goal of boosting African American business, investment and tourism in the West African nation. Ghana has long promised African Americans and other people in the African diaspora dual nationality rights and business opportunities. Ghanaian leaders have made it clear that they want African Americans and others to do the same to invest in the country.

Since the year of return, at least 1,500 African Americans have been granted citizenship rights in Ghana, and some 5,000 African Americans have made Ghana their permanent home.

The Ghanaian government launched another campaign in 2020 to increase tourism and investment in the country by people in the African diaspora, and to deepen social ties between Ghanaians and the diaspora.

Following Ghana’s playbook, Senegal partnered with African-American business leaders in 2021 for his first “The Return.” The event, held on June 19 of that year, was a historic Juneteenth initiative, modeled after the American holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States and encourage African American investment in the country.

Akufo-Addo may have led to a 21st century resurgence of transatlantic African appeals to African Americans and other people in the African diaspora.

A group of people stand on sand, near an ocean, both behind and in front of a long, raised white wall.
African-American tourists hold hands as they enter the ocean during a memorial ceremony in Ghana after visiting the ‘Door of No Return’ at Cape Coast Castle. Enslaved Africans were held here before being forcibly removed to what would become the United States.
Nataliya Gormalova/AFP via Getty Images

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