The likely and imminent confirmation of Joseph Biden as the next president of the United States is of interest to all governments and countries, not just to the people of the US, considering the economic and political weight the US pulls globally.
Africa in general, and Zimbabwe in particular, will find the change refreshing. For the past four years we have either been ignored by an intensely inward-looking administration, or have been at the receiving end of ill-considered statements and policies.
So having a US president who at least recognises the global responsibilities of the US, as well as its muscle, and who believes in diplomacy to help solve global problems will be a relief for all.
In one key area, climate change, we can expect a major shift with a president who actually believes the general scientific consensus and has announced that his first foreign policy move will be to rejoin the Paris Agreement, the global treaty that commits most of the world to effective and practical measures to limit global warming.
This is important for Africa, a continent that will be harder hit than most by global warming but requires support, even if this is just access to technology, if it is to bring its people out of poverty without wrecking the planet. Climate change appears to be accelerating, as what we have already pumped into the atmosphere does its worst, but the world can only step back from the brink if major industrial powers switch to greener energy and if the poorer countries are able to industrialise with green technologies.
China and the European Union are both committed to the dual approach and the return of the US to the process will mean we now have a chance.
The battle against Covid-19, which has to be a global battle, has been slipping, partly because the US declared itself against the World Health Organisation and wanted to follow a minimalist approach. Again, having a US president who actually trusts scientific consensus and is prepared to take action helps. Even if this is limited to cleaning up the mess in the present centre of the global epidemic, the USA itself, it will be a major gain but adding a significant block of the world’s scientific and medical talent back to the battle will help us all.
In other areas Africa has to remember that the job of US president is to advance the needs and interests of that country. Mr Biden will be the leader of the USA. But having a US president who respects diplomacy, who accepts that the rest of the world exists and has its own interests, and is willing to craft mutually beneficial deals is a major advantage.
African diplomats, and for that matter African business people, can at least have their voice heard. A lot of progress on trade and mutual business was stymied or fell back over the last four years, and the willingness of an American administration to declare trade wars helped no one, least of all Americans.
An American administration that recognises that global economic growth is not a zero-sum game but rather the creation of new markets and new consumers that everyone can tap into will be a welcome partner.
Just looking at one simplistic point, if Africa was richer then Africans would be buying more American stuff, even if our development does see us making more of our own goods. When Americans, for example, complain about China they sometimes forget that a far richer China is spending a lot more money in America than it did when it was a poor developing country. And it will be the same for Africa.
One of the trickiest points for Zimbabwe will be zdera, that American Act of 2001 and amended in 2018, that controls most of the US sanctions against Zimbabwe, especially the big sanctions that make our access to global development agencies and international finance difficult.
Here we will need to engage the fairness of a President Biden and rely on the fact that he is not an egoist unable to reconsider. Among the five sponsors of the original 2001 Act was one of the two senators from Delaware, Sen Joseph R. Biden Jnr. So first we will be dealing with a US president who knows what we are talking about, and secondly our diplomats are going to have to take the re-engagement policy to new levels.
Possibly the most positive approach we can take is to point out that the conditions set in the 2001 Act and changed in the 2018 amendment no longer apply since we have been cleaning up our own problems in our own way. Since President Mnangagwa was sworn into office in late 2017, and especially since he achieved his own mandate and moved the Zimbabwean reform programme into overdrive from the 2018 elections with the Second Republic, we have been sorting ourselves out.
The reforms, changes, new policies and the like have not been because of international pressure. That we must make clear. They have been done because this is what Zimbabweans want and Zimbabweans need, and we do not need to be told what we want and need. But we have been fixing our economic fundamentals, signing a very fair agreement with the white former farmers in land reform, or at least those who developed their farms, hunting down the corrupt, opening up our media space and junking ill-considered laws, totally revamping our election processes and governance practices, and now starting that careful process of healing internal wounds.
Because all these processes are local, driven by our own requirements, they will not follow chapter and verse of the zdera conditions. But the general result is roughly the same. Already Foreign Minister Dr Sibusiso Moyo has been doing sterling work in engaging the professional diplomats in the American State Department, cutting out the rhetoric and dealing with practicalities, point by point, and gaining recognition that we are cleaning up our act. We can now build on that approach, especially with the support of our neighbours who have been telling everyone who matters that we are a functioning, economically-stable democracy.
So the advent of a new American administration opens up opportunities for Zimbabwe and for Africa. We cannot, and will not, get everything we want or need. But at the very least we can have our voices heard.
Deals are now possible and as a continent and country we need to make sure that these voices are smart and committed people who can show the American administration where mutually beneficial progress can be made and unfairness eliminated.