Sub-Saharan Africa: Key Issues and U.S. Engagement

Economic and Development Issues. Much of Africa experienced rapid economic growth starting in the early 2000s, reducing poverty and expanding the middle class in some countries. Since 2014, however, growth has slowed in many countries—and almost all continue to face high poverty rates and long-standing development challenges such as food insecurity and malnutrition, ineffective health and education institutions, and infrastructure deficiencies. Other factors hindering socioeconomic development in Africa include low domestic buying power, a shortage of skilled labor, limited access to capital and other inputs, poor governance, and political instability and insecurity.

Governance, Democracy, and Human Rights.

Since the early 1990s, nearly all African countries have transitioned from military or single-party rule to at least nominally multiparty political systems in which elections are held regularly. Nonetheless, the development of accountable, functional democratic institutions remains limited in many countries. Corruption and mismanagement are pervasive across much of the region, and state services are limited. Authoritarian governments and armed belligerents in Africa commit serious human rights violations. Peace and Security. Civil wars and crises have broken out in multiple African countries since 2010, reversing the previous decade﷿s trend of stabilization. Newer crises have unfolded in the Lake Chad Basin, the Central African Republic (CAR), Mali, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Burundi, and South Sudan, while long-running conflicts continue to affect the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, and Somalia. Porous borders, weak institutions, and corruption have created permissive environments for transnational threats such as terrorism, trafficking, and maritime piracy. Two conflict-affected African countries, South Sudan and Nigeria, face a credible risk of famine in early 2019; in both, insecurity has hindered aid access to affected zones.

U.S.-Africa Policy under the Trump Administration.

The Trump Administration has maintained several Africa-focused initiatives launched by its predecessors, but it also has proposed changes to U.S. trade policy and foreign assistance, including aid cuts, that could significantly affect U.S. engagement with Africa if implemented. The Administration’s policy approach toward Africa, unveiled in late 2018, identifies three broad U.S. interests in the region: expanding U.S. trade and commercial ties with African countries, countering Islamist extremism and other forms of violent conflict, and imposing more stringent conditions on U.S. aid and U.N. peacekeeping missions in the region. Administration officials also have placed a high priority on countering Chinese and Russian influence in Africa, with the Department of Defense announcing in late 2018 that it would reorient its personnel and footprint in parts of Africa to align with that objective in the coming years. Country-specific goals identified in other Trump Administration statements and policy documents include the continued normalization of U.S. relations with Sudan, conflict resolution in South Sudan, an electoral transition in DRC, and democratic reforms in Ethiopia. The Administration also has signaled greater focus on reciprocity in trade relations, imposed tariffs affecting trade with some African countries, pressed African states to join efforts to put pressure on North Korea, and enacted immigration policies that have affected U.S.-Africa policy, among other initiatives.