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US presidential election: Who advises Joe Biden on Africa?

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Monday, 10 August 2020 19:04

US vice-president Joe Biden finishes his remarks to the U.S.-Africa Business Forum in Washington August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

A favourite for the November presidential election against Donald Trump, Democrat Joe Biden has surrounded himself with many of the continent's regulars, often from the Clinton and Obama administrations.

Not surprisingly, Biden, the former vice-president of Barack Obama, has drawn on members of the former administration of the first black president of the United States to assemble his campaign team, particularly in the area of foreign affairs.

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Former White House advisers, State Department veterans and former ambassadors are the men and women who are advising Biden on his possible future policy in Africa.

Antony Blinken

Antony Blinken in Beijing October 2016 © Lee Jin-man/AP/SIPA

The 58-year-old French-speaking New Yorker – who lived in Paris during his studies – is Joe Biden’s main adviser on international affairs. A former member of the Bill Clinton administration, he has known the Democratic candidate for a long time. He worked with him in the Senate, in the Foreign Affairs Committee, and joined his campaign for the Democratic nomination in the 2008 presidential election, before joining Barack Obama’s team.

He served as vice-president Biden’s national security adviser from 2009 to 2013, then as deputy national security adviser to the National Security Council under Susan Rice until 2015, when he became assistant secretary of state until the end of Obama’s term.

Blinken, who has made official trips to Morocco, Djibouti, Nigeria and South Africa, has expressed support for a stronger US-Africa partnership.

Susan Rice

Former US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice in Austin in November 2019. © Jay Godwin/Lbj Library/ZUMA Press/REA

She could be Joe Biden’s running mate in the November election. A national security adviser from 2013 to 2017 under former president Obama, she served primarily as assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 1997 to 2001 – working on the crises in Zaire, Sierra Leone and between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

As the first black woman to represent the United States at the United Nations – from 2009 to 2013 – 55-year-old Susan Rice was one of the driving forces behind the passage of the resolution for international action in Libya at the Security Council, with the help of national security adviser Samantha Power – who succeeded her at the United Nations – and under the leadership of Hillary Clinton.

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An adviser to John Kerry in 2004 and Obama in 2008, she is a veteran of presidential campaigns.

Nicholas Burns

Nicholas Burns before the US Senate in June 2017. © Rex/Shutterstock/SIPA

The 64-year-old diplomat has the distinction of having started his career in the White House under the administration of George H. W. Bush in 1990. He then remained in office under Bill Clinton, before moving to the State Department under Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright.

While the general public knows him mainly for his analyses of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and Russia, he is also a connoisseur of the African continent and the Maghreb.

Burns – who speaks French and Arabic – began his career as an intern at the embassy in Nouakchott, Mauritania. He then became vice-consul and staff assistant to the ambassador to Egypt from 1983 to 1985.

Involved in US Middle East policy, he also spent several years at the consulate in Jerusalem, coordinating US assistance to the Palestinian population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Michelle Gavin

Michelle Gavin, former ambassador to Botswana, in New York in 2014. © TODD HEISLER/The New York Times-REDUX-REA

Michelle Gavin, a former US ambassador to Botswana (2011-2014) and former US representative to the Southern African Development Community (SADC), is one of the leading Africa experts in Biden’s orbit.

A graduate of Oxford and Georgetown University, she began her career in the Senate as a member of the Subcommittee on African Affairs.

Gavin, a 47-year-old veteran diplomat whose first African experience was in Cameroon in 1994, also worked as special assistant to president Obama on Africa on the National Security Council before becoming ambassador.

She is now a member of the board of the Africa-America Institute, founded in 1953 to promote greater engagement between the continent and the United States – which has included former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo among its members.