In the wake of the Donald Trump-Benjamin Netanyahu orchestrated ‘peace deal’ with United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at the recent White House Rose Garden ceremony, speculation is rife on which Arab and/or Muslim states will next bandwagon with the US and Israel in betraying Palestinians to the tender mercies of unending occupation and settlement expansion in the West Bank. After all, who cares that Netanyahu ‘conceded’ suspending annexing a major portion of the West Bank in exchange for ‘normalizing’ relations with Gulf Arab states that had already normalized in everything but name with Tel Aviv? Certainly not Netanyahu who, from his standpoint, remains committed to annexation which has been happening anyway.
The real significance of the White House ceremony in the Rose Garden is its implications for Africa and US-African relations; this is in terms of Washington and Tel Aviv’s search for additional Arab/Muslim countries jumping on the ‘normalization’ bandwagon. In short, the Trump administration’s pro-Netanyahu/Gulf Arab Middle East policy is dictating Washington’s African diplomacy in advancing an alignment of security interests linking Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in what emerges as an anti-democratic coalition of forces (anti-Arab Spring inspired). These threaten to subordinate Africa, especially the northeastern Horn into a dependent state subsystem along the Red Sea-Gulf of Aden gateway into the northwest Indian Ocean. This alignment extends into the Maghreb, centering around the internationalized Libyan civil war.
Bandwagoning on the ‘normalization’ train
The fact that Morocco and Sudan are being broached as candidates for following UAE and Bahrain into a Trump encouraged Israel ‘normalization’ embrace is indicative of what is at stake in challenging Africa’s strategic autonomy in relation to the geopolitics of the southern Mediterranean extending into the Red Sea-Gulf of Aden conflict system. The anti-democratic connecting of dots also links Morocco’s interest in consolidating Rabat’s claim to sovereignty over Western Sahara, to marginalizing of self-determination for the Palestinians with Saudi-UAE backing of the military wing of Sudan’s transitional government and the mercenary troop support Sudan’s military lends to both the Cairo-Saudi-UAE (and Russian) backing for the Haftar LNA forces challenging the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Libya and to the genocidal Saudi-UAE war in Yemen. The Yemen and Libya theaters of conflict represent a shared interest of the Israel-Egypt-Saudi-UAE in confronting the two non-Arab regional power claimants in Turkey (Libya) and Iran (Yemen). Moreover, in the case of the anti-Iran dimension of this alignment, demonizing Iran has served Israel’s distraction purpose of changing the subject on the Palestinians with US Israel Lobby and Republican collusion reflected in opposition to Barack Obama’s Iran Nuclear Deal, thereby splitting Democrats on Middle East policy.
Landscape of complexity
All combined, this balance of forces with the backing of the US, France and Russia bodes ill for the African Union (AU) fledgling 2063 integration agenda and to the future of US-African relations and policy prospects depending on the outcome of the US election. However, while the basic regional concentration of contending forces locates primarily in the eastern Mediterranean-Northeast African theater of geopolitical dynamics, the Morocco-Sahrawi Western Sahara stalemate fits within this scenario as well. Both Rabat and Tel Aviv are pursuing strategies of buying off sub-Saharan members of the AU aimed at shifting the intra-African balance in their respective favor while Israel is supportive of Morocco’s claims to Western Sahara over Sahrawi self-determination. So it is no stretch imagining Morocco returning the favor and ‘normalizing’ with Israel at the expense of Palestinian self-determination while pursuing joint strategies of buying off AU members to shift sub-Saharan Africa into a subordinate continental stated system as a rear base for the anti-democratic coalition of forces joining Israel-Egypt-Saudi Arabia and UAE along with France and Russia.
For Emanuel Macron, the southern Mediterranean extending into the Sahel is Paris’ sphere of influence. For Russia, Africa is a ‘Resource Province’ to augment its own minerals and energy geopolitics. The fact that staunchly pro-Israel president of Democratic Republic of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, succeeds South African president Cyril Ramaphosa as AU Chair in 2021 will be a major boon to this anti-democratic coalition of subordinating Africa to their geopolitical designs should Donald Trump be reelected. It also appears Kenya is under pressure to further enhance its ties to Israel as a condition for a bilateral trade deal with the US which is already controversial as this runs against the fledgling African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). If Joe Biden and Kamala Harris defeat Trump, thereby ushering in a Democratic administration in Washington, US-Africa policy will confront a major challenge in unraveling this essentially Trump-Netanyahu ‘normalization’ transactionalism distorting both African and Middle East peace and security prospects. This is where US policy formulation in the Horn of Africa under a Democratic administration bear careful scrutiny.
Prospective Biden pro-democracy Africa policy?
If a prospective Biden administration fails to employ a deft strategy of nuanced toughness decoupling the Trump-Netanyahu ‘normalization’ gambit from US support for strengthening fragile democratic transitions in Sudan and Ethiopia, Biden’s promise “to convene a summit of the world’s democracies in the first year of his presidency” will lack credibility. A president Biden must make clear in no uncertain terms that it will not hold hostage delisting Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism pending Khartoum ‘normalizing’ relations with Israel as the military wing of the transitional regime backed by Cairo-Saudi Arabia-UAE favor in defiance of popular Sudanese opposition to such a betrayal of Palestinians. This must be coupled with strengthening the civilian component of the transitional government led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and signaling the threat of sanctions against members of the military should they move to undermine Hamdok and his civilian team.
Regarding Ethiopia, a Biden Africa policy would have to couple pro-democracy support in Sudan with reversal of Trump’s pro-Sisi suspension of aid to Ethiopia in support of Egypt’s opposition to Addis’ filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). This should be coupled with an unbiased renewal of mediation under joint auspices of the AU and the US. The end point should be encouraging a GERD settlement kick-starting institutionalized Nile Basin regional cooperation between up and downstream countries extending into forging a northeast African economic community.
The strategic significance of decoupling Sudan and Ethiopia from Israeli-Persian Gulf geopolitics is in consolidating the northern end of the Tripartite FTA within the AfCFTA encompassing eastern and southern Africa: the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC). Given the triumvirate structure of AU chair succession, South Africa will be a crucially strategic partner for a Biden administration in this decoupling process; this is especially given the pro-Israel leaning of Ramaphosa’s incoming successor, Tshisekedi. All the more reason for a Biden administration outreach to South Africa early on in the first 100 days of a hoped for new administration – if Biden and Harris win in November. Such an outreach would also work in favor of South Africa and SADC addressing the terrorist threat to the region emanating from the insurgency in northern Mozambique. Otherwise, it is the AU’s unstable northern tier quagmire in the geopolitics of the Middle East that demand urgent attention. And this will have to include a compromise settlement between Morocco and the Sahrawis on the status of Western Sahara while activating the Arab Maghreb Union; also, ‘silencing the guns’ in Libya. In these endeavors, Biden and team might do well to motivate a joint AU-European Union (EU) Mediterranean dialogue on a future architecture of interregional peace and security. The bottom line for Africa and US-African relations is to liberate Africa from Middle Eastern ‘Great Games’ threatening subordination of the continent to a new imperium of external dominance.
Mr. Francis Kornegay is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue. He is also a member of the JIOR international editorial board and a past fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars where he worked on his edited work, Laying The BRICS of a New Global Order (2013). Kornegay holds Masters Degrees in African Studies from Howard University and in International Public Policy from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins. Kornegay served two stints in the US Congress as a professional staffer, among other things, developing financial sanctions legislation on South Africa. His latest co-edited publication is Africa and the World: Navigating Shifting Geopolitics (Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, 2020). His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD.