SEATTLE, Washington — Congressman Gregory Meeks, who became the chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee in December 2020, vowed to bolster the U.S. Foreign Service in sub-Saharan Africa. Meeks, the first Black lawmaker to fill the role, will be influential in shaping U.S. foreign policy. He is a strong supporter of increasing diplomatic, humanitarian and commercial activities in the region. Through increasing humanitarian assistance to Africa, Meeks hopes to put it on the “front burner” of foreign policy and to dispel tensions throughout the continent. “My goal is to reset the United States’ relationship with Africa by focusing on shared challenges, expanding people-to-people relationships and exchanges, developing partnerships to increase youth participation in the digital workforce, and championing a more robust presence across the continent,” Meeks said about his vision for the U.S.-Africa relationship.
Federal engagement with Africa has stagnated. The assistant secretary of African affairs, the top ambassador post to the region, remained vacant for almost two years under the Trump Administration. Meeks hopes to change this oversight by redefining America’s foreign policy. His role on the committee will enable him to influence new legislation in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Additionally, he will oversee foreign policy programs on trade, treaties, military actions, humanitarian aid and arms control. Meeks hopes to work collaboratively to encourage the autonomy of the African economy and African trade and increase humanitarian assistance to Africa for those most in need.
By focusing his first event on Africa, Meeks prioritized the message that the United States values its collaborative relationship. His new policies aim to address environmental challenges, develop urban areas, support the African Continental Free Trade Area, improve digital infrastructure, promote election credibility and prevent conflict with the Global Fragility Act. This strategy will strengthen U.S.-Africa economic ties and provide support for new development and humanitarian relief efforts.
Ugandan Presidential Elections
Meeks addressed the issues that the recent Ugandan presidential election posted, which saw the re-election of Yoweri Museveni for a sixth term amid widespread claims of voter fraud. Museveni is a close military ally of the U.S. and has received hundreds of millions of dollars every year in the fight against terrorism in Africa. However, Ugandans have urged the United States to help assure a peaceful transfer of power. The U.S. State Department told the New York Times that it is considering restrictions and other options against Museveni. However, Meeks appears to support a stronger stance on election integrity. He says that the United States is approaching “an inflection point at which we need to think critically about how we can support the will of the Ugandan citizens for an inclusive democracy and partner on good governance and accountability.”
Conflict in Ethiopia
Another key point of Meeks’s foreign policy will be the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. A government crackdown on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has led to the displacement of 2 million civilians, hundreds of deaths and widespread claims of human rights abuses. Despite this pressing need, humanitarian aid remains stunted. Ethiopian journalists have called for Eritrean troops to leave Ethiopia and a United Nations investigation into human rights abuses. In response, Meeks promised to address the conflict and called for a ceasefire that would enable greater humanitarian assistance.
Lawmakers are hopeful that Meeks’s appointment will revive an era of U.S.-Africa engagement that began under former President Bill Clinton. While humanitarian assistance to Africa remained stable in recent years, trade dropped significantly. Meeks hopes that the new administration’s engagement with international organizations and the lifting of a travel ban on seven Muslim majority countries will lead to further cooperation. Meeks called for new consulates in Mombasa, Kenya, Cairo, Egypt and Goma and for U.S. Embassy teams for regional economic communities, boosting Africa’s economic growth and providing further humanitarian aid.
– Eliza Browning