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Janet Yellen's African tour ushers in a new era of economic diplomacy

The US Treasury Secretary's African tour heralds a new era of economic diplomacy and an opportunity to redefine the terms of trade.

The recent african tour by Janet Yellen represents both an invitation to a new era of economic diplomacy or eco-diplomacy, and an opportunity to redefine the terms of trade. That the United States Treasury Secretary's trip began in Senegal with a visit to theGoree Island recalls that any transatlantic relationship is tainted by its origins of slavery, the fabric of which must be recognized and overcome at the same time. That it continued with a dialogue on climate issues and the role of business incubator points to the need to invest in people – and not humanitarians. In this, Senegal and the United States share more than a painful past: they have in common their faith in human resilience and ingenuity.

The construction of a wind farm considered one of the largest in West Africa on the outskirts of Dakar, symbol of this Senegalese-American cooperation celebrated by Janet Yellen, radiates here as the promise of a future rich in megawatts.

The challenge is not to reduce it to simple energy production, relegating the humans who produce it to the sole rank of consumers – and Africa as the only land of resources. “Our engagement is not transactional,” says Jannet Yellen. But should it be? Shouldn't there be a fair deal between two countries cooperating to save the planet? The continent has already suffered from not having received the fair deal for its long-exploited wealth. The challenge is not to spare Africa from energy competition. It is to equip African competitors for the development of climate justice, that is to say a fair redistribution of energy resources for the sustainable independence of the continent and its inhabitants.

Energy transition as an axis of cooperation

How to achieve it? First, by expanding a transnational accountability framework that brings together public and private sectors. The energy transition is, here, a major axis of strategic cooperation between Senegal and the United States. If the first has an unequaled natural capital, the second has virtually unlimited financial capital.

Unlike oil and gas whose exploitation depends on the territorial waters through which it is accessed, the raw material of energy solar ou wind turbine goes beyond the national framework. Where an oil field is "Saudi" or "Scottish", a ray of sunshine is neither "American" nor "Senegalese". It is its transformation into energy that gives rise to its geopolitical potential: commercial exchanges, strategic reserves, socio-economic development. Janet Yellen's journey therefore opens up an opportunity for Senegal to tap into this transformative potential. On the one hand, he signals to private investors the diplomatic support of the United States – remember that Yellen's tour follows that of the Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken. On the other hand, it urges Dakar to increase the public framework governing the fair redistribution of new energy resources in terms chosen by and for the continent.

Expand state capacity

Secondly, this potential opened up by Senegalese-American cooperation must be more than bilateral: it will benefit from a transnational and regional approach. In fact, many private partners are already operating as multinationals, ignoring the limiting borders of nation states. Let us recall here that Senegal is historically one of the most active states in the creation and development of institutions whose objective is precisely to go beyond the limits of action at the national level.

Such institutions, particularly in the area of ​​climate and energy policies, already exist. I'Organization for the Development of the Senegal River (OMVS) and thePan-African Great Green Wall Agency are examples. They transcend national borders while being anchored in a state mould, becoming more than the sum of their parts through the coordination of their multi-stakeholder efforts. The challenge – which the OMVS has successfully taken up – is to expand State capacity without threatening State sovereignty, in particular by relying on a multi-sectoral approach.

*Create an African eco-diplomacy

Finally, there remains a third challenge, less economic than ideological, underlying the Treasury Secretary's remarks: "American investment", said Janet Yellen, "is a better, more reliable means of ensuring growth and shared prosperity for all across the continent”. Asked to choose between China and Russia on one side and the United States on the other, the countries of the continent remain locked in the false choice between West and East, neutralizing a more consequent choice – although just as problematic – between North and South. Africa is not a simple pawn on the chessboard, even if this pawn is the queen. It is time to create a diplomacy based on the economic and ecological future of the continent: an eco-diplomacy.

The challenge here is not to naively isolate the continent from a complex and unavoidable international situation. It is to minimize Africa's exposure to geopolitical checkmate while maximizing African energy policy making. This requires, on the one hand, to multiply the partnerships developed during Janet Yellen's visit, so that neither becomes a hotspot. On the other hand, it consists of reorienting their executives towards a ecodiplomacy continent having as a gateway the States which compose it.

That Dakar is ideally located at the western tip of the continent, just as close to the port of Miami as it is to Djibouti, represents a strategic and geopolitical advantage whose potential remains intact. With the horizon announced visit of President Biden in 2023, Senegal has a unique opportunity to set itself up as a natural gateway to the continent and to build on the milestones laid down by the Secretary of the Treasury in a new foreign policy based on an eco-diplomacy strengthening the lasting independence for Africa.

Yohann C. Ripert, Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies, Stetson University

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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