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Super-charged partisanship in Congress could swing Africa policy

Bi-partisanship between Democrats and Republicans on Africa is starting to fray

The plan by Democrat Congresswoman Ilhan Omar  to lead a 'United States-Africa Policy Working Group' could trigger a new divide with the Republican party in the US's House of Representatives over Africa policy. Until now debates on Africa were one of few areas of public policy in Congress, free from bitter partisanship.

Republicans accuse Ilhan Omar of untrammelled radicalism. They blocked her from being the lead Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committee 

Policy-makers expect a more assertive Congressional approach to US-Africa relations following President Joe Biden's promise to step up US political and economic engagement with Africa at last December's leaders' summit (Dispatches, 29/11/22, President Biden hosts African leaders amid multiple crises).

But Omar's radical views on foreign policy and domestic policy has made her a target for the right of the Republican party. The first African-born member of Congress, and the first to wear a hijab in the House chamber, Omar has also divided opinion among the Somali diaspora in the US.

She strongly criticised Somalia's former President Mohamed Abdullah Mohamed 'Farmajo' and voted against debt relief for Somalia. Her criticism of Ethiopia and Eritrea's role in the Tigray war, also prompted angry responses from the two governments accusing Omar of supporting the Tigray People's Liberation Front.

Last week, Omar was removed from the influential Foreign Affairs Committee by the Republican majority, which cited her 'anti-Israel' comments. Had she remained on the committee Omar would have become the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs sub-panel overseeing Africa.

The row points to how the bitter polarisation in the US between a Republican-majority House, Democrat Senate and President Biden could spill into US-Africa policy.

Omar's new group, which will have no official standing in Congress, will be 'a venue for the promotion of American values and American interests in our dealings with our African partners,' she said last week.

'It is my sincere hope that it will become a central player in creating lasting partnerships and building up a base of expertise so that Congress can be more actively involved in US policy in Africa,' she said, adding that: 'Congress has historically paid scant attention to the continent except when extreme circumstances have prompted reactive responses.'

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