Joe Biden and global health
The tapestry of Biden’s journey into the White House is rich in history as well as in symbolism.
The exceptionalism of American democracy is of significance not only to people of colour on American soil but to global health. Like a quilt the narrative is made up of different fabrics, each with a storyline of its own, all coming together to make a strong, stitched covering. And like a veteran sea Captain, Biden must right this ship of American democracy. He has to work hard to thread the needle.
The anecdotes to Biden’s rise to the White House cannot be complete without the debacle that emanated at the Capitol building, just six days into the new year, fourteen days to his inauguration. The day will go into history as one in which a then-sitting president summoned, mobilized and reveled in the mayhem caused by his minions as they tried to stop the certification process of Joe Biden. Sadly, five lives were lost following this mob attack. The combustion of frayed nerves at the seat of democracy resulted from the distillation of far-right ideologies perpetuated by a leader who turned Twitter into a weapon, detonating political grenades, denigrating perceived opponents, cahooting with radical right extremist groups and sending a barrage of fake news to millions of his followers, including; that he won the election. Jack Dorsey should have banned him from Twitter a long time ago but that would be another story on how tech giants have become so powerful, they can control perceived free speech of governments.
Herein lies the symbolisms to Biden’s presidency. Like a master craftsman, the newest occupant of the White House has to expeditiously, unravel most if not all the dreadful, unfriendly, unfamilial, war-inciting stitches of his predecessor. This first Catholic president after President Kennedy has a herculean task ahead of him. However, he can rely on his past experiences, bromance with his former boss; President Obama, his expertise on foreign policy, his personal losses as a young senator when he lost his first wife and daughter, and more recently the passing of his son from brain cancer, his familiarity with the nuances of the legislature having been a member for more than 40 years, his centrist beliefs and his maturity. It is no longer strange that maturity can come up as a descriptive desirable for a president.
This 78 years-old president has empathy. It could be seen in the flurry of executive orders and memorandums he made shortly after being sworn in as the 46th president of the United States of America. His orders primarily cover aspects of the pandemic, climate change, people of colour and multilateralism with USA once again taking its place in global politics.
Chief amongst these executive orders and memorandums include a federal, coordinated response on the COVID-19 pandemic, halting the withdrawal of USA from the WHO, rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and compulsory wearing of masks in public spaces.
The USA has now reached a grim milestone of 500,000 deaths from COVID-19. These avoidable deaths were as a result of incompetent leadership in the management of the virus before Biden took the baton of authority. The non-mask wearing, former occupant of the White House was an aberration, a villain unleashed to the world by the far-right believers from the Republican party. This demagogue believed in conspiracy theories, did not order a coordinated response to the pandemic, refused to wear masks, mocked those who did and some of his functions even became super spreader events with several attendants getting infected with the virus.
During a pandemic with a hitherto unknown virus, he initiated the process of removing USA from the global health watch dog. Biden has since promised 4 billion dollars to COVAX, the vaccine initiative spear headed by the WHO and other organisations to equitably deliver vaccines to low-income countries. To date, of all the vaccines administered globally, 45 percent have been from G 7 countries. Biden’s administration has promised to inoculate 100 million people in 100 days and has been on track to achieve this laudable goal. The fatalities from COVID-19 were disproportionately from the Black community.
We have seen unparalleled, extreme weather changes in places like the city of Texas known for its summery temperatures now having low temperatures. Last year, many countries recorded the hottest year in history with unusual apocalyptic fires in Australia, Canada and the USA. There were floods in China, locusts’ invasion in Kenya, prolonged droughts and floods in several southern African countries. Rejoining the Paris Climate Accord at these times will mitigate the fallout from these extreme weather changes and prevent food insecurity, homelessness, civil unrests and joblessness. He also canceled the Keystone XL Pipeline project, a plan to bring oil from Canada to the USA through pipelines. The project would have led to destruction and pollution of lands and rivers, threatening the livelihoods and health of several communities cascading to unborn generations.
Further, under Biden’s watch, the USA has rejoined North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), renewing multilateral commitment, enabling the revival of the Iran nuclear deal that the former United States president had unilaterally abandoned, imposing sanctions on Iran thereby enabling it to stockpile on Uranium. Iran’s build- up of Uranium is a destabilizing factor in the middle east and invariably in the world because of the high suspicion that a nuclear bomb is really at the heart of Iran’s Nuclear pile-up. The present Captain of U.S. democracy has promised to revive the Iran-nuclear deal. Without the USA’s positive participatory role, the other members of the G 7 have not been able to reign in Iran. Further, Biden has ended arms’ sales to Yemen in the Saudi-Arabia and the United Arab Emirates led war. The war in Yemen has led to a lot of human misery most especially amongst women and children. The stoppage of arms’ sales by the present U.S. administration is a step in the right direction to stop the suffering of the Yemeni people. The sales of arms to Saudi Arabia has fueled a prolonged war in Yemen. Yemen Republic has the highest rates of malnutrition in the world, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The former president also withdrew U.S. troops in Afghanistan down to 2,500 creating a vacuum in a known volatile region. This last 2,500 troops are scheduled to be withdrawn by the first of May according to the Doha Agreement but the new president will have to consider more stable options that will ultimately prevent loss of lives and the creation of new militant groups.
The policy to reunite some six hundred thousand migrant children with their families, pausing the repayment of student loans till at least September of this year, ending the construction of the wall between Mexico and USA, increasing the moratorium on evictions till March, increasing access to health care and revoking travel bans on predominantly Muslim countries are all emblematic of the empathy in the present Chief Executive Officer of the USA. A 1.9 trillion dollars’ economic stimulus relief bill to decrease suffering caused by the pandemic was also successfully passed. It would help in purchase of food, paying rent, electricity bills and other needs of those already struggling through the pandemic.
Under the previous dispensation, people of colour were heavily disenfranchised. Even the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was not left unscathed. The first Black, female Director- General; Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination to the position was rejected by Biden’s predecessor. Biden has since reversed such racially-biased decision, making Nigeria the first African nation to field a successful candidate to the highest position in the apex trade organization. Doctor Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is board chair of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), an organization that partnered with the World Health Organisation and another organization to form COVAX, an alliance for global vaccine access especially to low-income nations. Undoubtedly, the appointment of Nigeria’s former minister of finance to the zenith trade organization is bound to green light the procurement of vaccines for Africa.
Other racial discourse unmasked by the former occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue came to a hilt with the ubiquitous video of the death of George Floyd while in police custody. The election of the former president gave an open microphone to unfiltered racists’ views who lived in an alternative reality. If before his election, racists’ views were moving at 40 miles per hour, they gathered more speed and were racing at 160 miles per hour ultimately crashing at the Capitol building. Apart from believing that they were fighting to recover a supposedly stolen election, one of the myriad of reasons for the mob attack was that the insurgents could not conceive the idea that Biden’s second in command was a woman of color, a child of immigrants, all the things the far-right rebelled against. Biden’s former predecessor never visited Africa. He gave countries from Africa a colorful name which he later denied.
Joe Biden embodies every quality a leader of a great nation should exude. He is a steady hand. His wife has a doctoral degree in education assuring that education will not be swept under the rug in this present dispensation. Biden’s advancing age is well balanced by his second in command who is twenty years younger than him. He has ambitious but achievable plans to rebuild, repair, restore and mend the damage caused by the monstrosity of his predecessor. Biden has many caps he’s wearing; A metaphorical janitor to clean up the mess he inherited, a tailor that can mend the many tears in the tapestry of American democracy and a Captain that can right the ship with the American flag flying high. Members of the European Union and indeed the world can heave a sigh of relief that at last, an adult is back in the White House.
Obilade, Associate Professor of Public Health at Nile University of Nigeria, Abuja.