US President Joe Biden delivers remarks from the East Room of the White House in Washington. Picture: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks from the East Room of the White House in Washington. Picture: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Biden’s ’decision for humankind’

By Shannon Ebrahim Time of article published May 9, 2021

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It was not hard to look like a shining star after four years of former US president Donald Trump, but President Joe Biden has exceeded expectations in his first 100 days.

The official 100th day in office was April 30, but one of Biden’s most impressive decisions was announced just five days later – one that matters to South Africa and the developing world.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced that it was in support of waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines, which was a breakthrough for international efforts to suspend patent rules.

With the pandemic raging in India and Latin-America, and a third wave expected in our own country, the decision has the potential to be lifesaving for many. South Africa and India have been pushing for a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights, so that countries can address the pandemic, and vaccines can be made a public good.

At the recent G7 Summit, some countries pushed back against the proposal, arguing for free markets and open economies – which were never in dispute. South Africa and India have never challenged the notions. But the pandemic is an emergency, and as Minister for International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor said in an interview on Wednesday with Christiane Amanpour: “We need to meet the challenge confronting all of us because all of us are unsafe if one of us is unsafe. We don’t want to develop complex new variants.”

The US had been a major holdout at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to suspend intellectual property rights in an effort to ramp up vaccine production. But Biden had been under pressure to support the proposals, even from many congressional Democrats. Biden finally took a decision in the interest of the greater public good, something Trump was unlikely to ever do.

Katherine Tai, Biden’s US Trade Representative said on Wednesday: “This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines.” Now it is up to the WTO to hammer out an agreement in upcoming negotiations.

The US could do a lot more in terms of supporting the developing world with vaccines. Promises of sending 60 million unused AstraZeneca doses to developing countries is hardly sufficient. Less than 2% of the world’s Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in Africa, and the continent is in dire need of assistance.

What Biden has done in his own country in terms of rolling out Covid-19 vaccinations is nothing short of phenomenal. When he took office in January this year, Biden pledged 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days. At the end of March, he doubled that commitment. While Trump only rolled out 16 million vaccine doses, Biden has rolled out 220 million in his first 100 days in office. He has taken the politics out of vaccines and mask wearing, and delivered on his promises in an understated and humble way. He has not praised himself for the accomplishments, but rather told people “it is because of you”. The approach has been a welcome contrast to the politics of ego perpetrated by Trump.

The mass vaccination rollout in the US has changed cities across the country from ghost towns to buzzing hubs of commerce and life again. Take a city like Nashville, the home of country music. Just months ago, bars and restaurants were empty, businesses were hardly functioning and people were holed up in their homes as the pandemic surged, causing devastation and untold suffering among the local population. By the end of last month,l most of the population had been vaccinated, and bars are full again and staying open until 3am, weddings are taking place everywhere, and people have taken their lives back. Many credit Biden for the turnaround.

Biden has also succeeded in reviving the US economy with the $1.9 trillion (about R27 trillion) stimulus package that he signed in March.

In his address to the US Congress, Biden was correct when he said that he had created 1.3 million new jobs – more jobs in the first 100 days than any president on record.

Biden easily relates to average working-class people, and his infrastructure and family plans have broad backing. His initiatives on preschool, public community college, paid family and medical leave, and home care are popular, as are his proposals to increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy in order to pay for infrastructure and education.

Biden had entered office promising a real commitment to diversity, and he has made good on this promise if one looks at his confirmed nominees, in which there are a higher proportion of women and non-whites than any of his three predecessors. Lloyd Austin is the first African-American to be the secretary of defence, Deb Haaland will be the first Native-American to be a Cabinet member and secretary of the interior, Janet Yellen the first woman to be secretary of the Treasury, and Alejandro Mayorkas will be the first Latino and immigrant to run the Department of Homeland Security. These appointments have been hailed as trail-blazing.

Biden has also taken initiatives to end police brutality and root out systemic racism in the US system. The moves come as anger grows over the killing of another Black man, Daunte Wright, who was stopped by police just miles from where George Floyd was killed last May. While there are good intentions on the part of the Biden administration, there appears to be no immediate path to broad national reform according to activists. The Biden administration will put its weight behind a broad reform bill known as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, while revamping the Justice Department, which holds the administration’s most tangible power over police departments.

What Biden has successfully been able to achieve is to undo much of what Trump did through executive orders, and by April 23 he had undone 62 of the 219 executive orders signed by the former president. He has recommitted the US to the Paris Climate Change Agreement, reversed the US exit from the WHO, and stopped construction of the border wall. Biden is more popular than Trump was on any day of his presidency.

While we should praise the positive developments taking place in the US, we also acknowledge there is much work to be done in terms of the US strengthening relations with Africa and the developing world, forging normal trade and diplomatic relations with Cuba, recommitting the US to the The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action without conditions, forging positive and constructive relations with China, and reducing America’s military footprint abroad.

* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media’s Group Foreign Editor.

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