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What a Trump presidency means for Africa

By Editor
02 December 2016   |   4:09 am
To discuss what his presidency will mean for U.S. Africa policy going forward. CNBC Africa is joined by Charles Stith , a former U.S Ambassador to Tanzania and Steven Gruzd, Head,Governance.....
American president-elect Donald Trump / AFP PHOTO / Logan Cyrus

American president-elect Donald Trump / AFP PHOTO / Logan Cyrus

The 11th of November 2016 will remain enshrined in history books as the day that saw republican candidate Donald Trump become the United States president-elect. To discuss what his presidency will mean for U.S. Africa policy going forward. CNBC Africa is joined by Charles Stith , a former U.S Ambassador to Tanzania and Steven Gruzd, Head,Governance and Foreign Policy, at the South Africa Institute of International Affairs.

First let me start off with you, Charles. What do you make of a Trump Presidency?
CHARLES: Well I think that there are a number of factors that contributed to his victory. Clearly there was a substantial number of disaffected white working class voters, that felt as if their interests were not being represented by the Republican and Democratic parties. You had the traditional Republican base that came home and rallied around Trump as well. On the Democratic side some strategic mistakes were made we should have had the Democratic candidate in parts of the country like Wisconsin for example, and she should have campaigned more outside of urban areas, particularly in the battleground states. We needed a more precise economic message.

This election in terms of the electoral college was close. Hillary won the majority of votes of Americans in this country but to say that the Trump victory means a shift in American political thought at this juncture is probably a little much but it was a significant victory none the less.

Steven what’s your take on the Trump victory?
STEVEN: I happened to be in Washington over that week, and I must say, it took Washington insiders completely by surprise. There were a lot of very long faces the morning after the results were announced. It does show a feeling that the establishment was not looking out for workers who had lost their jobs to people in Mexico or China and the effects of globalisation. It followed a similar pattern to the shock results of the Brexit vote.

People thought again that people wouldn’t bring themselves to make a this kind of decision and in the end those polls were proved wrong too. I think perhaps even the Trump campaign wasn’t so sure of winning the election, which is why we’ve maybe seen a slow transition in some reversals in for example, his team. Governor Christie was initially in charge of that and that has been changed very quickly as the reality of a Trump win has set in. It was a victory for populism; for somebody fighting for the little man. A little ironic in that the man fighting for the little man is a billionaire.

Well that’s actually quite true. But Charles let’s focus on all the things he said during the Campaign. Populism definitely played a very large role here, but the question is do you see Trump going through with some of the statements that he made during his campaign?
CHARLES: Let me make two points. First, while it’s certainly easy to refer to the crux of Trump’s message as populism, I think its really a distortion at worst and a sanitisation at best. The core platform of this campaign was xenophobic, racist and sexist and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

Now that’s not to say that all the people who voted for Trump were racist, xenophobic and sexist but there is a core part of them that were, and we’ve seen that part feeling empowered in the aftermath of the elections. The number of assaults has gone up. There was a rally in Washington DC recently from the Alt-right and you had people doing the Nazi salute saying Hail Trump, Hail victory. We don’t need to minimise that because that is an important element in his campaign demographic to which a response is warranted.

When you look at his appointments it does suggest to this point, that he is trying to reassure those parts of his base that he intends to stay true to the convictions that he expressed as a candidate. Jeff Sessions as the Attorney General is a real concern. On the record thirty years ago when they attempted to get him appointed as a District Court judge in the Reagan Administration that nomination was rejected by a Republican Senate because they felt his views on race were too extreme at that point.

There’ve been some things of late like his vote for the extension of civil rights that have been somewhat encouraging but at the end of the day it is the full body of work that will enable us see what kind of Attorney General he will be and all of that will come out in the hearing. Trump’s appointment of Bannon as his Chief Adviser is also worthy of concern. He ran a media outlet that was the top platform for the alt-right, and the white supremacists in our country, so these are points of real concern and we’ll get a better sense of what we can expect from the Trump administration when we see the rest of his appointments.

Steven, listening to what Charles has just said makes me wonder what the relationship between the United States under the Trump administration and Africa as a whole be after a campaign like that. He did release a statement where he said no to xenophobia and bigotry, but we know just a statement saying stop does not goes a long way to stop the damage already being done. How do you see this playing out in Africa?
STEVEN: The United States cannot be ignored by any country in the world it does remain the super power. It is incredibly powerful economically and even if its stature is diminishing politically with the rise of countries like China, and India on the international stage it still remains the super power. So countries have to find a way to work with Mr. Trump. You’ve seen that with most African countries. They’ve congratulated him on his win and said that they look forward to working with him as time goes on. Some may be biting their lips and doing it reluctantly but I think that’s an inevitability. It’s happened, he’s won the election and we need to move forward.

I think what is going to be very interesting is seeing what kind of president Trump is going to be for Africa, because defying the expectations of many one of the best presidents for Africa over the last 25 years has been George W. Bush. He put in programmes like PEPFAR which was the presidential initiative to combat AIDS and that’s been incredibly successful. He instituted the millennium challenge account which rewards good governance with aid and investment from the United States. He also visited Africa more often than Bill Clinton or Obama did. Furthermore I think a lot of the support for African initiatives is Bi-Partisan in the United States. It has the support of both Democrats and Republicans. We have the very important trade bill, GOA, which is the African growth and Opportunities Act. It has been in place since the year 2000 and has been renewed till 2025.

However, Mr Trump has said that he wants to renegotiate trade deals that he finds are one sided, and one might argue that GOA gives much more advantage to African countries exporting into the United States than it does the other way around, so there’s some question about whether or not it’s in jeopardy. The fact is he did not say very much about Africa during his campaign, it was not high on the agenda, it was not a known quantity and this is going to unfold with time. But one thing which may be interesting is that Mr trump is a deal maker we know that from his business career, we know that from seeing him on the apprentice and maybe that presents an opportunity for Africa to put on the table what it really wants; for different African countries bilaterally or the African Union as a whole to say, “this is what we really want from an American administration. This is where we need the investment. This is when we need the trade. This is where we need the aid and the other assistance.” But it is very early to tell.

Charles what do you think about the point Stephen made earlier on?
CHARLES: I think Stephen was right that if Trump takes the path of being consistent with renegotiating trade agreements then it could have a negative impact on Africa, but on the other hand, if Africa does a better job of articulating its opportunities then it could increase trade. The other two things I would add to the equation are as follows. First, we do have geopolitical strategic interests around National Security that are worthy of concern to both Africa and the United States.

The other thing that might be of concern to the Trump administration is the extent to which China is investing in Africa and because Trump has suggested that we need to be concerned about our status vis a vis China, that may inspire him to take a more aggressive posture, in terms of encouraging U.S investment in Africa. I’ll close by making the point that Stephen made. I think that this is a good opportunity for African leaders to really do some thinking about what they want from the Trump administration. It’s not enough to have an appetite. You need to come with a menu as well.