What America’s tantrum means for Africa
Although most foreign leaders appropriately remained publicly neutral on the US elections, it was the worst kept secret that most of them preferred Hillary Clinton. Probably with the exception of Vladimir Putin, who was rumored to have preferred Donald Trump, presuming that the billionaire businessman; who had been full of praise for the Russian strongman during the election primaries, would be friendlier towards Russia. On Tuesday however, the only people who had a say in the matter; the usually reliable American People, had their say and like a petulant toddler denied ice cream, threw all caution and ration to the wind, handing the keys to the proverbial Ferrari (the biggest economy in the world) to the politically inexperienced, erratic, loose-talking, hate-mongering, xenophobic businessman Donald Trump over the steady markedly more experienced ex-secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Africa like most of the world is scrambling to make sense of this remarkable turn of events and what it means for the continent. From Immigration and security to trade and infrastructure, the partnership between The United States and Africa; which has been playing catch-up with China and other world powers, has been thrown into disarray. While there’s no way to accurately predict how a President Trump will govern or engage with the African continent, we can guess by what candidate Trump and citizen Trump has said in the past – however self-contradictory they’ve been.
On Immigration – While his proposed signature wall on the southern border with Mexico (which Mexico will pay for) will likely not affect African immigrants; who largely emigrate to the US legally, his xenophobic policies on mass deportation and Muslim ban; which has been downgraded to “extreme vetting”, more than likely will. Muslims from the Arab North, west and the horn of Africa; who are routinely racially or religiously profiled on suspicion of being affiliated with radical groups active in those regions, will likely face added difficulties entering and living in the United States. His anti immigrant, anti minority campaign has also fueled angst amongst other Africans that they will not be welcome in Trumps America.
On Trade – One of the hallmarks of Donald Trumps candidacy was his promise to rip up international trade agreements like North American Free Trade Agreement NAFTA signed by former president Clinton and President Obama’s Trans Pacific Partnership TPP, which he argued have led to the outsourcing of American jobs and a US trade deficit. The African Growth and Opportunity Act AGOA; which was signed into US-Law in 2000 and renewed in 2015 and has facilitated free trade and investment between the continent and the US since, will likely be subject to review under a Trump administration. If we can take his word for it, President Trump will most likely repeal this law if he can’t renegotiate it to unevenly favor US companies. Although his party – The Republican Party, which now holds all the levers of power in government is traditionally pro-free trade, and so he might run into a civil war when it comes to fulfilling that promise.
On Security – For better or worse, it’s impossible to talk about the US without talking about security. Over the Obama years, the US through its Africa military base Africom has been involved in several high level and often controversial security operations on the continent. From the NATO led military intervention that toppled Colonel Gadhafi in Libya to the search for Ugandan fugitive Joseph Kony that went viral, from the on-going operations against terrorist group Al Shabab in Somalia to the efforts to liberate the kidnapped schoolgirls in Northeast Nigeria, Africom has played a key role in security on the continent.
President Trump who has been at best incoherent on foreign policy might throw that partnership into doubt. He has often said strengthening the military was one of his priorities, but he has also been isolationist in his worldview and is more than happy to let Russia expand its global security influence if it means they have to foot the bill. At times he’s bragged about exerting overwhelming force and advocated for invading and illegally looting resources, yet other times he’s threatened to abandon treaties and security alliances if other members didn’t “pull their own weight”, so with Trump in charge of the largest military on the planet, anything is possible. And that’s not a good thing.
On Aid and Development – USAID the United States Agency for International Development which has had a long and often contentious history in Africa, known mostly for its failed aid model forged a new partnership with Africa during the Obama presidency, most notably the joint venture – Power Africa project which was aimed at lighting up the continent. While candidate Trump never specifically addressed Power Africa, he did declare an end to foreign “nation building”, which we can only assume this massive infrastructure undertaking will qualify as.
If President Trump were to put an end to the Power Africa project, it will set back the already underperforming project. President Obama also continued his predecessor George W. Bush’s – Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief PEPFAR, although drastically reducing its funding each year. Safe to say an inward-looking President Trump will reduce it even further if he doesn’t terminate the program altogether, given that he once tweeted “Every penny of the $7Billion going to Africa as per Obama will be stolen – Corruption is rampant.”
Following the shocking referendum vote by the British to exit the European Union, Africa looked to the United States to provide steady leadership. Now that they have failed to live up to that expectation, voting instead to disengage from the world, the African continent may have no other choice but to further deepen its already troubling bonds with China which now seems like the grown up in the room. Alternatively and preferably the volatile nature of our outside trading partners should make Africa more introspective and deepen regional partnerships. We must come together to strengthen our infrastructure, increase trade with one another, bolster our regional security forces and alliances, and ease immigration within the continent. Only this way can we blunt the effects of domestic events in other countries, which as we can now see are beyond our control.