What Trump means for Africa

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on November 13, 2016


The United States shocked the world (and themselves) by electing Donald Trump as the next President of the country. While the USA tries to unpack what this means for them as a country, Africa should ask similar questions as well. Trump barely mentioned the continent during his campaigning and the little that was said was disparaging. For example he tweeted ‘Every penny of the USD 7 billion going to Africa as per Obama will be stolen – corruption is rampant!’. Clearly he seems to have a pessimistic view of the continent, so what would a Trump Presidency mean for Africa?

https://static01.nyt.com/images/2016/01/28/world/28trumpbelgium-web2/28trumpbelgium-web2-facebookJumbo.jpg

(source: https://static01.nyt.com/images/2016/01/28/world/28trumpbelgium-web2/28trumpbelgium-web2-facebookJumbo.jpg)

The first is insularity. The USA is number one for Trump and his focus will be targeted on his own country and fixing domestic problems. There may be a contraction of the presence of the USA as an aggressive global player in the current international order. For example, Trump stated that North Korea should be China’s problem to solve, not USA’s. And Trump has openly rejected the notion that the USA should be the world’s policeman. What this means for Africa is that we can expect the USA to be far less involved in African affairs than Obama has been.

For example, analysts make the point that the Obama administration has overseen an expansion of American military might in Africa. An investigation found that the United States maintains at least 60 bases or military outposts throughout Africa. Will Trump find it necessary to maintain such a heavy and expensive military presence on the continent? I would anticipate continued presence in areas in Africa that are hotspots of Islamist terrorism such as Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya given how important defeating such entities such as ISIS are to him. However, there may very well be a reconfiguration and roll back of military on the continent in other areas so that the money can be channelled elsewhere. Thus on one hand Trump may support extreme militarized responses to potential terror threats in pockets of Africa, but a withdrawal in less tense areas.

Secondly, Trump seems to be of the view that Africa is corrupt and that money that currently goes to Africa would be better spent on the USA’s own pressing needs. Perhaps Africa should expect reductions in funding to entities such as USAID and even the removal of programmes such as President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) may be on the table. Further, given Trump’s position on climate change, the USD 34 million programme Obama announced to help developing countries strengthen their climate resilience may be scrapped.

Image result for africa

(source: http://www.animaatjes.nl/plaatjes/a/afrika/animaatjes-afrika-96997.jpg)

Finally, one of the points Trump has made clear is his intention to renegotiate trade agreements for the benefit of the USA. He is of the view that current trade regimes are costing the USA jobs and income. Although his statement have been mainly targeted at countries such as China, Africa should not assume the continent will not be affected. As Quartz Africa points out, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which gives African exports to the US preferential treatment, expires in 2025. Trump’s administration will need to begin negotiating its renewal soon after he takes office. I think Africa should prepare itself for, at a minimum, much harder negotiations with the Trump administration than was the case under Obama.

In short, Africa should be aware of the fact that Africa has been not a priority for Trump thus far, and although his administration will have to address the continent, the generosity Africa benefited from under Obama will likely end under Trump. Further, Trump’s election as President has deeply divided the USA and he will need to expend effort addressing this divide, leaving him far less time to think about Africa.

Anzetse Were is a development economist; anzetsew@gmail.com

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