On 9 November 2016, the world woke up to the shocking news that in typical American fashion, the US took Brexit and up-zided-it “BIGLY”, as President-elect Donald J. Trump is fond of saying. From an international perspective, the surprise is understandable owing to his incoherent and often contradictory policy pronouncements, coupled with his frequent (deliberate and unwitting) use of race and gender-based tropes. What does the future hold for Africa – US relations?
While there will be months of analysis to try and understand how so many could have been so wrong in their campaign prognostications, the fact remains that Donald Trump simultaneously managed to depress national voter turn-out while convincing white working and middles class voters to turn out like other minority groups do. While his victory is stunning, he lost the popular vote and in many states he won with razor-thin margins. With Republicans in charge of both the Congress and Senate will give him time to breathe, his fragile coalition will be unforgiving if he is not seen to be delivering on key campaign promises.
Foreign policy rarely makes any appearance during a US presidential campaign. The fact that Donald Trump has never held public office and reads very little makes it particularly difficult to try and uncover his mindset vis-à-vis the innumerable current and future world events that will impose themselves on any US president. Normally is such a situation, one would turn to the political party and its stalwarts for direction, but in this case there are three distinct political groupings with differing positions; traditional Republicans who one could assume a preference for maintaining a version of the Washington consensus that has shaped our world for 50+ years, tea party movement Republicans who broadly speaking would want to see a complete retreat from the foreign policy and arena, and “Trumpistas” whose interests appear to simply follow those of their leader as he reacts unpredictably to one event after the other.
Given this complexity, it is likely that a Kitchen Cabinet will be formed of trusted, like-minded personalities chosen primarily on the basis of their trustworthiness as opposed to innate ability or larger political aspirations to unify a fractured party and nation. In Trump’s mind, his movement has won convincingly and he will seek to impose this template upon the Republican Party.
Many in Washington have surmised that once power, President Trump will have little appetite for the tedious work of governing and would be keen to outsource this tedious responsibility to Vice-President Pence, who is a solid mainstream Republican. However given Trumps very public rebukes to Pence’s common-sense observations, it would suggest that his powers will be kept as largely ceremonial- particularly considering Pence’s own Presidential aspirations which would be boosted by Trumpian excesses in the Oval Office.
From a foreign policy perspective, who then would be part of this kitchen cabinet? Senator Jeff Session from Alabama, Michael Flynn Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Joseph Keith Kellogg a retired Army Lieutenant General have all played key roles on the Trump Campaign as advisors on Foreign & Military Affairs. Based-upon their profiles and th limited scope of Donald Trump’s pronouncements here then are five areas in which there could be considerable changes to US foreign Policy in Africa.
While too many NGO marketing campaign have perpetuated the myth that Africa has little to offer but a begging bowl, these days when leaders such as Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta visit Washington offered a typical assertion in 2014, that: “it is good to see the US is waking up to the realities of the potentials of Africa just as China did a long time ago.” A cornerstone of this relationship is the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), enacted by the US in 2000 under which Africa can export certain goods to the US duty-free. Although relatively modest when compared to NAFTA, this would be an easy target for a Trump administration to tear-up. However, it is important to note that the potential damage this could cause would not be even spread across the continent. In 2011, exports from Africa to the US totalled $79 billion, 80% of which was to three countries – Nigeria (47%), Angola (19%) and South Africa (13%).
2) Climate Change, Clean Energy & the Environment
The Obama administration had made serious commitments to help countries adapt and mitigate to the challenged posed by Climate Change. Apart from the moral justifications, this was also done in line with accepted doctrine within security worlds that correctly believes that prevention of societal disruptions brought about by environmental degradation is far better (and cheaper!) than cure. However it is clear these commitments will also be clawed back for fiscal and doctrinal reasons. As for commitments to expand clean energy into Africa, there has been little immediate impact owing to the fact that it often takes years for the benefits of these deals to be felt. While the loss of government support is significant, there is nevertheless a growing private-sector appetite for these types of deals which may well fill the gap- particular as other nations ramp-up efforts in this space.
3) Foreign Aid / Economic Development
While Republican have in some areas out-performed Democrats when it comes to their commitment to Africa, the sheer scale of Donald Trump’s Tax cuts for the wealthy and working class are enormous, with some estimates finding that that this will reduce federal revenues by $ 9.5 trillion over the next decade. Given the scale of this undertaking, the Foreign Aid budget despite its modest size will no doubt be amongst the first items to be cut, particularly in for countries without strong us-based constituencies – as is the case for most of Africa. Given Trumps enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, one could imagine that Africa Business Czar is appointed to “get more deals done”.
4) Immigration / Intelligence / Security
Both Michael Flynn and Joseph Kelogg have extensive backgrounds in computer intelligence system design. This coupled with Trumps commitment to “intensively vet” visa applicants suggests that the entire process may well become more laborious and time consuming than it already is. Intelligence gathering, and a greater reliance on covert operations will no doubt increase, with a commensurate reduction in more costly capacity-building activities and support operations with allied African military services.
5) LGBTQ & Women’s Rights
While Donald Trump candidacy should have silenced Republican claims to represent family values, there is a significant constituency within his fragile coalitions that will want to see these human rights issues rolled-back in its bilateral dealings with countries as well as with multilateral organizations.
In short, there is much uncertainty as to what US long-term interests will be on the African continent with a President Donald J Trump in charge. While this relationship may look dramatically different 4 years from now, it would be wrong to assume that it is the US that will be dictating terms.
Faced with a prolonged period of uncertainty, African nations have and will continue to look towards greener pastures to drive their development which, naturally, is to the US’s long-term detriment.