According to a November CNN headline, ‘Trump’s policy on Africa is likely to be non-existent’ and it is, sadly, hard to disagree. What might the impact of this ‘non-policy’ be?
There is little doubt that the so-called ‘sixth region’ of Africa, that is the Diaspora of African descent recognised as such by the African Union, were not friendly or supportive of Trump’s candidacy. This is reason enough for President Trump to be ambivalent, at best.
According to Peter Vale, Professor of Humanities, University of Johannesburg, “(Trump) is going to be intolerant and disinterested in issues around the domestic politics of African countries. That is unless, as he was very clear in his acceptance speech, they strongly impinge on American national interests.”
Vale also makes a valid point that consequently each African country needs to consider very carefully their choice of Ambassador.
Even without a clearly defined policy, Trump has made clear that he has little truck with diplomatic niceties, especially relating to China, and indeed the way he appears not to care less about offending anyone, suggests he may have something to say about the extent of Chinese investment in the continent. This might offer some opportunities for certain sub-Saharan countries as we will see in a moment.
Picture- By (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Samuel Guerra/Released via Wikimedia Commons
The other important areas of Trade, Aid and Security offer little consolation. Trump is unashamedly protectionist and is likely to pay scant attention to existing trade agreements, notably AGOA, no matter how long they may have been in place. His definition, and rallying cry, of ‘America First’, by definition means problems for those who trade with the US, or those who would like to. Conversely if Trump alienates China then many US firms might want to shift manufacturing plants for example to alternative low cost abundant labour markets, this could be an opportunity for East Africa in particular.
Aid is of concern to many countries as it is likely, according to most experts, to be actively reduced by the incoming administration, since Trump has previously characterised all aid to Africa as ‘stolen’. This might only impact the region marginally, unless other countries follow suit, but in certain African countries, Malawi for example, the impact will be profound and significant.
Where Security is concerned, Trump’s visceral views on Muslims will colour his judgment and actions, this will lead to uncertainty and unease amongst African Muslim travellers and of course politicians. Regional security experts, specifically Control Risks Group, ‘expect the greatest continuity in US-Africa relations in the area of security cooperation, specifically on counter-terrorism, with Africom likely to emerge as the central pillar of the new administration’s engagement with the continent.
Trump’s consistent rhetoric on tackling Islamist terrorism makes it extremely likely that counter-terrorism operations in Africa will receive priority funding as other overseas spending is reduced. Certain governments may further seek to position themselves more overtly as allies in this fight in order to secure other funding or to use the same tactics for what is effectively internal repression of dissent.’
In short there may be some opportunity for certain countries but holistically Africa, as every other region in the world, faces considerable uncertainty under a Trump presidency.
Graham Palfery-Smith is a Board Adviser to a number of companies in various parts of the world including Executives in Africa