On May 24, in an official meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, US President Donald Trump promised to donate $ 300 million to fight the hunger that hit four countries in Africa: Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria. The news brought a bit of enthusiasm to the scenario of uncertainty that defines the current context of relations between the United States and the African continent. Africa was practically forgotten by the current American President Donald Trump during the election campaign. In addition, experts heard by ATLANTICO believe that Trump should prioritize business deals that benefit his country and redefine the American foreign policy, which could negatively impact the development of the African continent. “Trump hardly mentioned the continent during his campaign and the little that was said was depreciative”, states Lyal White, director of the Centre for Dynamic Markets at Gordon Institute for Business Science (GIBS), connected to the University of Pretoria. “Truthfully speaking, Donald Trump knows very little about Africa and cares very little about this continent. What he knows about the continent is a little shocking compared to the progress that has been made during the last 15 years”.
The United States is an important partner for Africa. The country is one of the main sponsors in development projects, as well as the second largest investor, just behind China. The African Sub-Saharan, specifically, largely benefits from the USA public projects on cooperation and development. Since 2011, Americans have spent an average of 8.28 billion Euros per year, five times more than the total in 2001. In the last two decades, the American Congress has not just approved the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), but conceded exemption from some African products entering in the United States. After that, a transforming initiative was also announced, such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), created the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and more recently, approved the Power Africa Act and the Food Security Act. However, all these measures are endangered.
The Power Africa project was started by President Obama aiming to bring electricity to 60 million people in Africa. By 2018, it will require about 6.44 billion euros of the US budget . In 2013, Trump used Twitter to criticize the project. Besides that, when he took office on January 20th, as the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump promised that in the USA, as well as in other countries, he would always put the interests of the American people first. “We are transferring the power from Washington, and giving it back to you”, he said to the large audience. “Starting from then on, America will always be first”, said Trump. According to him, from then on, all “decisions on trade, taxes, immigration, and foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American factories “. However, meanwhile, prioritizing its domestic policy, Trump questions the value of the United Nations, NATO, and the European Union and firmly opposing large scale foreign welfare programs.
Clearly Trump is a protectionist. He will not tolerate any expansion or extensions of treaties. This means that the American trade policy under Trump needs to be closely observed”, evaluates Peter Vale, director of the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS). “There will also be decreased aid to Africa from the USA. For some African countries, the aid from the USA is crucial. Take Malawi for example, where it is essential and necessary. As businessman, Trump will want something in exchange, as it is improbable that he will have his type of return on investments from most of the African countries”.
Although President Trump (at least until now), has shown a lack of interest in important subjects on the agenda of the African continent, such as democracy, good governance, and human rights, extremist groups, such as Boko Haram, in Western Africa, the Islamic extremists of the Sahel, the Al-Shabaab, and the pirates in Somalia are part of the global anti-terror strategy of the United States. Trump has also at the same time publicly threatened his discontents and praised his partners on the continent.
In July 2016, while still a candidate for the presidency of the United States, Donald Trump declared that he would personally oversee the imprisonments of Presidents Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) and Yoweri Museveni (Uganda). “Mugabe and Museveni have given the world enough troubles and it is about time someone puts to an end all these madness for peace to prevail”, he added. “I wish to reiterate that I will not tolerate any dictatorial tendencies shown by dictators around the world. He even took advantage to criticize President Barack Obama and the former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. “If Obama was afraid, I will not. If Clinton and Bush were afraid, if the Pope kneels before them, I will never go down to that level. I will never become intimidated. I promise to clean up all the political confusion around the world and promote international justice”, he stated.
“Trump is very skeptical about the continent,especially regarding safety and development. He believes that it is a region in ruin and insecure of the world. He does not see much feasibility for trade and he is very naïve and almost unconscious of the potential Africa can offer”, says Lyal White, from GIBS. Stephen Chan, Professor of International Relations at the School of Oriental & African Studies at the University of London (SOAS), believes that the military engagement of the US in Africa, however, can be cut back by Trump. “There is no US strategic interest in the African region south of the Sahara”, he confirms. “I think he is going to be intolerant and uninterested on issues regarding domestic policies in African countries. For example, I do not think he is going to be interested in what is happening in Somalia or Ethiopia or in other parts of Africa where conflicts are taking place. Trump is not capable of details, then, under the best of hypotheses, he is going to just make macro evaluations”, evaluates Peter Vale, a researcher from JIAS.
Another aspect showing the lack of interest or maybe even negligence by the United States regarding Africa is the delay in choosing the largest representative from the Country for the continent. Until April, the position for the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs in the US State Department was unfiled. “The delay in nominating someone for the position suggests that Africa is not a priority”, concludes Stephan Chan, from the University of London. “The only member in Trump’s inner circle who may be interested in Africa is the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He has had some experience in Africa because he worked in the petroleum industry for ExxonMobil. If Tillerson nominates a moderate and experienced specialist in Africa to run the African Office, the African issues will not be left completely uncovered. But, no matter who administrates the Trump policy in Africa, there still will be changes compared to the recent previous administrations” Johnnie Carson says in a note, who was the US Assistant Secretary of State on African Affairs from 2009 to 2012.
After all, can Africa survive without the United States? “No. The United States is still one of the largest suppliers of capital, of foreign resources and basic assets for the African context. They are obviously fundamental, but they are not as important as those from Latin America, where it continues being the most important player in the region. There are large American companies, such as General Electric, who are big investors on the African continent, and they are acting in crucial areas of infrastructure development, petroleum refineries, and they also operate partnering with African multinational companies”, tells the researcher Lyal White. “The American tradition does not differ much between Democrats and Republicans, moreover when considering Africa. But I would like Donald Trump to be more honest towards the African continent, because we continue with the problems of the lack of democracy”, argues Afonso Dhlakama, President of RENAMO (National Mozambican Resistance), in an official report. “As a world leader, the President of the United States of America must encourage African leaders to accept democracy itself and not that tradition of thinking that Democracy is for Americans and Europeans. Democracy has neither color nor race, it is democracy. ”.
Studies by the United Nations and the United States show that Africa will be affected by climate change more than any other region of the world and that African nations are less prepared to deal with it.The inner circle of the Trump government has minimized the importance of this subject and has already threatened to stop participating in the Paris agreement on climate changes signed in 2015.
In February, Donald Trump called the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma. At that time, Zuma congratulated Trump for the victory of the American election and the two statesmen reconfirmed their commitment to strengthening the historical relationship between the two countries. 600 companies in the USA have operations in South Africa. The two Presidents also discussed the need for working together on multilateral issues, especially seeking peace and stability on the African continent. After that conversation, Trump, called Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria. According to the White House, Trump thanks Buhari for his “leadership on the continent” and both of them discussed “strong cooperation between the United States and Nigeria, including shared security, economic, and governance priority measures”. The official text even says that President Trump “emphasized the importance that the United States attributes to its relationship with Nigeria and showed interest in working jointly with President Buhari to expand their strong partnership”. They also agreed to continue the “strict coordination and cooperation in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria and the world at large “. Trump also expressed support to fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria. The US President also thanked Buhari for the “leadership he performed in the region and emphasized the importance of a strong, safe, and prosperous Nigeria that would continue leading the region and international forums “
Anti-migratory policies aimed at African countries
Libya, Somalia, and Sudan are on the list of countries with temporary restricted access to the United States. Syria, Iran, and Yemen are also on that list as well as those three African countries. A legal decree was signed in March ordering that for 90 days, citizens from those countries were prohibited from entering American soil. Besides that, receiving refugees from those countries has been suspended for 120 days. However, this measure is the target for a complex legal battle.