Africa waits and won­ders on Trump’s for­eign pol­icy

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Across Africa, the ap­proach­ing pres­i­dency of Don­ald Trump has pro­voked deep un­cer­tainty over how the United States will pur­sue poli­cies rang­ing from counter-ter­ror­ism and trade, to aid and cli­mate change. Many African coun­tries had high hopes that Barack Obama would bring trans­for­ma­tive ben­e­fits to the con­ti­nent and were left dis­ap­pointed as he winds down his time in of­fice. But Trump’s rise to power poses fresh ques­tions that re­veal the lack of con­crete de­tail on his for­eign pol­icy plans-while the pres­i­dent-elect him­self has sel­dom ad­dressed African is­sues di­rectly.

One pos­si­ble pointer is Trump’s of­ten re­peated vow to kill “ter­ror­ists”, which may lead to more ag­gres­sive US in­ter­ven­tion against Is­lamist forces such as Nige­ria’s Boko Haram, linked to the Is­lamic State group, and Shabaab mil­i­tants in Kenya, So­ma­lia and else­where.

“Don­ald Trump can be de­scribed as a strong­man leader, and strong­man lead­ers tend to only see mil­i­tary so­lu­tions,” Ryan Cum­mings, di­rec­tor of the in­tel­li­gence firm Sig­nal Risk in Cape Town, told AFP.

“The US di­rectly de­ploy­ing in Africa or hav­ing a more overt pres­ence would be a salient re­cruit­ment tool for many armed groups. “The ques­tion is whether he is go­ing to as­sist on the de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion re­forms and other projects that help stop ex­trem­ism?”

Any in­creased US in­ter­ven­tion would, how­ever, go against Trump’s iso­la­tion­ist stance-a para­dox that highlights in­creased unpredictability un­der his watch. One of Trump’s clear­est themes on the cam­paign trail was his op­po­si­tion to in­ter­na­tional trade deals that he says have put mil­lions of Amer­i­cans out of work. That could spell trou­ble for the African Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act (AGOA), which gives 39 African na­tions duty-free ac­cess to the US mar­ket on about 7,000 prod­ucts in­clud­ing tex­tiles, cars, fruit and wine.

Less aid money?

Obama used AGOA as a tool to pro­mote hu­man rights, cut­ting Swazi­land out of the deal in 2015 over al­leged op­pres­sion in the small south­ern African na­tion. In con­trast, Trump’s vic­tory ac­cep­tance speech on Wed­nes­day sug­gested a more pro­tec­tion­ist ap­proach to in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, stress­ing “we will al­ways put Amer­ica’s in­ter­ests first”. Trump’s po­ten­tial pivot to iso­la­tion­ism could also impact the aid money that the US spends on health, ed­u­ca­tion, agri­cul­ture and humanitarian crises across Africa. USAID spent $700 mil­lion in Malawi alone over the last five years on a pro­gram to im­prove qual­ity of life in one of the world’s poor­est coun­tries. “Iso­la­tion­ism is im­plicit in all of his ‘make Amer­ica great again’ rhetoric,” said Zachary Don­nen­feld, re­searcher at the Pre­to­ria-based In­sti­tute of Se­cu­rity Stud­ies.

“There is also ev­i­dence to sug­gest that he may have sup­port for rolling back Amer­ica’s com­mit­ments to im­prov­ing hu­man de­vel­op­ment abroad.” Africa is seen as espe­cially vul­ner­a­ble to drought and floods caused by cli­mate change, and Trump’s elec­tion has shaken the global ef­fort to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions. He has dis­missed alarm about global warm­ing and threat­ened to rene­go­ti­ate or can­cel US back­ing for the land­mark Paris cli­mate deal signed last year.

As African lead­ers rushed to con­grat­u­late the in­com­ing pres­i­dent, Peter Vale, a pro­fes­sor of hu­man­i­ties at the Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg, ad­vised them to try to build what­ever re­la­tion­ship they can with the Trump gov­ern­ment.

“Africa is likely to slide down the list of for­eign pol­icy pri­or­i­ties of a Don­ald Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Vale wrote in an anal­y­sis brief­ing.

“He is go­ing to be in­tol­er­ant and dis­in­ter­ested in is­sues around the do­mes­tic pol­i­tics of African coun­tries. “The worst that African coun­tries can do, how­ever dif­fi­cult it will be po­lit­i­cally, would be to show their dis­plea­sure and hold their noses.” — AFP

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