Re­fo­cus US-Africa ties in Trump era

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THE DUST is fi­nally set­tling on the shock elec­tion of Don­ald Trump as the 45th pres­i­dent of the US. Be­yond the world’s gen­er­alised anx­i­ety, Africa more than ever re­quires a cal­i­brated lens to iden­tify pri­or­i­ties and de­fine prag­matic ac­tions to ad­vance the con­ti­nent’s in­ter­ests with Washington.

Ul­ti­mately, Africa needs to lever­age op­por­tu­ni­ties and man­age risks rep­re­sented by the Amer­i­can lead­er­ship change. Africa should strive for more pur­pose­ful­ness and pro-ac­tive­ness in its agen­daset­ting, out­reach and fol­low-through ac­tions.

For the past two decades, global ob­servers have faulted Amer­i­can in­ter­ven­tion­ism as well as in­ac­tion for con­flicts from Iraq to Afghanistan through Libya to Syria. With Trump’s im­mi­nent as­cen­sion, many an­a­lysts worry that a US turn in­wards will ex­ac­er­bate geopo­lit­i­cal and geo-eco­nomic risks world­wide. Valid as these global con­cerns may be, it is the risk of grad­ual ne­glect of Africa by the new US ad­min­is­tra­tion which must worry lead­ers from Abuja through Pretoria to Ya­mous­soukro. Ad­mit­tedly, a cru­cial re­la­tion­ship for Africa than for the US, Africa stands to gain im­mensely from a well nur­tured and pro­duc­tive US-Africa part­ner­ship un­der Trump.

The need for re­spon­sive and en­gaged lead­er­ship on both sides has al­ways been cru­cial to re­alise shared ob­jec­tives. In the cur­rent con­junc­ture, Trump’s rise and his em­pha­sis on Amer­ica first shifts the bur­den of ini­ti­a­tion and out­reach de­cid­edly on to Africa. Ef­forts to build mo­men­tum to drive a re­newed en­gage­ment must also com­mence sooner rather than later.

To achieve suc­cess in this re­la­tion­ship, Africa re­quires a re­cal­i­brated ap­proach which al­though shaped by global dis­courses must also re­flect the con­ti­nent’s chal­lenges and devel­op­ment needs. Very im­por­tantly, con­sol­i­dat­ing eco­nomic win­wins for human devel­op­ment, and ad­vanc­ing good gov­er­nance, human rights, and se­cu­rity should re­main over­ar­ch­ing pri­or­i­ties for the re­la­tion­ship long into the fu­ture. Africa’s reartic­u­la­tion of this part­ner­ship and its human devel­op­ment ra­tio­nale will help to main­tain trac­tion for ac­tive US en­gage­ment in Africa long be­yond the Trump pres­i­dency.

African states should seek ways to align their pol­icy ob­jec­tives bet­ter to ex­plore syn­er­gies where pos­si­ble with US for­eign pol­icy pri­or­i­ties soon to be de­fined by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. This will help shape broader op­por­tu­ni­ties for US-Africa en­tente and, ul­ti­mately, al­liance on is­sues of com­mon in­ter­est re­gion­ally and glob­ally.

Trump will take charge in the US at a time of re­newed eco­nomic un­cer­tain­ties in Africa. This is man­i­fested, for ex­am­ple, in the chal­leng­ing eco­nomic out­look, as the worst global com­mod­ity down­turn in his­tory threat­ens stag­na­tion, so­cial in­sta­bil­ity and re­ver­sal of devel­op­ment gains recorded over the past decade. With an av­er­age price fall of 50 per­cent-66 per­cent for most min­er­als and en­ergy re­sources since 2014, Africa’s growth rate de­clined from 6.8 per­cent on av­er­age in 2003-2008 to about 4.5 per­cent in 2014 and only 3 per­cent in 2015. Sig­nif­i­cantly, the im­pact of the com­mod­ity rout ex­tends be­yond Africa and is ev­i­dent in con­strained global con­sump­tion, lower in­vest­ment and other head­winds fac­ing de­vel­oped economies and emerging re­gions alike.

In this world of in­ter­twined eco­nomic for­tunes, African states must move in con­cert to en­gage the in­com­ing US pres­i­dent with a clear list of pol­icy pri­or­i­ties. They must en­vi­sion how to ex­tend flag­ship pol­icy part­ner­ships and ini­tia­tives. These cover com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties in en­ergy co-op­er­a­tion, trade, and in­vest­ment, which is in large part em­bod­ied in the Africa Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act. Bol­ster­ing re­gional and global goods such as well-man­aged mi­gra­tion, en­vi­ron­men­tal gov­er­nance, and se­cu­rity co-op­er­a­tion must also be pri­or­i­ties. And there is a need for greater open­ness to the US ef­fort to pro­mote in­sti­tu­tio­n­and ca­pac­ity-build­ing in Africa.

The US and Africa must zero-in on strength­en­ing co-op­er­a­tion to ex­pand global goods such as bet­ter man­aged mi­gra­tory flows. US lead­er­ship and good­will will be es­sen­tial to main­tain fo­cus on the is­sue and reach sus­tain­able so­lu­tions. As a pol­icy agenda which will shape the global devel­op­ment and se­cu­rity out­look for decades to come, the action here is long over­due.

It re­quires a new tone in in­ter-gov­ern­men­tal di­a­logue, one fo­cused on a joint search for so­lu­tions and a reimag­in­ing of op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for all front line stake­hold­ers: mi­grant send­ing, tran­sit and re­ceiv­ing coun­tries. Be­yond the blus­ter of Trump’s cam­paign, there is a need for a new re­al­ism in the global north. Gov­ern­ments must re­form asy­lum sys­tems, bet­ter reg­u­late flows of eco­nomic mi­grants, and shape the po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus to ac­tu­alise sen­si­ble bal­anced so­lu­tions.

The Lead­ers’ Sum­mit on refugees con­vened by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on the side­lines of last year’s Gen­eral As­sem­bly meet­ing of the UN pro­vides a promis­ing frame­work for up­scal­ing in­ter-gov­ern­men­tal ef­forts in this area. Global lead­ers’ par­tic­i­pa­tion was con­di­tional on pledg­ing new com­mit­ments to tackle the refugee cri­sis. Go­ing fur­ther, lead­ers must come to terms with the grow­ing prob­lem of un­doc­u­mented eco­nomic mi­grants.

This calls for ur­gent, con­certed action to bet­ter man­age mi­grant labour flows, ei­ther at their ori­gins or in the des­ti­na­tion coun­tries. Fail­ing this, the world faces a hu­man­i­tar­ian emer­gency in slow-mo­tion, which would com­pound the human suf­fer­ing too vis­i­ble on the fron­tiers of richer re­gions like Europe. Here, Trump should lead the search for de­ter­mined so­lu­tions, ad­vanc­ing the pay-to-play process built into the Obama sum­mit ini­tia­tive.

There is also need to work con­cert­edly to strengthen flag­ship devel­op­ment ini­tia­tives and in­ter­ven­tions, such as the Pres­i­dent’s Emer­gency Plan for Aids Re­lief which un­der­pinned Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush’s hu­man­i­tar­ian legacy in Africa. An­other ex­am­ple is Power Africa, which prom­ises a sim­i­lar trans­for­ma­tional legacy that can help ex­pand busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in Africa.

This ini­tia­tive un­veiled by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2013 to help in­cen­tivise and foster in­vest­ments in power projects can rec­on­cile Africa’s spe­cific devel­op­ment needs to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fo­cus on op­ti­mis­ing the com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties for US busi­nesses.

There is much that can be done to op­ti­mise this po­ten­tial life­line in­ter­ven­tion so it can be­gin to make a real dif­fer­ence for small, medium and large scale busi­nesses in Africa. Pro­vid­ing this af­ford­able and re­li­able en­ergy can also mean sus­tained prof­itabil­ity for US en­ergy investors.

While Power Africa tar­gets 10 000MW of elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion, it has so far fa­cil­i­tated only about $20 bil­lion worth of com­mer­cial ne­go­ti­a­tions that were al­ready in the pipeline. Yet, sig­nif­i­cant com­ple­men­tar­i­ties ex­ist be­tween Africa’s en­ergy needs and the US’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties in this field that must be op­ti­mally ex­plored.

The ini­tia­tive re­quires a new im­pe­tus from the in­com­ing US ad­min­is­tra­tion, which should work to widen its am­bi­tion and scope. On the African side, sys­temic con­straints to power gen­er­a­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion, in­clud­ing reg­u­la­tory chal­lenges, frag­mented in­sti­tu­tions, in­co­her­ent plans and mis­aligned in­cen­tives, will need to be ur­gently ad­dressed.

To this end, the US should dust up its orig­i­nal in­cen­tives-based plan which seeks to lever­age pub­lic funds to fa­cil­i­tate ma­jor power deals in Africa, with US com­pa­nies such as Gen­eral Electric in the lead.

The US should help in­cen­tivise and rechan­nel com­mit­ments from within Africa,such as the $2.5bn pledged by the Tony Elumelu Heirs Hold­ings in sup­port of the US ini­tia­tive and sim­i­lar projects.

Ul­ti­mately, the most im­por­tant shift that is re­quired is a men­tal one, which re­quires both sides to favour prag­ma­tism over dogma. Africa will do well to seek out and ad­vance shared in­ter­ests with the US gov­ern­ment re­gard­less of the lat­ter’s ide­o­log­i­cal pos­tur­ing.

A Trump-led Amer­ica, too, could ben­e­fit from this eco­nomic prag­ma­tism which would ex­tend pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships that are demon­stra­bly ad­vanc­ing devel­op­ment in Africa while ex­pand­ing mar­kets for US multi­na­tion­als on the con­ti­nent.

A key de­ter­mi­nant of suc­cess will be the abil­ity of pol­icy-mak­ers in Africa and Washington to nudge the re­la­tion­ship in this direc­tion that can more mean­ing­fully re­spond to Africa’s unique needs and chal­lenges. – Good Gov­er­nance Africa

LEVER­AGE: Africa will do well to seek out and ad­vance shared in­ter­ests with the US gov­ern­ment.

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