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.