Some home truths about Africa

Dear Mr Pres­i­dent, con­sider these points, and the doom­say­ers may per­haps be sur­prised at what comes out of your White House, writes

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

AFRICA has oc­cu­pied a more or less con­stantly in­signif­i­cant po­si­tion in both Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tions in the US since the 1960s.

Stud­ies of US-Africa poli­cies have tended to de­pict Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions as “glob­al­ist” – more likely to look at Africa as part of a big­ger pic­ture than as its own unique geopo­lit­i­cal space. Democrats, mean­while, are per­ceived “African­ists” who have close sym­pa­thies to African in­ter­ests. But these dis­tinc­tions are de­cep­tive. Some Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions, such as that of Ge­orge W Bush, paid more at­ten­tion to African is­sues such as HIV/Aids than, for in­stance, Bill Clin­ton’s Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tion did. There were great ex­pec­ta­tions that Africa would fea­ture promi­nently dur­ing Barack Obama’s pres­i­dency. In­stead, his ad­min­is­tra­tion built on some of the ini­tia­tives of the pre­vi­ous Repub­li­can gov­ern­ments rather than break­ing new or dis­tinc­tive ground in Africa.

Don­ald J Trump is the new man in charge of the US, and Africa seems to have lit­tle cause for cel­e­bra­tion. Dur­ing his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign Trump gave no in­di­ca­tion of how his ad­min­is­tra­tion would re­late to Africa, a con­ti­nent with a large di­as­pora in Amer­ica. Wor­ries about his stance on Africa were com­pounded by Trump’s de­lib­er­ate ar­tic­u­la­tion of di­vi­sive poli­cies re­gard­ing mi­gra­tion, for­eign­ers, Mus­lims and race.

In the week be­fore Trump’s inau­gu­ra­tion it was re­ported that the pres­i­dent-elect’s ad­vis­ers had posed per­ti­nent ques­tions to the State Depart­ment about Africa.

I’d like to of­fer un­so­licited re­sponses to some of Trump’s ques­tions. I will di­rect these to the man him­self. In do­ing so, I hope to ad­dress the ques­tion that’s top of mind for the con­ti­nent right now: What does a Trump pres­i­dency mean for Africa?

• With so much cor­rup­tion in Africa, how much of our fund­ing is stolen? Why should we spend these funds on Africa when we are suf­fer­ing here in the US?

Pres­i­dent Trump, your ad­min­is­tra­tion will not be the first to dis­cover that for­eign aid is a dou­ble-edged sword. It re­wards au­to­cratic regimes while strength­en­ing in­sti­tu­tions in more demo­cratic ones. So it’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand the in­sti­tu­tional con­di­tions un­der which aid is dis­bursed.

Your ad­min­is­tra­tion should con­tinue the cor­rect pol­icy of se­lec­tive dis­crim­i­na­tion of aid re­cip­i­ents. The US Agency of In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment (USAid) has gar­nered sig­nif­i­cant ex­pe­ri­ence in man­ag­ing aid over the years. You should let it con­tinue the work of putting Amer­i­can dol­lars where they make a dif­fer­ence.

Of course, it is your sov­er­eign re­spon­si­bil­ity to guar­an­tee that US tax­pay­ers’ money isn’t stolen by ve­nal regimes.

• We have been fight­ing al-Shabaab (in So­ma­lia) for decades. Why haven’t we won?

This is an un­winnable war. The fight against al-Shabaab is part of the war on ter­ror that your pre­de­ces­sors pri­ori­tised in Africa. The US has made some dif­fer­ence in how al-Shabaab is man­aged in Africa, but your ad­min­is­tra­tion should se­ri­ously re­think its ap­proach if it wants to see gen­uine change.

Re­build­ing the state in So­ma­lia is the an­ti­dote to vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism. This re­build­ing won’t hap­pen when Amer­i­can ad­min­is­tra­tions in­dis­crim­i­nately drop bombs in So­ma­lia, or sup­port weak re­gional gov­ern­ments that may never mar­shal the re­sources to de­feat the Is­lamic in­sur­gents.

What is re­quired are re­newed ef­forts to ne­go­ti­ate a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment be­tween the So­mali gov­ern­ment and al-Shabaab through in­ter­na­tional me­di­a­tion. Al-Shabaab may be amenable to ne­go­ti­a­tions once the re­lent­less drone at­tacks from Amer­ica stop and once re­gional play­ers can be weaned away from un­sus­tain­able mil­i­tarised ap­proaches.

• Why is the US both­er­ing to fight the Boko Haram in­sur­gency in Nige­ria? Why have all the Chi­bok school girls kid­napped by the group not been res­cued?

The Chi­bok girls may never be found, thanks to the in­com­pe­tence of the Nige­rian mil­i­tary. In the past the Nige­rian mil­i­tary was the lead­ing pro­fes­sional army in West Africa.

But cor­rup­tion and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence have weak­ened it sig­nif­i­cantly. A more ca­pa­ble Nige­rian mil­i­tary should be able to de­feat Boko Haram without Amer­i­can as­sis­tance.

The US might chan­nel some aid to­wards sup­port­ing a strength­ened Nige­rian mil­i­tary so it can take care of its own lo­cal prob­lems.

In ad­di­tion, the best pol­icy to­wards Boko Haram should be to en­cour­age Nige­ria to find ne­go­ti­ated so­lu­tions to a prob­lem that stems from po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic marginal­i­sa­tion.

With re­gard to China: The US has grad­u­ally lost out to the Chi­nese, which has large in­vest­ments and is trad­ing ro­bustly with Africa. But in­stead of com­plain­ing about the Chi­nese, your ad­min­is­tra­tion should try to fig­ure out why and where they are suc­ceed­ing in Africa.

If, as you claim, one of your ma­jor poli­cies will be to pro­mote busi­ness in­ter­ests abroad, then Africa will need more at­ten­tion. This, by the way, will not be in­con­sis­tent with broad African opin­ion that clam­ours for en­hanced in­ter­na­tional in­vest­ment in Africa.

So what does all this tell us about Trump’s stance on and ap­proach to Africa?

First, there is un­der­stand­able cyn­i­cism about Africa from the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion. This is born from the neg­a­tive im­ages that in­here in a large seg­ment of the Amer­i­can psy­che.

Grad­u­ally, how­ever, this scep­ti­cism will be tem­pered by the re­al­i­ties of deal­ing with a con­ti­nent that can­not be writ­ten off.

Sec­ond, all new ad­min­is­tra­tions need to have the space and lat­i­tude to ques­tion the logic of pre­vi­ous poli­cies, as a start­ing point for new and in­no­va­tive poli­cies.

But in for­eign pol­icy, clean slates are the ex­cep­tions rather than the rule. Thus, there will be both change and con­ti­nu­ity in Trump’s African poli­cies. The doom­say­ers may per­haps be sur­prised at what comes out of the Trump White House.

Trump will not run the US alone. As has al­ways been the case, Amer­i­can pres­i­dents must ne­go­ti­ate poli­cies with Congress.

African gov­ern­ments and cit­i­zens will hope that these ne­go­ti­a­tions yield com­pro­mises across a wide range of is­sues that ben­e­fit the con­ti­nent into the fu­ture. – The Con­ver­sa­tion Gilbert M Kha­di­a­gala is pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and head of depart­ment, Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand

SIGN­ING UP: As pres­i­dent, Don­ald Trump will not run the US alone, says the writer. He is flanked here by Vice-Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, left, and staff sec­re­tary Rob Porter as he wel­comes re­porters into the Oval Of­fice as he signs his first ex­ec­u­tive or­ders at the White House last Fri­day.

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