Slip­ping un­der Trump’s radar

In the eyes of the new US pres­i­dent, Africa is merely a small fish in a large pond of pol­icy prom­ises,

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE - writes Chelsea Markowitz Chelsea Markowitz is a re­searcher un­der the eco­nomic diplo­macy pro­gramme at South African In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs.

AF­TER his in­au­gu­ra­tion on Fri­day, Don­ald Trump is now the 45th US pres­i­dent. His de­cid­edly short in­au­gu­ra­tion speech evoked his cen­tral nar­ra­tive of pop­ulism, with lit­tle foray into pol­icy de­tail.

What is clear is that Trump in­tends to place pri­mary fo­cus on his do­mes­tic rather than in­ter­na­tional con­stituency.

As Trump takes of­fice, spec­u­la­tion has en­sued about whether he will make good on many of his un­prece­dented pol­icy pro­pos­als, and also about how they could af­fect Africa, the one con­ti­nent which has barely been men­tioned through­out his cam­paign.

It is there­fore use­ful to take a look at the like­li­hood that Trump will stick to his guns (in all senses of the word) and the de­gree of dif­fi­culty in push­ing these ini­tia­tives for­ward within the US gov­ern­ment ar­chi­tec­ture. CLI­MATE CHANGE

In 2015, the US was one of 172 coun­tries to rat­ify the Paris Cli­mate Change Agree­ment (COP 21), along with other ma­jor CO2 emit­ters such as China and In­dia.

Trump has re­peat­edly de­nounced the hu­man con­tri­bu­tion to cli­mate change through­out his cam­paign, and has gone as far as to say that he will leave the Paris Cli­mate Change Agree­ment.

The way in which the US en­gages on cli­mate change has im­por­tant con­se­quences for ev­ery coun­try on the planet; in Africa cli­mate change is a con­tin­u­ing threat which dis­pro­por­tion­ately detri­ments the liveli­hoods of the most vul­ner­a­ble.

Can Trump, and will Trump, leave COP21? De­spite his rhetoric, it is un­likely that he will pull out of the agree­ment dur­ing his ten­ure. Of all of the pol­icy prom­ises that Trump has made, is­sues of cli­mate change are less prom­i­nent in the minds of the Amer­i­can peo­ple, and in fact, most sup­port the gen­eral con­cept of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

Thus the pres­sure to act on this prom­ise is not as great.

In ad­di­tion, COP21 is de­signed so that the process of ex­it­ing will take four years, and thus Trump could be on his way out of of­fice by the time this is en­acted, leav­ing less to gain.

That is, un­less he de­cides to leave the UN Cli­mate Pact al­to­gether (in which case the US could exit COP21 within a year); how­ever, this would cause more in­ter­na­tional up­heaval than Trump is prob­a­bly will­ing to face over the is­sue.

How­ever, just be­cause Trump is un­likely to leave COP21, does not mean he can­not in­flict harm on cli­mate change ini­tia­tives.

Trump might stay in the agree­ment, but choose to ig­nore most US CO2 tar­gets to the de­gree that they con­strain busi­nesses.

Also, Trump may fo­cus on re­vers­ing Obama’s other do­mes­tic en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tions, in line with his cen­tral goal of re­duc­ing reg­u­la­tions for busi­nesses.

How­ever, this will also be eas­ier said than done, as such ac­tions will face a flurry of chal­lenges from en­vi­ron­men­tal NGOs and ul­ti­mately be de­cided in courts. TRADE AGREE­MENTS

Mak­ing good deals has been a hallmark of Trump’s cam­paign, and he has vowed to rene­go­ti­ate “bad” trade deals so that they re­flect Amer­ica’s best in­ter­ests.

Rene­go­ti­at­ing the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment has taken cen­tre stage, and though this will prob­a­bly take years, it will be one of the first items on Trump’s agenda.

At­tempt­ing to re­con­fig­ure trade with China may also be at the fore­front, though this will surely face much larger re­sis­tance from the US Congress. AND WHAT ABOUT AGOA?

The African Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act (Agoa) is an act passed by congress un­der the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion which gives African coun­tries pref­er­en­tial ac­cess to the US mar­kets for a range of goods.

In spite of its flaws, it is a boon for many coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly South Africa which has ben­e­fited beyond re­source ex­trac­tion through man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­ports.

Trump prob­a­bly views Agoa as un­even given it is not re­cip­ro­cal; how­ever, his fo­cus on the act will prob­a­bly be min­i­mal. Most of the Amer­i­can pub­lic has never heard of Agoa, and the small amounts of man­u­fac­tured goods im­ported do not make a big dent on US jobs. Agoa just might slip un­der the radar. Per­haps more wor­ry­ing is the ini­ti­a­tion of ne­go­ti­a­tions for new, more re­cip­ro­cal trade deals on the con­ti­nent to re­place Agoa af­ter its ex­piry in 2025.

Trump does not seem to have an ap­petite for form­ing new trade deals to say the least, and even if coun­tries such as South Africa do man­age to bring him to the ta­ble, the like­li­hood of ar­riv­ing at deals with favourable terms, or any deal at all, are slim. AID PRO­GRAMMES

It has been a tra­di­tion of past pres­i­dents to at­tempt to make an im­pact on the con­ti­nent through aid ini­tia­tives. Trump, on the other hand, has ques­tioned the ra­tio­nale of de­vot­ing money over­seas when Amer­ica has press­ing is­sues at home.

Per­haps most un­cer­tain will be his ap­proach to some of the largest re­cip­i­ents of US aid such as Is­rael and Egypt, which have con­sid­er­able geopo­lit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance be­ing sit­u­ated in the Mid­dle East.

Ad­di­tion­ally, what will be the fu­ture of im­por­tant USAid pro­grammes to Africa, such as Pres­i­dent’s Emer­gency Plan for Aids Re­lief (Pep­far), which has made sig­nif­i­cant in­roads in the fight against HIV and Aids, and Young African Lead­ers Ini­tia­tive, the US-African lead­ers sum­mit, which seeks to pro­mote stronger en­trepreneur­ship and youth de­vel­op­ment on the con­ti­nent?

While Trump’s short­term trans­ac­tional ap­proach to pol­i­tics prob­a­bly sees lit­tle ben­e­fit in these aid pro­grammes, African aid has re­ceived bi­par­ti­san sup­port from Congress over mul­ti­ple ad­min­is­tra­tions. Trump’s prospec­tive sec­re­tary of state Rex Tiller­son, who has a much more global and long-term view given his ex­pe­ri­ence with Exxon Mo­bil, es­poused the ben­e­fits of Pep­far in his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing.

Trump will have to pick his bat­tles when go­ing against Congress and cabi­net mem­bers, and it is safe to say that African aid will not be a top bat­tle cho­sen.

Trump could pos­si­bly shave some money off these pro­grammes as a part of his bud­get, but he will prob­a­bly not gut them. How­ever, hopes of ad­di­tional fund­ing or new pro­grammes un­der Trump will prob­a­bly not ma­te­ri­alise. FOR­EIGN RE­LA­TIONS AND DIPLO­MACY

Though Trump has chided African dic­ta­tors as well as cor­rup­tion on the con­ti­nent in the past, his pri­mary fo­cus on do­mes­tic is­sues and global non-in­ter­fer­ence im­ply that he will not sig­nif­i­cantly act on these state­ments.

Thus far Trump’s for­eign pol­icy strat­egy to­wards Africa seems to be de­cid­edly lack­ing in com­par­i­son to other con­ti­nents.

How­ever, given Trump’s pri­mary for­eign pol­icy con­cern is fight­ing ter­ror­ism, funds de­voted to Africom mil­i­tary sup­port will prob­a­bly be safe when con­sid­er­ing the threats of Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. Per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant as­pect of Trump’s diplo­matic en­gage­ment in Africa will be rooted in his bat­tle against China, which could ben­e­fit the con­ti­nent through greater Amer­i­can in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture in or­der to com­pete with the Chi­nese pres­ence.

The over­all take­away from this anal­y­sis is that in the eyes of Trump, Africa is a small fish in a large pond of pol­icy prom­ises.

The fact that Africa may slip un­der Trump’s radar might not be a bad thing, con­sid­er­ing his “Amer­ica first” ap­proach to in­ter­na­tional en­gage­ment.

The pro­grammes in place will prob­a­bly re­main, and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion might not be threat­ened to the ex­tent that many fear.

How­ever, per­haps most im­por­tant to note is that if African coun­tries are ex­pect­ing high lev­els of col­lab­o­ra­tion and en­gage­ment with the US, this will prob­a­bly be much more dif­fi­cult than with past ad­min­is­tra­tions.

It is there­fore im­por­tant for coun­tries of the con­ti­nent to be clear and united in their ap­proach to the US en­gage­ment, ad­vo­cat­ing the un­der­utilised po­ten­tial for Amer­i­can trade and in­vest­ment on the con­ti­nent, while at the same time con­tin­u­ing to put more em­pha­sis on re­la­tions with other large global play­ers.

Hopes of ex­tra fund­ing will prob­a­bly not ma­te­ri­alise

Pic­ture: Eti­enne Lau­rent/EPA

LIP SER­VICE: Peo­ple demon­strate in front of the Eif­fel Tower for cli­mate change in Paris, France in De­cem­ber 2015. It’s un­likely US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will pull out of the Paris Cli­mate Change Agree­ment be­cause the pres­sure to act on his threat isn’t great, says the writer.

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