Trump’s plan bad for Africa

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - AZAD ESSA

SINCE as­sum­ing the US pres­i­dency in Jan­uary, Don­ald Trump has looked to block Mus­lims and refugees from en­ter­ing the coun­try, threat­ened Iran and North Korea and at­tempted to kill the planet by pulling out of the cli­mate deal. The African con­ti­nent rarely fea­tures in his early morn­ing Twit­ter ti­rades. A lot has been said over what is be­ing de­scribed as “Trump’s in­de­ci­sion over Africa”: he has yet to ap­point a head of the African Af­fairs bureau in the State Depart­ment, the only African leader he has re­ceived at the White House so far has been Egyp­tian leader Ab­del Fat­tah el-Sisi, and he rarely sits on the phone whis­per­ing sweet noth­ings to African lead­ers.

But make no mis­take, Trump’s plan for the con­ti­nent is al­ready in mo­tion. That Mus­lim ban? Three out of the orig­i­nal seven coun­tries were African. Now it is three out of six.

The talk about the US re­duc­ing fund­ing to peace­keep­ers? Eight out of 15 peace­keep­ing mis­sions are cur­rently on the con­ti­nent.

The pro­posed 2018 bud­get that re­duces for­eign aid? Well, if Congress passes the bud­get, aid to the con­ti­nent fo­cus­ing on health, nutri­tion and se­cu­rity will fall from $8 bil­lion (R106bn) to $5.2bn.

Trump may not be push­ing a fully formed African agenda just yet, but many of his plans and poli­cies are set to af­fect the con­ti­nent. And it does not au­gur well.

Think of Trump not as the pres­i­dent of the free world, but rather for what he re­ally is: an old white man with an­ti­quated, parochial and racist views of the world.

Trump has no in­ter­est in democ­racy, hu­man rights or the rule of law when it comes to part­ner­ships or in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy. Fol­low the money and you’re likely to bump into a thin cake of bat­ter for a for­eign pol­icy.

With China mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant dents on Amer­i­can and Euro­pean in­flu­ence on the con­ti­nent, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion knows it can­not af­ford not to be in­volved. But Trump wants to al­ter the terms of US en­gage­ment. This ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pri­or­ity in Africa is now pri­mar­ily na­tional se­cu­rity and fight­ing “ter­ror”. All the pro­posed cuts to de­vel­op­ment are to off­set a mil­i­tary bud­get that is likely to in­crease by $54bn.

Un­like Ge­orge W Bush or Barack Obama, who traded in­flu­ence for de­vel­op­ment and aid, Trump will look to trade in­flu­ence in re­turn for “se­cu­rity”. In­deed, whereas pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents looked to use back chan­nels to as­sert mil­i­tary goals on a con­ti­nent sen­si­tive to neo-colo­nial or im­pe­ri­al­ist agen­das, Trump will have no such qualms bul­ly­ing and arm­ing who­ever is will­ing to pay his price.

The US has long been con­cerned that parts of the con­ti­nent, in par­tic­u­lar the Sa­hel and parts of cen­tral and east Africa, could fall un­der the in­flu­ence of “Is­lamic ter­ror groups”. Watch now as the US ex­ploits th­ese con­cerns to deepen mil­i­tary re­solve on the con­ti­nent with buy-in by many of the pup­pet and un­demo­cratic regimes. Trump will con­nect with lead­er­ship who fawn over him and shower him with gifts, and will promptly alien­ate those who ask ques­tions.

His dis­dain for process, pen­chant for ne­far­i­ous and crass cap­i­tal­ism and em­pha­sis on se­cu­ri­ti­sa­tion will gift some of our worst African lead­ers with an op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate or ce­ment their own tyran­ni­cal lega­cies. Trump’s poli­cies, un­de­fined as they are at this point, fol­low a road map that was laid long be­fore. Since the launch of US Africa Com­mand in 2008, US mil­i­tary in­flu­ence has qui­etly ex­panded across the con­ti­nent, con­duct­ing a shadow war in the Sa­hel. There are mas­sive drone bases in Dji­bouti and Niger. And while it is un­likely there were will be more troops on the ground, what this does mean is a larger mil­i­tary in­flu­ence through lo­gis­tics, train­ers, spe­cial short-term op­er­a­tions and con­sul­tants.

In May, Trump sent a small con­tin­gent of troops on an “ad­vise and as­sist” mis­sion with the So­mali Na­tional Army to fight the So­mali group al-Shabaab.

Pre­dictably, he pulled out troops from Obo in the un­fash­ion­able Cen­tral African Repub­lic, where they were meant to find LRA leader Joseph Kony.

Vi­o­lence has bro­ken out in this part of the coun­try as armed groups fill the vac­uum left by the Amer­i­can troops. The move to cut aid and ex­pand its mil­i­tary foot­print on the con­ti­nent will be dis­as­trous.

Since 2003, Pep­far has com­mit­ted more than $70bn to­wards HIV, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and malaria that has as­sisted al­most 12 mil­lion peo­ple. Many of the medicines are not com­fort drugs: they are ur­gent and life-sav­ing. But hu­man­i­tar­i­ans, aid work­ers and African gov­ern­ments have long known that this de­pen­dency was a recipe for dis­as­ter.

To blame Trump for our own in­ac­tion is puerile. But as per ev­ery­thing Trump, the shift­ing US pol­icy on Africa pro­vides a unique op­por­tu­nity for some of our African lead­ers to get their houses in or­der and es­cape the aid­de­pen­dency trap.

Not as easy as it sounds, but own­ing our des­tiny has never been more ur­gent.

This is an Amer­ica that will no longer look to as­sist in al­le­vi­at­ing some of the ex­ten­u­at­ing fac­tors driv­ing con­flict, ex­trem­ism or so­cial dys­func­tion on parts of the con­ti­nent.

The so­lu­tion fur­thered by the US will be pri­mar­ily mil­i­taris­tic; so­cial de­vel­op­ment can go to hell.

SHAP­ING UP FOR WAR: Cha­dian and Nige­rian troops train to­gether un­der US mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers in an ex­er­cise in 2015.

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