AFRICA- UNITED STATES RELATION UNDER THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION:
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES.
Professor Ibrahim A. Gambari, Chairman/Founder,
Savannah Center for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development,
Abuja and Former Foreign minister of Nigeria and
Former Ambassador/Permanent Representative of
Nigeria and the United Nations
Boca Raton, Florida United States of America
During one of the conversations between the Chinese Prime Minister ZhouEn Laiand Dr. Kissinger in preparations for the historic visit to Beijing by President Nixon in 1972, Kissinger asked his host what he thought was the impact of the French Revolution on world affairs. Zhou En Lai replied that “it is too early to tell because we the Chinese think in centuries.” Hence, it can be argued with considerable justification that an examination of President Trump’s African policy- or even the Administration’s over all foreign policy- is far too premature. After all the administration has been in place for just over its first 100 days. There are however, three main reasons why the topic of this afternoon’s discussion is justifiable: first, as Nicole Bibbins Sedaca puts in an article published in Foreign Policy magazine of April 29, 2007, “this is a President who released “ a “100 day action plan to make America Great Again” and the Administration which made public its 100-day accomplishments”. Second, there has been a number of specific actions taken and statements made by the President and senior officials of the administration, which point to the general direction of its policy towards Africa. Thirdly, American policies under the Trump Administration is one side of the coin of U.S. – African Relations- the other is the increasingly well-defined policies of the African nations in meeting the continent’s challenges and fulfilling its hopes and aspirations. It is also an interesting coincidence that Trump took office in January 2017 as the Summit of African Presidents elected a new head of the continental organization, African Union, in the same month, this year. There is a second general point, which I wish to make by way of introduction to this presentation. In dealing with the United States, African countries tend to be both sentimental and realistic. Sentimental in that most Africans generally align themselves with the choices and preferences made by the African-Americans in United States Presidential elections — i.e., preferring Democratic candidates to Republicans. Realistic, however, in having to brace themselves for dealing with whomever occupies the White House in the knowledge that American policies have significant impact on the realization of their own policies and in determining whether African- United States, partnership is strong or uneasy or in between.
II. Early Signals and Possible Trends in Trump Administrations Policy towards Africa.
In my view, there are six major signals, which may become real pointers to the future of the Trump Administration’s policy towards Africa. First, upon assuming office, President Trump made important telephone calls, the first two, to Presidents Buhari of Nigeria and Jacob Zuma of South Africa respectively. The two leaders are from the two largest economics in Africa and are of crucial importance of the well-being peace and security of their respective sub-regions (West and Southern Africa). Indeed, some analysts refer to them as sub-regional “hegemons.” In the case of Nigeria, Trump was demonstrating his resolve to assist that country in its war against terrorism. This early gesture concretized by his Administration’s plans to sell 12 Embraer A- 29 Super Tucano, aircrafts which sophisticated targeting gears to Nigeria. President, Uhuru Kenyatta also received a phone call from Mr. Trump. Furthermore, and beyond the phone calls, President Trump received another African leader, yes-African leader, the Egyptian President Al-Sisi at the White House in April, although more for the strategic position Egypt occupies and the leverage she has in the Middle East.
It would appear, therefore, the Administration may wish to anchor its African policies an developing close relationships with leaders of African sub-regions, all but central Africa (i.e. North, East, West and Southern). Of course the question could be asked, how about the other fifty African countries?
Second, as Reed Kramer points out in his brilliant piece, “Africa: White House Choices Shape Africa Policies”, the anti-terror focus of the Administration may elevate Africa in its overall polices. In this regard, he cites several instances where the leading Africanc ontenders for positions in African policies tend to have military experience. Furthermore, according to Kramer, six African nations where represented largely at Foreign Minister level, at 68 nation “Global Coalition to Counter ISIS” meeting hosted by Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, at the State Department on 22 March. These were: Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, Somalia and Tunisia. Perhaps, for this anti-terror focus of the Administration, these are “clear early signaling from the White House about the strategic importance of Africa for U.S. interests”.
Third, and on the down side, in his maiden address to State Department, Secretary Tillerson stated clearly “that the United States has been far too accommodating to emerging nations (and longtime allies) and that things have gotten out of balance” Accordingly, “righting those imbalances, he said, will be the mission of the State Department as it fulfills President Trump’s promise to put “America first” (New York Times, 4 May, 2017 p. A 16). Although he avoided comments on the proposed budget cut which would affect development aid programs and staff strength of the State Department, the budget outlined released by the White House showed a 28% reduction for both. Indeed, according to Ambassador Johnnie Carson (an Assistant Secretary of State for Africa during Obama’s first term) such deep cuts, “if implemented, would decimate many of the very successful bipartisan initiative put in place by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama” (see Reed Kramer’s article).
Fourth, there is the perception that the Trump Administration would be pro-business and that “America First” focus would assist United States businesses to compete globally, including in Africa.In this regard, Kramer cites Scott Eisner, President of the US-Africa Business Center at the US Chamber of Commerce, who said in a recent interview that “American companies are willing and eager to partner with the (Trump) Administration to establish new business markets and working in Africa presents a significant opportunity”. Yet the fate of African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which provides trade access to U.S. markets for those African countries, which qualify, is uncertain under the Trump Administration. Furthermore, the Corporate Council on Africa, in convening its biennial US-Africa Business Summit in Washington, D.C. next month, believes that the time is appropriate for the private sectors on both sides of the Atlantic to influence the Administration’s Africa Agenda and Policies. Nonetheless, Trump was initially hostile to American Export-Import Bank whose primary aim was to support and make intentionally competitive, American business opportunities abroad, seemed to have changed his mind upon assuming office. However, he has nominated a former New Jersey Republican Congressman, Scott Garett, to head the bank, which he had once condemned as an institution that “embodies the corruption of the free enterprise system.”
Fifth, United States financial contributions international peacekeeping operations, especially by the United Nations, may face drastic cuts of up to 25% according to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. The downsizing of some of the major U.N. peacekeeping operations such as MONUSCO in the Congo by 18% is taking place already. This is happening at a time when Africa is facing serious security challenges and peacekeeping operations, with all their imperfections, are major instruments in responding to them. In fact there are presently seven major international peacekeeping operations in Africa: Mali, Cote d’ Ivoire, CAR, DRC, Darfur, South Sudan, and Somalia.
Sixth, according to Nicole Sedaca, Trump “has made clear that he is not committed to promoting democracy and human rights or American leadership role in these areas. (with the possible exception of “Syria and, more importantly, President Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians and also the strong remarks he made at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in recognition of International Holocaust Resemblance day.”This is in contrast to Africa’s push for democracy and human rights. Especially through the African Union’s Constitutive Act which prohibits changes of government by non-constitutional means and its African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) which promotes good governance at the political, economic and corporate levels. On gay rights or LGBT issues, there is no indication that there would be serious obstacles in the Trump Administration to engagement with Africa and other countries—– unlike during the Obama Administration.
III. Africa’s Challenges and Policy Priorities
In assessing the future of Africa-United States relations, it is important, at this juncture, to briefly touch upon where the African continent has been and where it is headed. The first decade of independence for most African counties (1960-70) was one of hopes, excitements and great expectations. Kwame Nkrumah, President of Ghana- the first Sub-Saharan Africa century to gain its independence, articulated the then prevailing view that self-government would produce good governance and usher in economic growth, higher standards of living and over-all developments. Unfortunately in the almost two succeeding decades, disillusion soon followed as African countries experienced military coup d’état, poor governance, civil wars, low commodity prices, unfavorable external terms of trade, growing and unsustainable external debt often dubiously incurred, drought and famine, HIV/AIDS pandemic. Indeed, for the two decades following Africa’s decolonization, the continent was in the global media almost exclusively for the wrong reasons.
And for decades, international financial experts and development practitioners designed and attempted to apply different concepts in efforts to develop Africa’s markets and open them to the global market. However, contrary to their predictions and hopes, Africa continued to suffer from stagnant economic growth, coupled with high unemployment and inflationary pressures. This period may be characterized as one of “Afro-pessimism”. As an illustration, there was a screaming caption of the cover page in an edition of the Economist magazine titled “Africa: the Hopeless Continent”.
However, with the end of the Cold War and the global pressures for open societies, demand for human rights and democratization, Africa was entering, in the following two decades, a new phase of political maturity development. This period witnessed the end of colonialism and Apartheid in Africa and, in most countries, the transition from military rule and one-party state structures to civilian, multi-party democracies. Coincidentally, the first decade of the new Millennium also marked the turn for Africa’s economic woes. Africa witnessed an upturn in economic growth that is far more than a passing phenomenon. From 2002-2010, its average growth rate was above 5% on average over the 2013-2015 period. In 2010 , ten of the fifteen fastest growing economies in the world were African and the projection is that seven of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world in the next five years will be African
Initially, Africa’s growth boom was caused by rising commodity prices. Africa is estimated to have about 12% of the world’s oil and about 40% of the world’s gold reserves, as well as vast arable land and forest resources. However, while African countries were also affected by the world economic and financial crisis in 2008, they were quick in bouncing back and returning to their pre-crisis growth rates. Africa’s middle class is gaining ground. Today, spending in African households is more than in India and Russia, with Lagos being a larger consumer market than Mumbai. The rule of law and respect for private property rights is spreading along with improvements in the financial sector. The telecommunications revolution in Africa and its IT innovations have equally made a great contribution to growth and development in Africa. For example, in 2011, Africa became the largest mobile phone market in the world, following Asia, with about 620 million connections.5 In 2011, FDI grew by 27% making Africa’s global share of global investments to almost 25%.6These changes have lifted Africa out of an era of Afro-pessimism to a new era of “Afro-enthusiasm.”7
Yet, multiple challenges remain which threaten to undermine the progress already achieved. These include the scourge of terrorist activities, like Boko Haram in Nigeria, ranging from Mali in the Sahel to Somalia in the Horn of Africa; continuing violent conflicts and insecurity in some other countries and regions in Africa: environmental degradation threatening the supplies for millions of people more; poverty and unequal distribution of wealth; food insecurity; weak governance systems, youth unemployment, disparities in gender and political and economic governance. African leaders have, however, recognized and repeatedly stressed the urgent need to resolve these issues and advance in efforts in peace and security, environment, food security, peer review mechanism, etc., so as to bring lasting peace and sustainable prosperity for all the people of Africa. These goals are embodied in the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
These challenges, however, also carry potentials, not only for Africa but for the United States and the world as a whole. Global efforts to contain transnational security threats or alleviate the impacts of climate change, can only be successful if Africa is fully included in the planning and implementation of strategies to overcome these challenges. Addressing the root causes of conflicts and of people converging toward terrorist activities in Africa will have a great impact on the security and stability in Europe and the United States, for example. In this regard, Africa cannot and should not be viewed only as the recipient of global strategy or foreign aid; rather the continent has to be involved in and should be recognized as contributing to the search for and implementation of solutions to global problems (e.g., as well as national, continental and anti-terrorism strategy) Only then will global political and financial institutions (the UN, World Bank/IMF) and the rest of the world, partnering with Africa, be able to address and ultimately overcome these continuing challenges.
There are signs that this is happening as the United Nations, the European Union actively seeking out and engaging African leaders and the African Union to jointly address the pressing issues of migration to Europe and together with United States, on terrorism. The renewed emphasis by the Trump Administration peace and security issues as common concerns between the West and Africa is a step in the right direction – although there can be no purely military solutions in this regard.
I cannot end without drawing attention to the enormous opportunities for sustainable development and for US-African Relations provided by two segments of the African population: its strong women as well as its dynamic youth. Africa remains the only continent with a significantly growing youth. In less than three generations, 41% of the world’s youth will be Africans. It has also been estimatedthat by 2035, the continent will have the world’s largest workforce with over half of the population currently under the age of 20. The energy, the resourcefulness and enthusiasm of the young people and African women have the real potential to lift the continent towards increasing socio-economic development and to enhance Africa’s bilateral and multi-lateral partnership with the United States and the rest of the world.
In summing up my presentation, I have attempted to highlight where, on the one hand, the Trump Administration is heading in terms of this country’s relationship with Africa. On the other hand, I have tried to analyze where African countries have been and where they are determined to go in addressing their challenges, which are increasingly challenges for the international community including especially the United States. I have also pointed to the opportunities for Africa and the United States to forge a mutually beneficial relationship now and in the future.
In conclusion as the narrative about the continent of my birth is changing from Afro-pessimism to one of Africa Rising, the opportunities for bilateral relationship with the United States should also be rising and, indeed transcend the tenure of present African leaders and that of President Trump for the benefit of our peoples on both sides of the Atlantic.
I thank you for your kind attention.
 World Bank 2013
 Africa in 50 years, Afbd, Sept. 2011
AfDB, AUC, UNECA 2012
 UNECA 2012
5 Mills and Herbst (2012), Africa’s Third Liberation
6 Ernest and Young
7 Carlos Lopes 2013