“So much of what Trump may, or may not, adopt as official US foreign policy towards Africa is uncertain. One of the things that will, however, influence what impact a Trump White House has on African countries will be the ability of African leaders to astutely define their own national interests.”
Following last week’s US presidential elections in which Donald J. Trump won 290 to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 232 electoral college votes, much focus has rested on President-Elect Trump’s domestic strategy. Few are clear on the outlines of Trump’s foreign policy. This lack of clarity is particularly acute with regards to what might constitute America’s Africa policy under a Trump presidency. Although the results in the Midwestern state of Michigan are still to be called, there is no escaping the fact that the world will have to contend with, and make preparations for, a Trump White House.
Ideological Grounding for Trump’s Foreign Policy
It is not easy to point to a distinct and coherent ideology that may guide US foreign policy under Trump. However, it is possible that Mr. Trump’s foreign policy will be framed by what the Spanish sociologist and political scientist, Juan Linz, calls a “mentality”. In his study of authoritarianism, Linz makes a distinction between ideology and mentality. While the former is characterized by an organized and elaborate belief system, ‘mentalities’ – on the other hand – are more shallow ways of thinking that may easily fluctuate.
Despite the ever-changing nature of ‘mentalities’, the foreign policy centred speech Mr. Trump gave on the 27th of April of this year suggests some pointers for anyone wishing to understand how a Trump presidency might affect the rest of the world. The transcript of his speech can be found here.
President-Elect Trump has repeatedly defined American national interests, above all, in security terms. As stated in the Republican Party 2016 platform, “foreign aid must serve America’s interests first.”
In his speech, Trump seems to partially adopt one of the core tenets of “political realism”. Trump’s dictum that “we must develop a foreign policy based on American interests” suggests a proposal for the exponential increase of American hard power, particularly with regards to America’s military might.
Crucially, Trump’s realpolitik appears to have an intellectual ally in the work of the late American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington and his principles of political order. In the 1960s, Huntington argued that the “form of government” was not what mattered; but that, rather, it was the “degree of government.”
Huntington believed that US foreign policy should not be led by the idealistic principles of democracy; but rather, by the capacity to impose, and assist in the creation of, political order in troubled areas. In other words, political order, by itself, is the most important objective.
Although Trump himself does not use the phrase “political order”, his pronouncements of himself as the “law and order” candidate might be read as a telling metaphor. Trump’s “law and order” stance may be interpreted as having both a domestic and an international reference. As Trump brusquely put it in his April speech: “we’re getting out of the nation-building business and instead focusing on creating stability in the world.” This “stability” is not one that Trump has indicated America will help create indirectly, for instance, by playing an increased role in international organizations.
Trump states in the speech that “the nation-state remains the true foundation for happiness and harmony. I am skeptical of international unions that tie us up and bring America down and will never enter.” It appears that Mr. Trump is proposing a return to a form of US isolationism in which international organizations are seen as a hindrance to American power.
an America that cares little about ‘influencing’ African political and economic development may finally be the break that many African countries need to independently define and pursue their own national interests.
Trump and Africa
Using the few instructions indicated by Trump’s April speech, what can a specifically US Africa policy look like under future President Trump? In the past twenty years or so, US Africa foreign policy has been focused on three major areas: economic development, democracy and human rights, and security. Our best guess for what US Africa policy under Trump will look like in these three areas is as follows:
Economic Development Assistance
From 2011 to 2013, the US has – on average – contributed, a little over nine billion dollars to Africa in official developmental assistance. According to the OECD, the US contributes a 30% share to Development Assistance Committee (DAC) countries. Next is France, at 13%.
In other words, Trump has inherited a ‘generous’ United States. Through different development programmes and plans, the US government has been one of the major developmental partners to many African states. Any changes that could happen in official US Africa policy would be reflected in the most important of these development plans.
The AGOA may well be one of the Trump’s key targets. On several occasions, Trump has said that he plans “to overhaul ‘horrible’ trade deals.”
The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) that was created under Bill Clinton’s administration in May 2000 is one such programme. The AGOA allows African states preferential access to American trade markets. As of June 2015, the AGOA law was extended for another ten years; and is currently set to expire in 2025.
In 2004, the US government created the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), whose key task was to administer the Millennium Challenge Account. As a core part of America’s liberal-democracy promotion agenda, the programme provides financial rewards to states with a proven track record in democracy, human rights, and free market principles.
While the programme was not designed solely for African countries, in financial terms, African states have benefited significantly from the MCC. Out of forty-five recipients across the globe, twenty-two states are from sub-Saharan Africa. Countries such as Cabo Verde provide a fine example— in the past ten years, close to two hundred million dollars of developmental aid has been given to the Cabo Verdean government.
From 2011 to 2013, the US has – on average – contributed, a little over nine billion dollars to Africa in official developmental assistance.
More recently, in 2013, under current President Obama, the US government created Power Africa; the objective of which is to increase the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa with access to power. Critics have recently pointed out that the programme is hitting well below its stated goals. And further that many of the successful projects claimed by Power Africa had already begun long before the start of the Obama administration’s initiative.
What could happen to these programmes when Trump officially takes office? If Mr. Trump sticks to the things he has said, then it is very likely that we will see a radical change in US development assistance to Africa.
there will be a ‘useless Africa’ that will receive little to no attention from Washington. These will consist of those countries that play no role in the struggle against ‘radical Islam’.
The AGOA may well be one of Trump’s key targets. On several occasions, Trump has said that he plans “to overhaul ‘horrible’ trade deals.” However, for two reasons, it is very unlikely that the AGOA will be affected. First, total US imports under the AGOA represent, more or less, one fourth of US imports from Mexico. Second, the bulk of imports under the AGOA do not threaten American markets; in fact, they are chiefly imported precisely because they have helped to maintain US interests, rather than simply those of exporting countries. Consider the report that 90 per cent of all imports under the AGOA are natural resources—primarily oil.
As for the other programmes, it is very likely that the new Trump administration will seek to reduce the amount of foreign assistance dollars. Trump has stated that “not one single dollar can we waste.” Although we cannot be certain what Trump means by “waste”, his focus on a narrow US national interest offers a suggestion.
there will be a ‘useful Africa’—states facing threats from ‘radical Islam’ and/or those that are deeply tied to the US in America’s ‘war on terrorism’.
President-Elect Trump has repeatedly defined American national interests, above all, in security terms. As stated in the Republican Party 2016 platform, “foreign aid must serve America’s interests first.” Programmes that do not directly affect US national security may either be terminated or have their funding significantly reduced.
Trump has made no indication that he is interested in exporting liberal democracy to other sovereign states. The MCA, which is no more than a US tool designed to promote democracy and liberal market economies to the rest of the world, may be disbanded.
Democracy and Human Rights
This leads to the suggestion that Trump’s administration may signal a wave of democratic regression. Trump’s admiration for strong authoritarian men is well documented. On the other hand, so far as Africa is concerned, this may simply be a continuation of unofficial US policy given America’s not-so-secret, and long, history of supporting oppressive regimes in many African countries.
Another important view is that an America that cares little about ‘influencing’ African political and economic development may finally be the break that many African countries need to independently define and pursue their own national interests.
In his April speech, Trump put himself forward as America’s chief of security. “First, we need a long-term plan to halt the spread and reach of radical Islam. Containing the spread of radical Islam must be a major foreign policy goal of the US and, indeed, the world”, he stated.
This is likely to mean further securitization of America’s engagement with Africa. In fact, the language in the Republican Party’s 2016 platform is more direct. The US stands “in solidarity with those African countries now under assault by the forces of radical Islam”, it reads. It continues: “we urge governments throughout the [African] continent to recognize this [radical Islamic] threat to their own people.”
If security concerns take centre stage in Trump’s foreign policy, as they most likely will, it is possible that US Africa policy will create two different Africas. On one hand, there will be a ‘useful Africa’—states facing threats from ‘radical Islam’ and/or those that are deeply tied to the US in America’s ‘war on terror’. This Africa is most likely to enjoy added military and economic cooperation from the US. This will be the parts of Africa that benefits in the short term from the “securitization of development”.
On the other hand, from a US perspective there will also be a ‘useless Africa’ that will receive little to no attention from Washington. These will consist of those countries that play no role in the struggle against ‘radical Islam’.
As Trump brusquely put it in his April speech: “we’re getting out of the nation-building business and instead focusing on creating stability in the world.”
Increased securitization of US Africa policy could also result in further reinforcing the presence of the United States African Command (Africom) on the continent. Under Africom, the US military is already building a $100 million drone base in Agadez, Niger’s largest city.
If political “order” comes to be of the highest political value, states that make the choice to cooperate militarily with the US could find themselves being rewarded with ‘development’ dollars.
So much of what Trump may, or may not, adopt as official US foreign policy towards Africa is uncertain. One of the things that will, however, influence what impact a Trump White House has on African countries will be the ability of African leaders to astutely define their own national interests.
Abel Djassi Amado is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Simmons College, Boston. He is a regular contributor to this site.