I Hope Trump Never has an African Policy
Donald J. Trump was sworn into office a few days ago, and while the heavens opened up with rain; fire and brimstone did not follow. From all accounts, bar the protests that broke out, it was a civil transition of government and transfer of power. The discontents, as they are wont to do, broke into their groups and fell into punditry or clairvoyance. Campaign promises were called to memory and expectations for the new administration were set. Some cheerful, some fearful, and some neutral, this is the nature of the political spin-cycle.
One group that has been especially fearful of the new American president is the African bloc; globalisation has often meant that decisions taken locally can have far-flung effect, but Africans for some reason have always held special interest in American politics. Perhaps it is a form of distraction from our own dreary identity-politics, whatever the case Africans have also been divided into the cheerful, the fearful and the neutral when it concerns Trump.
A common refrain is that Trump does not regard Africa, many point out to the lack of any significant mention of the continent during his campaign or during the transition, and indeed there is nothing in his personal or business life to suggest that the continent is a place he concerns himself a lot with. Equally troubling to the fearful is that the nativism and the protectionism that propelled Mr Trump to power suggest America will withdraw to itself, an action I might point out is the right of every sovereign nation.
In the early stages of any presidency most analyses are mere speculations, so we cannot really know how the Trump administration will engage with the continent, or if they will engage at all. But let’s assume Trump doesn’t have an African policy, so what? Was Trump elected by Africans, do we, who are so eager to see what the new benefactor has to hand down have an equal stake in the American dream?
We are quick to point to the Asian Tigers who built success from looking inwards, but that is where our admiration stops, at the theoretical. We are constantly waiting for our chaperones, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, Department for International Development to tell us how to govern or what to do, when do we take the initiative ourselves.
As it was reported during the transition, the Trump team asked the State Department a simple question, what value is American engagement on the continent? It is an honest question, and one that should be answered honestly, but before we answer that, can we honestly answer what value is Africa to itself? An African Economic Outlook report puts Intra-African trade at about 16 percent, 84 percent of African trade is split unevenly between Western countries and China. By comparison, 61 percent of Asian trade is with itself, 69 percent of European trade is with itself and 56 percent of American trade is within the Americas. Those are countries engineering their own development and growth.
Is Mr. Trump not right to question his investment, after all for every dollar spent fighting Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya, another is siphoned to a holding account. What is the point of committing to fighting the spread of religious fundamentalism in Nigeria, when every victory recorded in that battle is setback by reports of internecine or tribal violence in another part of the country?
There are those who feel strongly that the west cannot afford to ignore Africa, why not? We have been ignoring ourselves for much longer, it will just become part of the story. If truly, we as Africans should not be ignored this is the time to prove it, this is the time to be counted.
If Trump truly does see America’s foreign policy in the next four years as isolationist, and there is growing evidence to suggest he does, it will not be the worst thing in the world. In some ways he would be carrying on from his predecessor who had already started to withdraw from the role of global police, but it also represents an opportunity for African policymakers to chart their own course.
The argument that a shun by the American government will also lead to a slow-down in Foreign Direct Investment is moot; most African economies are already experiencing capital flight due to the flattening of commodity prices and the slashing of interest rates in the West. Ernst & Young report that FDI increased by 7 percent in 2015 but that a slowdown is inevitable in FDI to the continent.
America largest commitments to the continent are in the areas of healthcare, defense, energy and mentorship. An estimated $18 billion is earmarked for economic and development assistance with Sub-Saharan Africa taking the lions share; the largest recipients being Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Egypt, although Egypt enjoys mostly military assistance.
We can assume that the impact of not having these facilities will affect the national budgets of these countries, but there is also little accountability to how the monies are spent and it may make no difference at all.
Additionally, Africans have long shown themselves capable of managing their own affairs when there is a will, the recent ouster of the former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh is a fine example of conflict resolution. When the Ebola virus ravaged the West African coast and the world shut down its door in response, it was largely African hands and bodies that were the first defense; Stella Ameyo Adedevoh is widely revered for sacrificing herself to stop the spread of the virus in Nigeria.
There is no limit to African ingenuity, ofthe African spirit or African enterprise, The Economist points that Africans in America are 5 percent more likely to have a higher degree than the average American; where there are systems in place most Africans will excel, now the impetus is on us to create those systems for ourselves and by ourselves.
It is time to change the narrative of Africa Rising; that narrative has always given the impression that we were rising due to gale winds, forces outside of our control, the benevolence of the economic trade. It really is time we moved the narrative to the less marketable but more practical Africa Picking Itself Up. It is time for DYI development. We may not get a better opportunity to force ourselves into it than this supposed setting of a new order.
All over the world we are seeing governments being influenced by swelling nationalism, a call to restore national pride, sometimes even bordering on xenophobia, where is our own sense of pride or sense of timing.
I hope Trump doesn’t have an African plan for the next 4 years, in fact for the next 8 and the President who comes after him too. I hope African leaders are forced to see that if we insist on greatness then we must mine it for ourselves. Africa is our ship; we either steer it ourselves or let it sink, either way, it will be our own hands, no one owes us stewardship now, no one ever did.
Babatunde Oyateru currently heads Corporate Communication for Shelter Afrique and is a frequent commentator on Nigerians affairs.