Trump’s Approach to Sub-Saharan Africa
With the State of The Union address, the 45th US President will jumpstart his administration in full throttle. Pundits will take to speculating on the major directions of domestic and foreign policy to be followed by the Republican head of state. While China, Russia and the Middle East take the center stage, other geopolitical areas seem to fall under the President’s radar.
Sub-Saharan Africa is a dramatic and obvious test-case for that line of thought. Professor Peter Vale, Director of the Johannesburg Institute of Advanced Studies rushed to conclude in mid-November 2016 that “Africa is likely to slide down the list of foreign policy priorities of the Donald Trump administration” .
Facts on the ground paint a different picture for a number of reasons. Politically, Africa remains an area of vast concern for the new administration because 30% of refugees coming to the US are African, and a quarter of a billion Africans are Muslim , a reality touching on two major campaign issues that paved Trump’s way to the Oval Office.
Most importantly, the US Armed Forces has almost fifty African locations where they placed equipment and personnel for several non-combat missions throughout the hot spots of the continent. AFRICOM, the Central Command for Africa, paradoxically headquartered in the Kelly Barracks near Stuttgart in Germany, benefits from the huge facilities at the Camp Lemonnier airbase in Djibouti, which is being complemented by a new $50 million base in Niger , a country otherwise famous for its Uranium mines (approximately 20 tons of pure radioactive material in more than 10 million tons of ore).
The United States have always had a stake in sub-Saharan Africa originating from political and economic calculations. In the mid-1960s, at the height of the Cold War, Washington wanted to attract and exert control over newly independent African states under its umbrella in order to fight an expansion of the Soviet Communism. Economically, African resources such as oil, copper, gold, diamonds, iron and rare metals were conveniently placed just across the Atlantic. Such reasons, centered on areas rife with never-ending conflicts and civil wars, led professor Donald Rothchild to point out:
“Although many African and non-African countries, individually or in coalition with others, have interceded in internal conflict situations on the continent, the United States stands (sic!) out as a key potential actor in such undertakings. This reflects the US government command of extensive political, financial and material resources and its enormous military and logistical capacities. When the United States brings (sic!) pressure to bear on a conflict, it is in a strong position to change the incentives of local actors on agreeing to and maintaining peace” .
The US Republican Administration has to challenge China in its march on Africa. Over the years, China overlooked dictatorial rulers and local political bickering in sub-Saharan states and stubbornly pursued its strategy of controlling and exploiting much of the continent’s rich mineral resources. The Communist government supported huge investments in goodwill projects – building schools, hospitals, roads and sports arenas – donated to local communities as gifts from the Chinese people. The strategy yielded results sooner than expected. In 2005, China exported goods to Africa worth $17 billion and it imported fuels and raw materials worth close to $18 billion.
“Africa’s main export market and also it’s the largest source of imports. After 15 years of closer trade ties, China accounts for about 20 per cent of imports in Sub-Saharan Africa and about 15 per cent of its exports” .
Donald Trump cannot ignore several threats posed by African realities. In terms of terrorism, the Nigerian group formerly known as Boko Haram, now the Islamic State West Africa Province, Somali Al Shabaab, the Maghrebi Al Qaeda provide ideal havens and training grounds for terrorists spread throughout the world.
Donald Trump cannot ignore this, as a prosperous former businessman. He also cannot ignore several threats posed by African realities. In terms of terrorism, the Nigerian group formerly known as Boko Haram, now the Islamic State West Africa Province, Somali Al Shabaab, the Maghrebi Al Qaeda provide ideal havens and training grounds for terrorists spread throughout the world. Africa provides large contingents of mercenaries coming from the militaries and dismantled political police and racial elite forces from South Africa, but also countries like Chad.
Consequently, a more pragmatic approach to spreading democracy and to consolidating regional security in sub-Saharan Africa would require proactive measures to stabilize Nigeria’s transfer of power following the 2015 elections. It could also stabilize Ethiopia, a very important African ally, which was under a state of emergency declared after violent anti-government street protests. An American monitoring mechanism in the Democratic Republic of Congo could regulate the presidency of Joseph Kabila, who overextended his rule into a third, illegal term.
Finally, the new American administration can consolidate the uncertain economic progress of several sensitive countries that need American investment to maximize profits from their natural resources and to develop alternative, sustainable new industries.
Donald Trump has much to gain from a pragmatic and multi-pronged policy in Africa, even at a personal level, given his past leaning towards TV shows and entertainment popularity. One proof is recent history. Before taking their farewell from the US presidency and from GB’s premiership, George W. Bush and Tony Blair, respectively, enjoyed very colorful and enthusiastic crowd baths that sweetened an irreversible and painful departure from power and from the affairs of state.