The Trump doctrine in Africa is limited to security, and the administration sees the whole continent as a threat to be managed. This could have grave implications for peace and stability in the continent.
Past US administrations have made substantial investments to unlock Africa’s potential to be a powerhouse of future growth.
However with Donald Trump in office for a little over a year, the US has shown little interest in the future of US-Africa relations.
Trump seems to prefer military action over diplomacy by handing over the keys to the military generals in the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM).
In January 2017, President Trump granted more powers to the CIA by authorising it to launch its own lethal attacks, therefore repealing the limit imposed by his predecessor Barack Obama on the spy agency’s operations.
In 2017, the American military doubled its air strikes in Africa, especially in Somalia where it conducted 31 air strikes compared to 15 in 2016. Consequently, 150 US military leaders and veterans have decried Trump’s increased military authorisation, arguing that “today’s crises do not have military solutions alone.”
Trump’s military-focused foreign policy has also paved the way for the resignation of some US diplomats in the State Department’s Africa Bureau as they accuse Trump of undoing the work they had done over the years.
The fact that about 6,000 US troops are based across the African continent and that Trump did not appoint an assistant secretary for Africa to oversee the continent, nor an ambassador to key countries, indicates his preferences for military over diplomacy.
Reports indicate that “five of the eight most senior posts in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs are vacant or filled by people in an acting capacity.”
Cuts in aid
Last year, President Trump proposed slashing the budget for the State Department, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the Peace Corps.
Five out of the top ten recipients of US foreign aid are African nations – signalling that the region is the largest recipient of American aid, amounting to 32 percent of the total imbursements in 2015.
In 2015 alone, the State Department and USAID provided more than $8 billion – including $717 million in response to the Ebola outbreak that killed more than 11,000 people throughout West Africa – in aid to 47 African states. This was mainly spent on security, good governance, job creation, combating malnutrition and diseases.
Nearly all of the $533 million in new US aid, which Tillerson pledged during his visit to Africa, will be used for humanitarian emergencies to combat famine and food insecurity in certain conflict ridden states, such as Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria.
US aid plays a significant role in creating jobs in rural parts of the continent. However, Trump’s budget cuts towards Africa could derail these efforts.
Trump’s lack of appetite for Africa was evident in his ‘National Security Strategy’ report released last December. Trump considers Africa, which is mentioned in just six paragraphs, as a market for American goods and services and ignores long-term US policies towards Africa.
Unlike his predecessors Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama who had signature initiatives – The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), PEPFAR program for HIV/AIDS and Power Africa respectively – Trump has not announced any initiatives to support the African people. Furthermore, Trump walked out of an important G-20 session on Africa last July.
Trump’s denial of climate change is worrisome for Africa, a continent that will face significant challenges as a result of global warming.
There is also a deadly famine in East Africa – with the UN estimating more than 17 million people in need of assistance – and worsening food security and water stress in North Africa.
Libya, Morocco and Tunisia lose 1,000 square kilometres of arable land each year; Egypt is threatened by salinization; and Algeria and Morocco are estimated to face freshwater scarcity by 2025.
Countries in the Sahel region, such as Niger and Nigeria, are predicted to face the same threats.
Finally, Trump has threatened to stop the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery’ program, which particularly benefits young Africans. Africa receives 44 percent of the diversity visas, and almost a third of the African migrants to the US go through this visa.
The elephant in the room is racism
Many Africans believe Trump and his supporters are racists and Trump’s claim that Obama was born in Africa, and therefore not qualified to be US president – gives fuel to the notion.
Trump has offended Africans on several occasions, including calling African states “shithole”countries – a remark that caused an uproar across the continent. Despite Trump’s claim that he “deeply respects” the people of Africa, many Africans still believe that the US Presidentis racist, misogynistic and xenophobic.
A new sheriff in town?
While Tillerson’s African tour was reportedly aimed at mending ties with Africa, his abrupt dismissal signals the White House’s disinterest in Africa. Trump’s appointment of Mike Pompeo will unlikely see a change in US foreign policy towards Africa.
First, unlike Tillerson who had experience working in Africa during his previous job at Exxon Mobil, Pompeo’s knowledge and experience regarding Africa is limited to counterterrorism issues.
Second, the appointment of CIA Director Pompeo as America’s top diplomat, while key Africa posts in the State Department remain unfilled, reinforces Trump’s preference of military action over diplomacy.
Pompeo previously criticised Hillary Clinton’s handling of the terrorist attack on the US consulate in Libya, and has said “there’s a big counterterrorism threat” in Africa, and claims the US can do more to help the continent address these issues.
Pompeo’s African policy will most likely continue with the ineffective policies that rely heavily on US military engagement in the continent. These include ramping up the clandestine drone air strikes, collaborating with AMISOM troops that combat Al Shabab insurgency in Somalia, as well as partaking in the anti-terrorism campaigns in the Sahel and Lake Chad regions against Boko Haram and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).