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US President Trump addresses African leaders at the sideline of the 72nd UN General Assembly in New York, September 2017 / Photo: GoG

Why the Trump presidency may be bad for Africa

The American election has ended with an outcome unexpected and undesired in most parts of the world. Since almost all opinion polls did not reckon with a Trump’s victory, almost no efforts were made to analyse the likely impact of a Trump presidency on African relations.

This is why journalists across Africa and its Diaspora are just getting started scrutinizing how the US president-elect and his administration may relate to Africa.

Apart from a few uncomplimentary comments about the continent during the campaign season, Trump did not give any hints about his Africa policy. From the broad outlines of his domestic and foreign policy agendas, Femi Awoniyi, chief editor and publisher of The African Courier, looks at how Africa may likely be affected by the Trump Presidency.

Slower economic growth

If Trump’s nationalist rhetoric on trade is translated into action, “a global recession, with no end in sight” should be expected, says star economist and Nobel laurate Paul Krugman. This means a reduced demand for Africa’s commodities which will adversely affect economies across the continent.

Moreover, Trump has vowed to jettison bilateral and multilateral trade deals he deems unfavourable to the US. If Trump follows through on his threat, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in May 2000, could be at risk.

Under the Act, which seeks to expand US trade and investment with sub-Saharan Africa, products from the region have a duty-free entry into America. Africa exported non-oil goods worth US$4 billion into the US in 2015 under AGOA, accounting for 300,000 direct jobs in beneficiary countries. An abrogation of the Act, which was extended for a 10-year period in June 2015, will impact negatively on these countries.

Less development aid

Trump has said at several occasions that he would rather tackle the problems in America with the resources it spends supporting other countries abroad. If the new president acts as he has indicated, African countries, big recipients of American aid, will most likely see a drop in support from the US, the world’s biggest bilateral aid donor. Even though the efficacy of foreign aid is debatable, many African countries are dependent on it to various degrees.

Trump has however voiced his support for President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR/Emergency Plan), an initiative of President George W Bush to address the global HIV/AIDS epidemic and help save the lives of millions of people suffering from the disease, primarily in Africa.

Obama’s Power Africa Initiative at risk

In 2013, President Obama launched his Power Africa Initiative, which “sought to leverage the combined resources of the continent’s energy community, from national and donor governments to private companies and international financial institutions, for the sole purpose of tackling energy poverty,” according to energy expert Reda El Chaar, chairman of Access Power.

The initiative, which was enshrined into law as the Electrify Africa Act early this year, has been described as the greatest legacy of Obama’s Africa policy. Fears are rife that Trump may pull the plug on the initiative, which promises to help Africa overcome its abject energy poverty through a funding pool consisting of $7bn from the US government and a further $43bn in commitments from the public and private sectors.

Though not much has been achieved under the initiative but it holds a great promise in enabling Africa tackle its chronic energy shortfall, which is one of the main constraints to economic development in the continent.

Endangering global Climate deal

Both Trump and his party have been antagonistic to obligatory international agreements on climate. The President-elect announced in May that he would withdraw America from the hard-won 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the landmark document signed by 195 nations to limit global temperature rises by 2100.

Climate change is currently the focus of global diplomacy as the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP22,’ underway (until 18 November) in Marrakech, Morocco, works on the implementation of the landmark climate deal. Trump’s victory therefore could not have come at a most inauspicious time. If the US pulls out of the agreement, other countries such as China and India, big polluters, may follow suit leading invariably to the collapse of the historic deal.

Africa is one of the most-affected regions by global warming, yet it’s the least polluter. Mozambique tops the list of nations most affected on the 2015 climate risk index, followed by Dominica, Malawi and India. Myanmar, Ghana and Madagascar are also among the top 10. The index, issued annually by risk analysts Germanwatch, measures level of exposure and vulnerability to extreme events. Africa’s coasts are endangered by rising sea levels and prolonged drought is turning many areas of the Sahel into deserts. In fact, increasing desertification in West Africa is forcing massive population displacements and is responsible for violent conflicts in many parts of the region.

Moreover, drought and water shortages in other parts of Africa such as Southern Africa have caused sharp reduction in agricultural production and led to food shortages not to talk of economic decline.

Democracy and human rights

An isolationist President Trump will feel less concerned about democracy and human rights in Africa at a time that the continent needs the engagement of the West. Democracy has suffered setback across Africa in recent years with leaders changing constitutions to enable them stay in office beyond term limits stipulated in their basic laws.

DR Congo is on the brink of a major crisis as a result of President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to allow for election to choose his successor after spending the two terms allowed by his country’s constitution. Burundi is mired in a crisis for a similar reason.

Moreover, three African countries have announced their withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC), with more expected to follow suit. This has been described as a blow to human rights in Africa as the ICC acts as a check on the reckless impunity of some leaders who do not shirk away from perpetrating heinous crimes, including genocide, against their own people to remain in power.

Any analyses of Trump’s presidency essentially still belong in the realm of speculation as the maverick politician has a reputation of changing his positions on issues. However, there is consensus among African commentators that Africa will not feature prominently in the foreign policy priorities of the incoming American administration.

 

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