Ideas & Debate

Africa set to take a back seat with Trump’s home plate full

The United States shocked the world (and themselves) by electing Donald Trump as the next President. While the US tries to unpack what this means for it as a country, Africa should ask similar questions as well.

Trump barely mentioned the continent (Hillary Clinton, too) during his campaigning and the little that was said was disparaging. For example, he tweeted ‘Every penny of the $7 billion going to Africa as per Obama will be stolen—corruption is rampant!’

Clearly he seems to have a pessimistic view of the continent. So what would a Trump Presidency mean for Africa?

The first is insularity. The US is number one for Trump and his focus will be his own country and fixing domestic problems. There may be a contraction of the presence of the US as an aggressive global player in the current international order. For example, Trump stated that North Korea should be China’s problem to solve, not US’.

And Trump has openly rejected the notion that the US should be the world’s policeman— he says it does not need to be involved in enforcing international law and order.


What this means for Africa is that we can expect the US to be far less involved in African affairs than Obama has been.

For example, analysts make the point that the Obama administration has overseen an expansion of American military might in Africa.

An investigation found that the US maintains at least 60 bases or military outposts throughout Africa. Will Trump find it necessary to maintain such a heavy and expensive military presence on the continent?

I would anticipate continued presence in areas in Africa that are hotspots of Islamist terrorism such as Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya given how important defeating entities such as ISIS are to him.

However, there may very well be a reconfiguration and rollback of military on the continent in other areas so that the money can be channelled elsewhere.

Thus on the one hand Trump may support extreme militarised responses to potential terror threats in pockets of Africa, but a withdrawal in less tense areas.

On the other hand, Trump seems to be of the view that Africa is corrupt and that money that currently goes to Africa would be better spent on pressing local needs.

Perhaps Africa should expect reductions in funding to entities such as USAid and even the removal of programmes such as President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) may be on the table.

Further, given Trump’s position on climate change, the $34 million programme Obama announced to help developing countries strengthen climate resilience may be scrapped.

Finally, one of the points Trump has made clear is his intention to renegotiate trade agreements for the benefit of the US.

He is of the view that the current trade regimes are costing the US jobs and income. Although his statements have been mainly targeted countries such as China, Africa should not assume it will not be affected.

As Quartz Africa points out, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which gives African exports to the US preferential treatment, expires in 2025.

Trump’s administration will need to begin negotiating its renewal soon after he takes office. I think Africa should prepare itself for, at a minimum, much harder negotiations with the Trump administration than was the case under Obama.

In short, Africa should be aware of the fact that it is not a priority for Trump thus far, and although his administration will have to address the continent, the generosity Africa benefited from under Obama will likely end under Trump.

Further, Trump’s election as President has deeply divided the US and he will need to expend some effort addressing this divide, leaving him far less time to think about Africa.

Were is a development economist. [email protected] @anzetse.