Why Africa must quickly engage with Trump

The immediate reaction to Donald Trump’s election last week was disbelief, anger and fear that the US President-elect would not have a favourable agenda for Africa.

African leaders, including the African Union (AU), remain muted, except Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who lamented about the loss of an opportunity for women to lead the world’s greatest superpower.

African media, however, has not been kind to the US President-elect. However, whatever tantrums we throw won’t change anything. Americans have made their choice and choices as they very well know have consequences.

We must respect American wisdom and learn to work with the new administration in order to achieve our mutual goals.

Africa, therefore, should not wait and see what Trump has in store for them. This will be a defeatist strategy.

We must take it to Trump’s desk either as individual nations or through the AU to show that we exist and intend to sustain the relationship that has existed between Africa and America.

Whatever there is of African position on Trump, we must not behave as though Africa is inconsequential in global affairs.

There is pride in being who we are. In an interview with BBC, the Liberian president did not hide her feelings regarding the outcome of the US elections.

‘‘We are extremely saddened by this missed opportunity on the part of the people of the United States to join smaller democracies in ending the marginalisation of women,” she said.

Notwithstanding Liberia is a major recipient of donor funding from the US, that does not negate her democratic right to criticise what is seemingly the marginalisation of women in the world’s greatest democracy.

There are three key areas Africa must seek to mend with Trump proactively. These include continued trade agreements such as the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), which was renewed last year.

According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the US imported goods from sub-Saharan Africa under AGOA and the related Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme totalling $26.8 billion in 2013, more than three times the amount in 2001, the first full-year of AGOA trade.

Within the same period, about 91 percent of US imports from AGOA-eligible countries entered duty-free, either under AGOA, GSP, or zero-duty Most Favoured Nation rates.

In the past few years, there have been tittle-tattles that Western countries, including the US, were getting concerned about remittances to the extent that tax authorities have begun to probe remittances that account for significant contributions to the GDP of many countries.

Trump has also weighed in on this subject that if new policies block this lifeline to many developing countries, it would easily plunge some countries into a recession spin.

Reports show that in the past four years, transfers by African migrants to their home countries reached $134.4 billion.

Already, many European countries see Africa as number one in terms of migration and as such, some countries have raised barriers, making it more difficult for Africans to get visas.

In some way, the issue of immigration may be precipitating the West’s shift to ultra-conservatism. This was clear in Brexit and the happenings in America today.

The last, but not least, issue is aid to especially healthcare, which if abruptly stopped would lead to a catastrophe in many countries. US internal reports show that between 1995 and 2013 about $97.67 billion in foreign aid was committed to sub-Saharan Africa.

Social infrastructure and services aid (48 per cent of total aid) and humanitarian aid (26 per cent) were the priorities.

Most African countries are virtually dependent on the President’s Emergency Plan For Aids Relief (PEPFAR), whose objective is to address the global HIV/Aids epidemic and help save the lives of those suffering from the disease in Africa.

USAid virtually runs agricultural extension services in Africa.

In the event Trump policies disrupt some or all of these programmes, the impact will be enormous.

We often don’t get to think about this gesture from rich countries, but the contribution they make to sustain especially small farmers is far reaching.

There is urgent need to start working on plan B, conduct simulation as though the US has exited Africa then design a strategic direction.

In summary, Africa receives about $30 billion in aid annually but loses $60 billion over the same period in form of wealth shipped out corruptly.

Won’t Trump be justified to leave us alone to solve our own issues?

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.