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Trump’s Africa policy is still incoherent, but key signals are emerging

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Africa’s leaders, along with everyone else interested in US-Africa relations, have waited eight months for US President Donald Trump’s administration to explain its Africa policy. We aren’t there yet.

But in recent weeks Trump has indicated the level and extent of his interest. And, senior African affairs officials at the State and Defence Departments are at last attempting publicly to outline US goals and objectives toward Africa. This, apparently without much guidance from their president.

Trump’s inaugural address to the UN General Assembly said little about Africa – barely one paragraph towards the end. One sentence praised African Union and UN-led peacekeeping missions for “invaluable contributions in stabilising conflicts in Africa.” A second praised America, which

continues to lead the world in humanitarian assistance, including famine prevention and relief in South Sudan, Somalia and northern Nigeria and Yemen.

The next day Trump hosted a luncheon for leaders of nine African countries – Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, and South Africa. Only his welcoming remarks have been published but they are nearly devoid of policy content or guidance. His opening gambit reminded me of a 19th century colonialist hoping to become rich, as he proclaimed:

Africa has tremendous business potential, I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich. I congratulate you, they’re spending a lot of money….It’s really become a place they have to go, that they want to go.

Trump called on African companies to invest in the US. Then, shifting to security cooperation, he urged Africans to help defeat Islamist extremists and the threat from North Korea.

The American president proposed no new presidential initiatives for Africa. But, at least, he did not say those launched by predecessors were a waste of money and would be ended. Nor did he mention opposition to foreign assistance generally. He also did not mention his renunciation of the Paris Climate Accord and refusal to fund Green Climate Fund. Both are crucial for Africa’s adaptation to global warming.

A “US-Africa Partnerships” conference at the US Institute for Peace in Washington in mid-September provided additional clues to how this administration will conduct Africa policy.

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Tom Shannon, offered the first high level official statement on Africa. Shannon, a highly accomplished Foreign Service officer, emphasised policy continuity. But, he implicitly affirmed Trump’s apparent desire for minimal engagement in Africa.

Shannon and Acting Assistant Secretary Donald Yamamoto at a later session, stressed the four main pillars that have framed Africa policy for many years, would remain. These are:

  • peace and security;
  • counterterrorism;
  • economic trade, investment and development; and,
  • democracy and good governance.

They endorsed previous presidential initiatives, including specific references to former US President Barack Obama’s Feed the FuturePower Africa and the Young African Leaders Initiative. Their continuation, and at what levels, will depend on budget decisions. Trump’s initial recommendations, endorsed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, call for crippling cuts.

So far, the only new social development program that Trump has endorsed is the World Bank’s global Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, championed by his daughter Ivanka. The US has donated $50 million toward its global start-up budget of $315 million. As Yamamoto noted at the September meeting, Africa could benefit from this initiative.

Trump will be less likely to challenge US military’s commitments in Africa. With this in mind I paid close attention to the address by General Thomas Waldhauser, Commander of the US Africa Command (Africom) at the September 13 meeting. He set out Africom’s current engagements in Libya and Somalia, where he said the mission was to support locally engineered political solutions.

Critics of America’s many previous failed interventions in these two countries and elsewhere, will rightly remain sceptical.

The second part of his address dealt more broadly with Africom’s capacity building assistance, nationally and regionally. He said Africom only operates where

US and partner nation strategic objectives are compatible and aligned and, second, the operations are conducted primarily by partner nation forces with the US in a supporting role.

Africom, he said, conducts “some 3,500 exercises, programs and engagements” annually, with “5-to-6,000 US service members working on the continent every day.”

Waldenhauser ended his address with a surprisingly specific and positive view on China’s role in Africa. He praised China’s assistance to building much needed infrastructure throughout Africa and for the rapid growth in China-Africa trade which exceeded $300 billion in 2016.

On security issues, he commended Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledge of $100 million to the AU and for supporting UN peacekeeping missions with 8,000 police officers. He then referred to the construction of China’s first overseas military base, which is near the US base in Djibouti, as creating “opportunities found nowhere else in the world,” relating that:

China assigned the first soldiers to this base and expressed interest in conducting amphibious training between Chinese and US Marines. Across the continent, we have shared interests in African stability. We see many areas where we can cooperate with the Chinese military. For example, we both support UN peacekeeping missions and training with African defence forces. The fact that we have mutual interests in Africa means that we can and should cooperate.

To emphasise the importance of this comment he quoted Secretary of Defence James Mattis when he pointed out earlier this year:

Our two countries can and do cooperate for mutual benefit. And we will pledge to work closely with China where we share common cause.

But China-US security cooperation in Africa can’t succeed without the inclusion of African governments as equal partners in this “common cause”.

Such “win-win-win” experiments in mutual confidence building would not only benefit Africans, but could also serve as positive examples for other regions and could improve US-China relations globally. In the absence of a coherent and compelling US – Africa policy, this at least is one positive development that merits our attention. – Written by John J Stremlau, 2017 Bradlow Fellow at SA Institute of International Affairs,Visiting Professor of International Relations, University of the Witwatersrand

Originally published in The Conversation

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One on One With Naledi Pandor SA Minister of Higher Education

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Forbes Woman Africa’s Godfrey Mutizwa chats with Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of Higher Education and Training to discuss her plans for youth and enterprise development as to create jobs and get South Africa thriving.

READ MORE: The Future In Her Hands

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Politics

The People’s President

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Liberia president George Weah

It’s been quite an ascent for George Weah – from international football star to president of his country, Liberia. He was sworn in on January 22 to a crowd of adoring supporters who voted for a change, as well as heads of states and football stars, including Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o.

From one of Monrovia’s poorest slums, Weah made a name for himself as a talented footballer at Monaco at the age of 21, and went on to play for some of Europe’s biggest clubs, such as Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan. He won the prestigious Ballon d’Or and FIFA Player of the Year awards in 1995. During his illustrious career that ended in 2003 he also led Liberia’s national team. Musa Shannon, a Liberian businessman and former teammate with Liberia’s national team says Weah’s temperament on and off the field was unparalleled.

“He was inspirational and expected nothing but excellence from all his teammates. He was able to get the best out of everyone. He never took shortcuts.”

Considered the choice of the masses, Weah’s humble beginnings combined with his international celebrity status earned him tremendous support from the mostly youthful Liberian population, especially the poor. In the December run-off elections, Weah easily earned 61.5% of the votes over then Vice-President Joseph Boakai.

“He is the people’s president, he is the one they have chosen,” says Shannon.

READ MORE: A New Dawn For Zimbabwe, But Is It Rosy?

Weah’s win marks the first peaceful transition in decades for the Liberian people. “We have arrived at this transition neither by violence, nor by force of arms. Not a single life was lost in the process… this transition was achieved by the free and democratic will of the Liberian people,” said Weah in his inauguration speech.

Although he moved from sport to politics, the transition hasn’t been sudden, nor without struggle. In 2005, Weah ran unsuccessfully against Noble Laureate President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who made history as the first democratically-elected female African president. Through his party, the Congress for Democratic Change, Weah ran again in 2011 as running-mate to Winston Tubman, losing again to Johnson Sirleaf.

Citing inexperience and a lack of formal education as the main reason for his losses, Weah earned a degree in business and took a seat on the senate in 2014.

“People speak of George Weah as though he doesn’t have a political history, so that if he doesn’t succeed they will say he was new to the game,” says Ezekiel Pajibo, political analyst and human rights activist. “He has been in politics for 12 years and there is no evidence of anything he has done for the Liberian people.”

Expectations are high. Weah promised jobs for the youth and poverty alleviation. Of Liberia’s 4.6 million inhabitants, over 60% are under 25, many of whom voted for him in the hopes of a quick reduction in unemployment.

He inherits a country that has survived two bloody civil wars between 1989 and 2003, a fledgling economy and a young population that is largely unemployed. The Ebola epidemic, which killed over 5,000 people, also showed cracks in the healthcare system. The country still does not have adequate running water or electricity since the civil war, and properly staffed schools remain a problem.

READ MORE: Zuma’s time is up – but does it mean for South Africa?

In his inauguration speech, he made a series of promises.

Firstly, he would stamp out corruption. Secondly, he would assist the private sector. Weah says he wants Liberians to stop being “spectators” in their economy while foreigners control the majority of their resources. Thirdly, he will focus on vocational training for the youth.

Promises must be followed by action. His party has been criticized by the opposition for not clearly outlining how these goals will be achieved.

There are also doubts about Weah garnering the same amount of respect from the international community as his predecessor. “He has to exude leadership capability and have presence in front of the international community. Johnson Sirleaf, as the first female president in Africa, brought international goodwill towards Liberia. She also had a history of working in development structures. President George Weah has none of that,” says Pajibo.

Weah achieved more than was expected of him as a footballer. Liberians will be hoping he can do the same as their country’s president. – Written by Lamelle Shaw

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Morgan Tsvangirai: The quiet man forced into the wrong job

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Morgan Tsvangirai

Anyone who ever stood up for principle and paid for it in pain will mourn the passing of Morgan Tsvangirai, the man who never wanted to be president but wore himself out trying on behalf of his suffering people.

Tsvangirai, who succumbed to colon cancer in a Johannesburg hospital on February 14, never wanted the power that many leaders in Africa crave. His heart was in his humble rural roots in Buhera in eastern Zimbabwe – where he was born the eldest of nine children to a miner – and in the trade union movement. Tsvangirai followed his father down the mine and when independence came, in 1980, he joined the ruling party, Zanu-PF, and rose swiftly through the ranks becoming a staunch supporter of President Robert Mugabe. History is littered with such ironies.

It was as head of the mighty Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions that Tsvangirai enjoyed his annus mirabilis at the head of hundreds of thousands of workers. With his trademark cowboy hat, he could hold a crowd with fiery oratory and hold a strike in place against the odds. With a handful of faxes he could close the country down, which he did in 1997 and 1998 with mass stay-aways as economic hard times and President Mugabe’s indifference hurt the people.

READ MORE: Will Mnangagwa usher in a new democracy? The view from Zimbabwe

It was this skill that led him up the greasy pole of politics; yet, even in his pomp you could tell that he didn’t want to.

One hot afternoon, in 1998, amid a spate of strikes, my TV crew and I received a frantic call from Tsvangirai’s office for us to come and save him. By this time, he had raised the ire of thugs loyal to Zanu-PF, calling themselves war veterans, who stormed his office and tried to throw him out of a third-floor window. Tsvangirai asked his secretary to call us instead of the police because, sadly, in the politically charged atmosphere, he didn’t trust them.

Luckily, as we arrived, the thugs fled. As we calmed Tsvangirai down, I asked him why he didn’t go ahead and run for president as he had the power of the workers at his elbow.

“No, Chris, if you run for president even your grandchildren will be persecuted,” said Tsvangirai.

And so it turned out. Activists shepherded Tsvangirai into forming the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), setting into motion years of vilification, intimidation and abuse that left him battered and bloody in mind and body. Tsvangirai tried to keep his feet on the ground through his stable home life. In the early days he used to hold press conferences in his front garden where his charming wife, Susan, who died tragically in a car accident in 2009, used to bring us tea with a smile.

Yet, worse times came after tea. Tsvangirai, egged on by the west, became the world’s champion against the growing horror of Mugabe and paid for it by being arrested, beaten and charged with treason. Even the Mugabe-leaning judges in Harare dismissed the trumped-up charges.

Undoubtedly Tsvangirai won the presidential elections against Mugabe in 2008, but the conniving election authorities refused to release the results. Thus stolen election led to a power-sharing agreement, the following year, under which Tsvangirai became a pretty much powerless deputy president. He was never to reach the top spot not that, deep down, it really bothered him.

READ MORE: Zimbabwe urgently needs a new land administration system

Those who had stood against the bullies and suffered may prefer to remember Tsvangirai by another tale related by one of my colleagues in Zimbabwe.

A top level delegation of MDC officials had gone to see their political counterparts in Zambia. Zanu-PF apparatchiks in Harare lent on the Zambian government to deport them and the MDC group ended up stranded and angry under a tree, with phones with flat batteries, on the Zimbabwe side of the Chirundu border. Tsvangirai’s colleagues attacked their leader under the branches of the tree.

“What is the point of this political movement?” says one.

Tsvangirai seized the moment and ordered his empty-pocketed colleagues to sing as they marched to a village a few kilometers away. A few hours later, villagers were surprised to see Tsvangirai, in full voice, walking into their village at the head of a phalanx of suited comrades. A cell phone in the village summoned transport and they drove home in good spirits.

A fleeting taste of the leadership that Zimbabwe was destined to never see.

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