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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

The Conversation

Current Affairs

Twists And Turns Of Nigeria’s Election Campaign Trail

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The political atmosphere in Nigeria leading up to the February polls is tense. Challenging the status quo are new and younger contenders promising hope and change.


As the 2019 elections draw close in February in Africa’s most populous country, Atiku Abubakar has emerged the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) while President Muhammadu Buhari has been affirmed for the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) ticket.

Abubakar, a former vice president of Nigeria, has begun his campaign against president Buhari by highlighting the popular frustration of Nigerians over the rise in unemployment and poverty (two of the biggest voter concerns) on Buhari’s watch,as well as growing insecurity in central Nigeria.

Nigeria was recently voted the world’s poverty capital by the Brookings Institution. Consequently, the handling of the economy has already emerged as a major issue at the start of the election cycle.

In 2016, the country entered its first recession in 25 years due to a slump in oil prices and attacks in the Niger Delta oil-producing region. Although emerging out of recession in 2017, growth still remains tardy and inflation is just above the central bank’s single-digit target range.

Investor sentiment in the country is also low especially with leading telco giant MTN Nigeria being ordered by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to return $8.1 billion to the country claiming it was illegally repatriated from Nigeria.

 Atiku Abubakar.  Picture: Pius Utomi/ AFP/Getty Images

“If the fine is found to be unjustly imposed, it would have a negative implication on the image of Nigeria as a destination for foreign investors. Investors only invest in environments that have laws that protect them. If people are punished when they have not done anything wrong, that destroys investor confidence,” says Bismarck Rewane, CEO of Financial Derivatives, an economic think tank in Lagos.

This will be the fourth attempt by Abubakar to win a presidential election mirroring Buhari’s 2015 elections win. He defected from the ruling APC party and re-joined PDP to win the presidential ticket. In a speech in London, Abubakar unveiled his plans to offer a matching grant of $250 million each to the 36 states of the federation to challenge them to enhance their internally generated revenue (IGR).

Meanwhile,just as the election was shaping up to be a contest between two male political veterans, Obiageli Ezekwesili, a woman with a strong track record in economic leadership has announced her presidential candidacy for the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN).

Ezekwesili,who is the co-founder of the #bringbackourgirls movement, is perhaps the most prominent woman to challenge for the top job.

Her campaign for the return of the 276 Chibok girls kidnapped in northern Nigeriain 2014 by Boko Haram sparked worldwide support and led to the return of more than 100 girls to their families.

Ezekwesili also served as the country’s education minister and Vice-President of the World Bank. In a speech to her party, Ezekwesili said the two men she faces represent a “mediocre political class that bumbles from one crisis to another”. Her campaign strategy is to position herself as the candidate bringing hope back to Nigeria by challenging the status quo.

Also as part of her strategy, Ezekwesili, 55, is trying to appeal to Nigeria’s youth by highlighting the lack of understanding of technological advances happening in the country by her challengers, Buhari, 75, and Abubakar, 71.

However, in spite of her immense appeal, perhaps the youth might just need a candidate of their own who understands their needs and can speak for a nation where more than 50% are under the age of 30.

They may just have their wish. A welcome development to this election is the reduction of the age by which Nigerians can contest the election for public office.

The bill, popularly referred to as the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Bill, reduces the age qualification for president from 40 to 35; governor from 35 to 30; senator from 35 to 30; House of Representatives membership from 30 to 25 and State House of Assembly membership from 30 to 25.

Bukunyi Olateru-Olagbegi, a 27-year-old entrepreneur and an up-and-coming political leader, has taken advantage of this new window to register his own political party, Modern Democratic Party. The party is putting education at the top of its agenda and calling for the youth of Nigeria to stand together and have a unified voice.


Bukunyi Olateru-Olagbegi. Picture: Supplied

“We offer hope. Ours is a generation that is young, bold and open to possibilities. We believe that if hope can be returned to the heart of the common man/woman, they may once again start to believe in things becoming better. Right now, a lot of parties sing the word ‘hope’ and yet their internal democracy itself is hopeless,” he says.

“The masses are not blind. They see the internal wrangling in these political parties on the pages of newspapers. How then can they truly believe in a message of hope by these same people? Our youthfulness and firm grasp of the complexities and blistering pace of the world we live in today, easily make us,in our opinion, fit to lead. We understand the power of flexibility and we understand what ‘change’ really means. The world needs the youth right now, and we are finally ready to step up.”

He says his party is committed to building a structure capable of winning elections across all political spheres and levels with a resolution to put a spotlight on the downtrodden in society, a society that, according to Olateru-Olagbeji, is in critical need of deliverance from bad leadership.

“As a party, we hope to correct the present for the sake of the future; we hope to harness the mental and resources of my generation with fresh ideas and innovation because this generation is not tied to the prejudices and biases of the ones before us, we don’t see tribe, religion and even gender; we are united in our hunger for success. We hope to inspire a generation of young Nigerians and Africans to work at building our nation and continent, community by community, till we become the leading and ruling party,” he says.

The political atmosphere leading up to February is extremely tense.

No matter who is contending for the top job, one thing is certain,Nigerians need a new economy, one that provides them with opportunities for growth and prosperity, and they need that, yesterday.

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US President attacks SA’s land expropriation intentions, rand slides

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South Africa’s land expropriation without compensation intentions have caught the attention of United States President Donald Trump.

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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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