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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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‘South Africans Love Martyrs’

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The first 100 days of any presidency are often harshly scrutinized as they set the tone for what citizens expect. South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa is under the magnifying glass as all await his next tactical move.


At the end of May, South Africa’s sixth democratically-elected president, Cyril Ramaphosa, took an oath of office at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria. In his speech, he touched on many issues that resonate with South Africans, including corruption, poverty, equality and youth unemployment.

These burning matters prelude what is to be expected from him in his first 100 days in office.

Ramaphosa’s period at the helm of power (before the elections) has been typified by repeated calls for a ‘New Dawn’. It seems the man who made it to the 2019 Time magazine list of 100 Most Influential in the world has a laundry list of issues to attend to if he is to set the tone for the rest of his presidency.

READ MORE | IN PICTURES | Looking Back At The Vibe Of The South African Elections

The challenge that has deeply affected how South Africans and investors view the country is that of corruption.

“Let us forge a compact for an efficient, capable and ethical state, a state that is free of corruption, for companies that generate social value and propel human development… We must be a society that values excellence, rewards effort and rejects mediocrity,” Ramaphosa said at his inauguration on May 25.

 In the first 100 days, analysts say he needs to demonstrate he is a proactive leader; one who takes decisive action to address the plight of those who live in a society as unequal as South Africa. The gaping chasm between the richest and poorest has widened since the end of apartheid 25 years ago. This information is not lost on citizens whose lived experiences and disenchantment were in evidence during the elections.

A specialist in social economic development and political commentator, Kim Heller, is of the view that Ramaphosa has some way to go to address the resolutions of his party, the African National Congress (ANC).

 “There are critical social maladies that need to be treated with the urgency they deserve… One of the key things people are looking for is a decisive man and decisive leadership,” she says.

Political analyst, Prince Mashele, ventures: “He is yet to act on resolutions because he is navigating complex political infighting in the ANC, which is why he can’t move boldly and faster…”

Economic transformation has been seen to also imply redistribution of the means of production, which currently has been reiterated in the call for land redistribution without compensation. This is among the duties citizens and investors will keep a close eye on as it is a contentious matter.

Leading up to the elections, Ramaphosa said to apprehensive farmers, “the land reform process is something we should never fear. It is going to be done in terms of the constitution”.

Heller says that, “the question of land is unresolved, despite very solid ANC resolutions from branches, and despite extensive consultation”.

The president will to have to choose whether he wants to be investor-friendly or whether he wants the interests of his own political party to find expression in policy.

“The investors have become the supreme branch of the ANC. So Ramaphosa certainly, is spending a lot of time on their concerns rather than ordinary people…,” Heller says.

READ MORE | Poll Position: The South African 2019 Elections

Mashele echoes: “He has been a market-friendly president. He has railed against his comrades calling for the nationalization of the [South African] Reserve Bank”.

Another matter influencing investment into the country is red tape that inhibits instead of encouraging business. South Africa dropped from 34 out of 181 countries on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking in 2009 to 82 out of 192 countries last year, leaving the country trailing its African peers, including Mauritius (20), Rwanda (29) and Kenya (61).

In his address to the nation, Ramaphosa continued with the mantra thuma mina (which means ‘send me’) and committed to continue to build South Africa. In his rebuilding, he will have to take a closer look at the factors that infringe on those looking to conduct business while straddling the line in ensuring that (natural) resources are not further depleted while failing to trickle down to those who need it the most.

Heller is of the view that the expectations created by the president serve as a double-edged sword: “Some quarters have built him up to be the Messiah we have all been waiting for. He may have embraced that but it’s actually going to damage him. Because there is no individual who can save this country without looking at doing serious things in terms of economic restructuring… Until we address structural issues in this country, shifting the economy to favor ordinary people, not markets, we actually aren’t very benevolent.”

Also affecting business has been the view that South Africa is amongst the most corrupt on the continent and viewed as one of the murder capitals of the world. The Zondo Commission has illustrated the stark reality of the malfeasance the president will have to address to change these perceptions and in so doing, hold high-profile individuals accountable.

READ MORE | Ticking The Right Boxes: Will The South African Elections Come Down To The Wire?

 In line with building an equal society, the president made mention of the prevalence of violence against women at his inauguration.

“Let us end the dominion that men claim over women, the denial of opportunity, the abuse and the violence, the neglect, and the disregard of each person’s equal rights. Let us build a truly non-racial society, one that belongs to all South Africans, and in which all South Africans belong. Let us build a society that protects and values those who are vulnerable and who for too long have been rendered marginal,” Ramaphosa said.

Leading up to the resolution of the president’s first 100 days in office, the public is watching with bated breath. 

“I pity him. He’s made big promises on housing and unemployment. Those are not going to magically change overnight. The problem with South Africa is that we love martyrs and here we have a president that we have martyred and who is actually going to fall on that. To replace one man with another, is not going to replace problematic policies, poor implementation and poor conceptualization of economic solutions. So I think in the next 100 days, I don’t expect to see anything unless the fundamentals are changed,” Heller says.     

No doubt, it is going to take a concerted effort from all institutions, including those that have been revealed to be compromised. The first 100 days will certainly determine the rest of the president’s term in office.

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IN PICTURES | Looking Back At The Vibe Of The South African Elections

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FORBES AFRICA’s photojournalists immortalize the tension and elation of the South African elections in May that saw the African National Congress win for the sixth time since 1994.


In what was a landmark 25 years since the first democratic elections, South Africa registered, voted and elected the African National Congress (ANC) for the sixth time to govern the nation again for the next five years. The 2019 elections saw many surprises and plenty more political action compared to the previous polls.

 In the run-up to election day, political parties (48 in all) emphasized the country’s socio-economic challenges such as unemployment, education, housing and the contentious issue of land expropriation.  

On May 8, the day the country cast its vote, voters woke early to congregate and line up at the 22,924 voting stations strewn across the country.

FORBES AFRICA’s photojournalists immortalize the tension and elation of the South African elections in May that saw the African National Congress win for the sixth time since 1994. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

I was among them, a citizen also doubling as a photojournalist on the quest to document this historic election, my camera strapped around my neck and my constant companion. 

This Wednesday morning was particularly cold but voters were in sweaters and armed with their identity books to have a say in South African politics with an ‘X’ mark on the ballot paper.

Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), was among those at the Presbyterian Church in Dobsonville, Soweto; the township where he was born.

Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

His arrival created a frenzy as international and local media wrestled with each other for the perfect shot.

After casting his vote and walking out of the church, he addressed the public.

“On such a historic day, it is important to vote in Soweto with the people of Soweto to express hope and a future for our country. Soweto, to me, represents the home of where the struggle is and now we’re entering into a new struggle for jobs for many South Africans. I remember, vividly and well, when I played in these streets and I remember too well the release of Nelson Mandela, therefore today, I urge that we come and cast our votes,” Maimane said.

He spoke about the new struggle.

“To me, there could be nothing more special, nothing more historic than being able to express our future. Vote for the future of this country and for the unemployed South Africans; it’s a new struggle and we are fighting for the protection of freedom and advancement of freedom.”   

Post the election results, Maimane was the first DA leader to not have grown more supporters, whereas the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), with the third highest number of votes, gained more in all South African provinces except the Northern Cape.

A few kilometers from Dobsonville is Mzimhlophe Hostel. A hostel among many others in Soweto that erupted with service delivery protests prior to the elections. On election day, it was more peaceful and locals were going about their daily lives.

Kwenzi Gwala standing outside what is left of his shack. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

In the same vicinity is a squatter camp (informal settlement) allegedly set on fire weeks before the elections.

Residents and brothers Mduduzi (32) and Kwenzi Gwala (22) came to Johannesburg looking for employment.

“This is my first time voting this year; I wish the economy could strengthen so we can move out of the squatter camps and live in houses. Our camp burned around the Easter holidays while we were at church. We used to sell African beer and our stock got burned along with the money and clothes that were inside. All we have is what we are wearing now,” Kwenzi says.

About 12 kilometers away was where national president and president of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa cast his vote in his hometown of Chiawelo, at a local primary school.

National president and president of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa cast his vote in his hometown of Chiawelo. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

The supporters of various parties, the media and voters were out in full force to witness their president in Soweto.

“The nation and the people are energized. They can see their votes are heralding a new dawn. This is a vote that reminds me of 1994 when the people were just as excited as this because they were heralding a new period, a new future for our country,” said Ramaphosa.

“Today, this is what I am picking up, our people are excited about what lies tomorrow and they want to vote for a government that is going to serve them, that is going to address their needs and aspirations. So, I am truly humbled by the turnout that I’ve seen here.

“There is a great vibe and it’s a vibe for democracy, it’s a vote also for our democratic system that we’ve been building over the last 25 years. So, 25 years later, we still have a nation that is breathing confidence and excitement casting their vote. Today, I will go home to sleep very peacefully like I did last night.

Brother of South African journalist Shiraaz Mohamed, kidnapped in Syria on January 2017, begs for government intervention. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

“This vote is about confidence, it is about the future and it is about us that are going to be elected to work a lot harder, much harder than we have in the past to realize the ideals, wishes and hopes of our people, so this, to me, is like a rocket booster for democracy and we are going to build a great country because we will be doing so standing on the shoulders of our people,” Ramaphosa said.

Like the DA, the ANC lost more supporters nationally; Gauteng province was the gold prize, for the first time since 1999, the ANC had to battle to remain above 50% to secure the province.

Motlabana Monnakgotla

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May Will Be Gone In June Ending Months Of Political Battering And Speculation

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British Prime Minister Teresa May – just under three years into the job – says she will step down on June 7.

This follows a hammering, from both sides of the house, over her clumsy handling of the Brexit process. She has lost countless votes in Parliament over a Brexit deal and was seen by many in politics as weak and dithering. It is ironic that May herself voted to keep Britain in Europe, only to see her career expire as she struggled to make the opposite happen.

READ MORE | Chilling Words From The Man Who Broke The Bank Of England

Her heartfelt farewell speech on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street concluded that she had done her best to make Britain a better place not merely for the privileged few, but also for the whole population.

The supreme irony is that her shuffling off of the Prime Minister’s job will see the shuffling in one of Britain’s best known members of the privileged few. Eton and Oxford educated Boris Johnson is likely to step in as leader of May’s Conservative party ahead of what surely is going to be a snap election.   

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