18 November 2016

Africa: U.S. Experts Urge Trump to Engage Africa

Photo: Spc. Zayid Ballesteros
United States special forces train troops from NIger: While Africa policy was not debated during the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump as candidate and president consistently emphasized his commitment to fighting terrorism.

Atlanta — Top U.S experts who have advised Republican leaders on Africa are concerned about President-elect Donald J. Trump's failure to include any Africans, except Egypt’s ruler, in the first round of calls to foreign heads of state. Two of the advisors are urging Trump to pay attention to the continent, which they argue would serve American business and national security interests.

In a guest column published by AllAfrica, Herman J. (“Hank”) Cohen, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa in the administration of the first President Bush, says the Trump administration would do well to maintain President Barack Obama's “excellent” programs to boost electricity supply and modernize agriculture in Africa, known respectively as Power Africa and Feed the Future.

The programs are good for American national interests, Cohen says: “Under 'Power Africa', American investors can make good profits selling electric power to African utilities while also contributing to African development – a win-win situation. As for agriculture modernization, the more food that Africa produces on its own, the less food the United States will have to send as humanitarian assistance.”

Writing in the Washington political newspaper, The Hill, this week, an Africa policy expert viewed by the city's insiders as one of those being considered as Assistant Secretary for Africa in  the Trump administration says Africa stands out as an area in which the administration could notch up “some early leadership successes.”

J. Peter Pham, who advised both the 2008 presidential campaign of Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign, wrote that Trump's foreign policy approach should include a “significant African dimension” on account of the continent's “economic dynamism as well as the very real security, humanitarian and developmental challenges that are still found there...”

Pham highlighted the fact that a high proportion of a number of key mineral resources are found in Africa, which is also home to six of 13 of the world's fastest growing economies.

He underlined the potential of Africa policy to win bipartisan support, giving as an example the African Growth and Opportunity Act—the initiative allowing duty-free imports to the U.S. of African goods under certain conditions - which has been pursued by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

“[On] a range of issues relating to that increasingly strategically important continent, there is a potential agenda for action which the incoming Trump administration, supported by its Republican majorities in Congress, might find common ground with Democrats,” Pham wrote.

Both Cohen and Pham said the fight against militants such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, AQIM in the Maghreb and al-Shabaab in Somalia are important for U.S. national security.

The Trump transition team revealed on Wednesday that the president-elect had spoken to 29 world leaders, including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. All but President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt were from Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Australasia.

In spite of the advice to remain engaged with Africa, there are signs that bipartisan consensus "that has been the cornerstone" of U.S.-Africa policy for the last three administrations could be upended by the Trump administration, according to Witney Schneidman, who served in the State Department under President Bill Clinton. In  an AllAfrica guest column last week, Schneidman warned "there is every reason to expect that, under a Trump administration, the U.S. will be less engaged in Africa especially where it concerns the expenditure of taxpayer resources on economic development initiatives."

Whatever the downside, Trump's unexpected win provides Africa with a "business opportunity in the making," according to  Mima Nedelcovych, CEO of the Initiative for Global Development. In response to Trump's 'America first' approach, he wrote in a blog, African leaders need to promote growth and attract investors by working "to improve regulatory environments, build an educated and skilled workforce, and expand access to finance."

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