17 June 2017

Africa: U.S. Role in Africa 'May Not Change'

Donald Trump has said almost nothing about Africa since becoming president of the United States five months ago.

His proposed State Department Budget, meanwhile, seeks cuts in programmes important to Kenya and most of the Sub-Sahara.

In addition, the top US diplomatic post for Africa remains unfilled.

Despite the inaction and the austerity rhetoric, there are several indications that the US role in Africa may not differ much from the approaches taken by Barack Obama and George W Bush.

Recent comments by senior officials echo Obama and Bush administration statements regarding the African Growth and Opportunity Act preferential trade programme, the International Criminal Court, South Sudan, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo and gay rights.

PREVENTING FAMINE

In a meeting with the Pope last month, Trump expressed commitment to preventing famine in Africa and Yemen.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told a business summit on Wednesday that the Trump administration saw merit in the Agoa, initiated by President Clinton and renewed by Presidents Bush and Obama.

"Countries that meet the Agoa eligibility requirements will include the continent's major success stories in the future," Ross said in a keynote speech to a gathering attended by African ministers and business executives.

African leaders who had hoped for a weakened US stand on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex identities might have been disappointed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's June 7 pledge to "support the human rights of LGBTI persons together with like-minded governments...".

RIGHTS DEFENDERS

Tillerson further affirmed State Department's "solidarity with rights defenders and civil society organisations around the world to uphold the fundamental freedom of LGBTI persons to live with dignity and freedom".

Remarks the following day by a US delegate to the UN showed that the current team may maintain its predecessor's ambiguous relationship with the ICC.

Responding to a presentation on Darfur by ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Deputy UN ambassador Michele Sison urged the Security Council to continue its backing for the court's efforts to prosecute Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

The US remains highly unlikely to join the ICC as a state party, but the Trump administration has signalled willingness to support the court when its actions coincide with US interests.

'WARM WELCOME'

"... it is unacceptable that President Bashir travels and receives warm welcome in certain quarters of the world - and unacceptable that none of the Sudanese officials with outstanding arrest warrants has been brought to justice," Sison said.

Addressing the council, the US envoy said: "We have consistently supported efforts to provide justice and accountability for crimes committed in Darfur and break the cycle of impunity".

At a Security Council meeting last month, Sison reiterated the Obama administration's condemnation of warfare waged by South Sudan.

She urged the council to adopt the additional sanctions and arms embargo sought by the Obama administration.

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