16 January 2018

Africa: Trump Vulgar Comment Shows 'Dismissive' Attitude Toward Africa - Analysts

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
United States President Donald Trump

New York - US President Donald Trump's reported reference to Africa as a collection of "shithole" countries is consistent with his contemptuous treatment of the continent during his first year in office, US analysts suggest.

Mr Trump's "dismissive" attitude became evident six months ago when he walked out of a gathering of world leaders just as they were beginning a discussion of partnership with Africa, notes Steve McDonald, a specialist in African affairs at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington.

In a September address to African leaders gathered in New York, Mr Trump made mention of a country -- "Nambia" -- that does not exist. And that event marked the president's first significant public engagement with Africa since taking office on January 20, 2017.

Mr Trump's recent vulgar comments, confirmed by some US lawmakers attending a White House meeting last Thursday, demonstrate that the president is a racist, Mr McDonald said.

ANTI-BLACK BIGOTRY

His anti-black bigotry was first highlighted in 1973, Mr McDonald recalled, when the US Justice Department sued Mr Trump and his father, the founder of the Trump New York real-estate empire, for systematically discriminating against African-Americans in housing leases.

The Trump administration's disregard and disrespect could also be seen in its "poor response" to Kenya's elections-related political crisis, Mr McDonald added.

"There could have been far more pressure on President Kenyatta to move expeditiously" toward resolving the political deadlock occasioned by the Supreme Court's nullification of the first presidential election in August, he suggested.

The US "basically stood back and watched," Mr McDonald said.

KENYANS DISAPPOINTED

Former US Ambassador to Kenya Mark Bellamy acknowledged that "many Kenyans were disappointed with the US and Western reaction to the flawed 2017 elections".

But there was no willingness on the part of the US and its allies to reprise their full-on political response to Kenya's breakdown following the 2007 elections, Mr Bellamy said.

"Regrettably, this is a new international norm," he commented.

But the former ambassador, now a senior Africa advisor at a Washington think-tank, also observed that current ambassador, Robert Godec, and some of his diplomatic colleagues in Nairobi "worked effectively to ensure Kenya did not slide into large-scale violence".

Overall, the Trump administration's engagement with Africa in 2017 was "reactive and episodic," Mr Bellamy said.

NO US-AFRICA POLICY

There is no coherent US policy toward Africa at present, he noted, in part because the administration "has not yet identified or put into office the personnel who would prepare and execute such a policy".

Several Washington-based Africa analysts pointed to a vacuum in Africa policymaking at the State Department that is expanding as senior officials retire or take jobs outside government out of dismay over Mr Trump's performance.

Morale is said to have declined precipitously in response to budget cuts and White House indifference toward programmes focused on democracy and human rights in Africa.

But US humanitarian aid and Africa-related health initiatives popular in Congress will likely continue, Mr Bellamy predicted.

Similarly, he noted, "US military activities in Africa will continue and possibly expand in response to perceived terrorist threats that affect US interests."

SOMALIA

Such escalation has been particularly evident in Somalia where the number of US strikes on Shabaab targets in Mr Trump's first year in power almost matched the total number of aerial attacks during Barack Obama's eight years in office.

While the stepped-up offensive against Shabaab has eliminated some of the group's leaders, "air power alone, however, will not change Somalia's strategic landscape," cautioned Paul Williams, a Somalia specialist and professor at George Washington University.

"Key now is to get genuine political consensus on Somalia's new national security architecture and building effective local security forces," Mr Williams said.

But Washington appears unlikely to push Somalia's leaders in that direction, added the author of a forthcoming Oxford University Press book on Amisom.

Mr Williams noted that "the US is currently without an ambassador [to Somalia] and it's difficult to see much investment in diplomacy by the Trump administration."

SOUTH SUDAN

It is also difficult to foresee US military involvement in South Sudan despite the president's predilection for armed action in parts of Africa.

Direct intervention aimed at ending South Sudan's ruinous four-year civil war is "beyond US interest or capacity," commented Joshua Meservey, a senior Africa analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

But the Trump administration -- generally viewed favourably by the Heritage Foundation -- must follow through on repeated threats to take strong punitive action against South Sudan's leading belligerents, Mr Meservey added.

Failure to make good on such warnings has led the South Sudan government to view the US as "a paper tiger," Mr Meservey said.

However, he suggested that the Trump administration is more likely than the Obama administration to hit warring parties in South Sudan with painful financial and political punishments.

One factor, Mr Meservey said, is that the Trump team does not include key figures protective of President Salva Kiir.

Susan Rice, national security advisor for part of Mr Obama's second term, had been viewed in the past as friendly toward Mr Kiir.

In addition, Mr Meservey said, "This administration's worldview is less naive than the previous administration's."

SECURITY STRATEGY PAPER

A more realistic outlook regarding Africa was apparent in Mr Trump's recently issued US national security strategy paper, the analyst observed.

In it, Mr Meservey said, the president presented "a clear-eyed view of China" as a strategic competitor with the US for economic and political influence in Africa.

Insofar as President Trump takes an interest in Africa beyond the anti-terrorism dimension, his approach is primarily business-oriented.

In his September address to African leaders, Mr Trump cited the continent's "tremendous business potential" that, he said, has attracted many of his friends who are "trying to get rich" through their dealings in Africa.

Despite this focus, the Trump administration is "unlikely to develop any original economic or development initiatives vis-a-vis Africa, as have all past US administrations," former Kenya Ambassador Bellamy warned.

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