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What does Trump’s presidency spell for Africa?

What does Trump’s presidency spell for Africa?

Bereket Gebru 01-03-17

With the enhanced role of the U.S. in the world as the only superpower since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and the tighter grip of globalization, U.S. Presidential elections have become the interest of people from all over the world. The euphoria and optimism around the world during Barack Obama’s election in 2008 was a clear demonstration of the increasing significance of U.S. elections over the world.

That trend has not abated as the world seemed not to have lost its interest in U.S. elections as demonstrated by the large following of election developments during the recent Presidential election. The optimism surrounding Obama’s charge to the Presidency has nowadays been replaced by fear and suspicion of the major changes expected to take place under a Donald Trump presidency. His racist, sexist and far right stands have sent a wave of suspicion on what U.S. foreign policy is going to be like in the coming four years.

His negative remarks regarding almost all regions of the world have bread a sense of unpredictability about U.S. foreign policy in the coming four years. Continents like Africa have taken significant steps into trade partnership with the U.S. during the Obama administration as opposed to previous arrangements of aid appropriation and receipt. Steadily creeping out of its reference as the ‘dark continent,’ Africa would use less interference in its affairs and greater positive economic cooperation with the powerful.

Accordingly, this article sets out to project on the impacts of Trump’s policies on the continent of Africa. In so doing, it raises the president-elect’s major policy issues and analyzes their impacts on Africans and African states.

1.     Trade

Donald Trump repeatedly stated that he would work to promote American economic interests in trade. Accordingly, he opposed the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and called for fundamental changes to the Nafta pact with Mexico and Canada. He also threatened to impose 45% tariffs on goods from China.

His approach seems to be very pragmatic and devoid of measures to motivate smaller economies to trade with the U.S. with hopes of reaping the fruits in the long term. In light of such attitudes, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) enacted in the year 2000 to provide qualifying Sub-Saharan African countries of market access to the U.S. with no tariffs imposed could face a hard time. With Trump’s categorical denouncement of such motivational gestures, there are realistic fears that the AGOA might even be repealed.  

Another issue here is that Trump’s policies are very inward looking. He has set out to stop American companies from fleeing abroad and return those that have invested somewhere else in search for cheap labor and other incentives provided by governments. This inward looking approach could significantly reduce the recently improving U.S. investments in Africa.

The expected trade war with China during his presidency, on the other hand, might force American and European businesses to relocate to other regions such as Africa. Although the probability of such a scenario might be limited owing to the great harm the trade war could inflict on both economies and the world at large, small scale relocations could be realistic to expect.

2.     Foreign Policy

Numerous experts have indicated that Africa is going to slide down from its current position as a priority area in U.S. foreign policy under Donald Trump’s presidency. The adoption of the old fashioned approach to Africa by Donald Trump as just a recipient of aid than an economic partner is expected to cool down growing engagements with the U.S.

The incoming U.S. administration’s policy is rather expected to be driven by security and Sino-expansion concerns. With Trump’s proclaimed hard stance on “Islamic terrorism,” Africa is going to be a key battle ground. The new government needs to deal with African countries to advance its anti-terrorist goals in the continent. As reflected in his campaign slogan of “making America great again,” Donald looks to trump Chinese expansion across the globe. With the African continent currently more closely engaged with the Chinese than the Americans, the foreign policy priorities are expected to be geared towards changing that reality.

Aid has always been a tool of U.S. foreign policy towards Africa. "About a third of American foreign aid is directed at health programmes, and much of that at Africa," ISS researcher Zachary Donnenfeld wrote. "This means that any reduction in American foreign aid will have far-reaching effects on health outcomes on the continent.” Despite the facts, Trump feels American generosity has gotten to a point where it is neglecting its own citizens while providing others with the aid that keeps them going. To anyone who knows the politics of aid, that just sounds like naivety. Therefore, there are some that expect reduced American aid to Africa during his presidency.

If these expectations turn out to be true, the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) - which provided millions of people with the drugs to help them fight HIV - is at least going to suffer from lack of funds if it is not repealed at all. U.S. funds used to fight malaria might also fall victims to the expected policy change.

The power Africa Initiative that aims to expand access to energy in African countries could also have the same fate as Pepfar and Agoa. Trump’s intent to slash corporate income tax from 35% to 15% would significantly reduce governmental income. The lack of governmental income would also be accentuated by the large amounts of budget set for programs like these that fund projects abroad. Therefore, the Trump administration is expected to completely wipe out such projects.  

Some of his alleged comments about Africans and Muslims might also prove to be a stumbling block to improved relations. stated that during a rally in Wichita, Kansas Trump remarked that they need to get rid of the Muslims, Mexicans and Africans, particularly the Nigerians, to make America great again. The report quotes him as saying:


We need to get the Africans out, not the blacks, the Africans! They are everywhere. They’re in Houston taking our jobs. Why can’t they stay in their own country? Why? I tell you why. They are corrupt. Their governments are so corrupt, they rob the people blind and bring it all here to spend. And their people run away and come down here and take our jobs! We can’t have that! If I become President, we’ll send them all home. We’ll build a wall at the Atlantic shore. Then maybe we’ll re-colonize them because obviously, they did not learn a damn thing from the British.  

With his perpetual negative remarks about Muslims, Trump is understandably extremely hated by Muslims all around the world. With Africa constituting a large population of Muslims, international and state relations with these countries would definitely be strained.

3.     Climate Change

Trump has called global warming a hoax invented by China to make U.S. manufacturers uncompetitive and vowed to “cancel” the Paris climate agreement, which built on a deal Obama struck with China. He also said he would stop all US payments for UN global warming programs.

As the biggest polluter in the world until a few years ago, America has the responsibility of righting its wrongs. The international climate accords provide the superpower with a chance to redeem itself at least by helping developing countries attain a greener path to development. The outright denial of climate change by Trump not only closes the door on redeeming itself but also exacerbates the problems by piling on the harm done so far through climate unfriendly projects.  

Considering international climate change accords would help Africa finance its climate initiatives, cancelation of international agreements and withdrawal of U.S. payments would go a long way towards hurting their viability. That problem would also be worsened by the increased amount of pollution that comes out of the surge in coal, petroleum and other polluting investments.    


U.S. African relations are generally expected to suffer following the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President. The slashing of governmental budget and the negative attitude to Africans and Muslims by the Trump administration would make it hard for Africans to pursue fruitful relations with their condescending American counterparts.

A positive development for Africa under Trump’s leadership could be the expected lower attention on the continent. If the continent really goes down the list of U.S. priorities, that could translate to less bullying and interference. That, in turn, spells a period of less conflicts and more peace.  




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