Trump's 100 Days in Office: The Highs and Lows for Africa
Dr Neha Sinha, Associate Fellow, VIF

April 29th, 2017 ushered in hundred days of Donald Trump’s presidency. Many media outlets have examined the significance of his presidency for the United States of America (USA), and also, for the country’s foreign policy. It is but natural that his foreign policy elements are under immense scrutiny vis-a-vis some key geographies. Trump administration’s views on Africa were undisclosed prior to inauguration. Opinions were split on how Trump’s relation was going to be with respect to the continent, given the relatively cordial and mutual stance of his predecessor. Trump’s moves since 20th January, 2017 highlighted his attitude towards the continent. Through a mix of arms deals, proposed budget cuts and an attempted travel ban, USA president Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office have had an impact on Africa (Quartz Africa, 2017). Trump Administration has emphasised security issues, but neglected social sector in Africa.

Within days of taking office, Trump signed an executive order on immigration that barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States of America for 90 days. There was also a ban in the admission of refugees for 120 days. The three African countries that were targeted sparking uncertainty and protests where Sudan, Libya, and Somalia. It left refugees waiting for resettlement in a state of despair. Travelers were detained for hours, sometimes with their children. Further these people suffered no access to lawyers or food across the American airports. Such orders have now been blocked in the USA courts. It was in March 2017, that the Trump administration prohibited passengers traveling from several airports in West Asia and North Africa from bringing laptops and tablets on board. Egypt Air and Royal Air Maroc, were among the big carriers affected, both of which fly from Cairo and Casablanca directly to the United States of America.

In his first hundred days, Trump has also been in contact with several African presidents to discuss the future of the relationship between those countries and the United States in order to strengthen their relation. His first meeting with an African leader was when Egyptian leader Abdel Fatteh Al Sisi met him in Washington DC. There Trump spoke about the desire to help fight Islamic State militants. Trump’s main focus in Africa is around strengthening security in the region. In February that President Trump and President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria discussed cooperation on security, economic, and governance priorities. Trump also expressed specific support to Nigeria for the sale of aircraft from the United States in order to support the fight against Boko Haram (Marima Sow, 2017). This was done over a phone call to the President of Nigeria. Furthermore Trump and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa discussed ways to expand cooperation and trade in order to bring an increase in the collaboration between the two countries on security issues. Trump also came in contact with the President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta in March. He showed his concern over the state of security in East Africa by praising Kenya’s efforts in combating al-Shabab and its contribution to the African Union Mission in Somalia. The leaders of the two countries also talked about ways to increase bilateral trade and investment in Kenya. Trump also called the president of Tunisia, Beji Caid Essebsi, to talk about the North African country’s democratic transition and counterterrorism partnership. Apart from this, Trump deployed dozens of American soldiers to help train and equip the Somali army for the first time since American forces withdrew from Somalia in 1994. This move is considered as a sign of good intent of Trump’s commitment to fighting al-Shabaab in the region.

There is one notable concrete action taken by the President during these days which could have a great impact on Africa, i.e. the defunding of organizations that provide family planning services. The United States of Africa was the third-largest donor to UNFPA, granting it $75.9 million in 2015, but in early April, 2017, the State Department announced that they would be ending U.S. funding to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). It claimed that its operations violate an anti-abortion policy enacted by the Trump administration. President Trump also reinstated the global gag rule, which prevents any organization providing abortion services, information, counseling, or referrals from receiving United States of America’s federal funding. The reinstated rule could put women at risk of maternal mortality, in the absence of alternative sources of funding for family planning programmes, already, the maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa has been declining since 1990 (Marima Sow, 2017).

Today, East Africa is facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in 70 years. Nearly 16 million people are at risk of dying of hunger in South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria. The fiscal year 2018 budget plans to reduce funding to the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development by 28 percent. United Nation Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in February 2017, announced that $4.4 billion is needed by the end of March to avert a widespread hunger crisis in Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan. But Trump’s budget plans to reduce funding to the Department of State and USAID by 28 percent notifies that Africa specifically will see a budget cut of 13 percent. Countries like the Central African Republic, Niger, and Sierra Leone will lose all of their U.S. foreign aid. Cuts to the World Bank and the U.N. can significantly affect the world’s ability to deal with the crisis in East Africa. The proposed budget also eliminates the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) account. The program ensures that the U.S. has enough resources for refugee assistance. In 2014, $408.6 million was allocated to the African continent under the fund’s umbrella. A portion of the funds went toward assisting internally displaced people in South Sudan and south Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. The funds provided the refugees with access to clean water and sanitation, food, health care, gender-based violence protection, etc. With the continuing violence in South Sudan, cutting funding to ERMA could significantly affect the fate of refugees in the region. Programs such as the Famine Early Warning Systems Network are rumored to be eliminated, as well as the Office of Women’s Issues. The Bureau of Food Security will face budget cuts of 67.8 percent. The budget also proposes eliminating funding for the African Development Foundation (Marima Sow, 2017). The program is an independent federal agency, which supports African-led development by supporting community enterprises and providing them with seed capital and technical support. In 2016, the group invested $53 million in 500 active enterprises. Trump’s 2018 budget calls for the elimination of funding to the USA’s African Development Foundation, a grant-making agency that provides operational assistance, enterprise expansion and market linkage to early stage agriculture and energy and youth-led enterprises in sub-Saharan Africa. While the proposed budget aims to maintain its commitment to Pepfar, the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (established by George W Bush in 2003), it remains mum on other significant USA-Africa initiatives such as Power Africa, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and its military command in Africa, Africom.

The delays in the appointment of an assistant secretary of state for Africa has had the knockon effect of delaying messaging on USA-Africa developments. There are widespread concerns that Africa will be marginalised under the new USA administration. Given the changing global landscape and the emergence of other players seeking to expand their influence and power, not least China, Africa will not struggle to find support for its agenda. To maintain its dominance, the USA should move more quickly to articulate proactive engagement with Africa under the new administration (Aditi Lalbahadur, 2017). Given opposition in Congress to many of these cuts, these consequences, at the moment, remain only possibilities. Overall, if his first 100 days are any indication, it is quite possible the president will follow the trend of many of his predecessors, and leave Africa to much later in his term.

Far from being just the repository of the world’s mineral resources, Africa boasts a rapidly rising population while being home to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies. According to World Bank forecasts, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Tanzania are to grow at 6.9% to 7.7% between 2016 and 2020. These provide opportunities for consumer markets and expanded trade for both countries. The USA has not been immune to these opportunities. Africa enjoyed good relations with the United States under Barack Obama. He was instrumental in securing a bipartisan approval for the extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, for another 10 years, offering security to African countries dependent on access to USA markets, despite his administration gained some notoriety in South Africa in 2015-2016 over imports of cheap cuts of meat from the USA (Aditi Lalbahadur, 2017).

In these uncertain times, Africa’s strategic relevance remains clear for other world powers who recognise the mutual benefits of strategic, concerted engagement with the continent. The USA risks losing momentum in Africa, diminishing its power and sphere of influence. A more astute USA foreign policy would do well to prioritise the continent.

Endnotes

Abdur Rahman Alfa Shaban, 2017, ‘Trump's 100 days in office: The highs and lows for Africa’, Africanews.en,Nigeria.(http://www.africanews.com/2017/04/29/trump-s-100-days-in-office-the-highs-and-lows-for-africa//).

Aditi Lalbahadur, 2017, ‘100 Days of Trump: Africa seems to be a low priority’ Mail and Guardian. (https://mg.co.za/article/2017-05-02-100-days-of-trump-africa-seems-to-be-a-low priority).

Marima Sow, 2017 ‘Donald Trump’s first 100 days and Africa’, Africa in Focus.

Quartz Africa, 2017, ‘For Africa, Trump has been heavy on muscle but light on compassion’ (https://qz.com/971653/trumps-first-100-days-for-africa-heavy-on-muscle-but-light-on-compassion/).


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