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Why Africa should be high on Donald Trump's list of priorities

Thursday, 02 March 2017 Published: | Ricardo Reboredo

Source: The Conversation (UK)

Amid all the confusion over Donald Trump’s presidency, there are few clues about how his administration will approach the US’s relationship with Africa.

The continent was rarely mentioned in the run-up to election day, and so far, Trump’s only foray into African politics has been a pair of phone calls – one to President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, and one to President Jacob Zuma of South Africa.

But an examination of Trump’s rhetoric, likely priorities, and the economic realities facing Africa, paints a bleak picture for the continent over the next four years. A large scale re-examination of economic and political allegiances may be on the cards.

Security will likely be the dominant issue during the Trump administration. “Eliminating” Islamic terrorism is apparently one of the cornerstones of his foreign policy. So with Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and other groups operating throughout parts of the Africa, there are plenty of opportunities for close cooperation.

Indeed, security was the main topic touched upon in the phone calls to both African leaders. According to one of President Buhari’s aides, Trump told the Nigerian president that the US was willing to help Nigeria obtain “new military weapons to combat terrorism”.

The US’s presence on the continent is already highly militarised. The superpower has bases and security facilities spread across countries including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Kenya, Niger and Uganda. But an increasingly militarised view of the continent may hasten the decline of US soft power, especially if combined with expected changes to American trade and aid policies.

African economies remain highly dependent on the extraction and export of natural resources such as gold, diamonds and other metals. But economic progress simply has not happened on a large enough scale throughout the continent. The apparent surge which led to talk in the media of “Africa Rising” was a combination of high commodity prices, debt relief programs and a glut of primary sector foreign investment. In fact, Africa’s position within the international labour market remains largely unchanged from the late colonial period.

The US’s main trade agreement on the continent, the “African Growth and Opportunity Act” (AGOA), was designed to stimulate manufacturing growth by providing certain African entrepreneurs tariff free access to the US market. This two way trade is valued at approximately US$36 billion.

The AGOA supports approximately 120,000 export related jobs within the US and does not expire until 2025. However, recent evidence suggests that foreign entrepreneurs, mostly of Chinese origin, have often been the main beneficiaries. Detractors contend that the AGOA has been used as a backdoor to get Chinese goods into the US. Despite these reports, it is important to note these manufacturing clusters provide employment opportunities for thousands of Africans and encourage technology and skills transfers which can boost local growth.

  • Ricardo Reboredo, PhD Candidate in Geography, Trinity College Dublin

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