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'Donald Trump and Africa'

'Donald Trump and Africa'
Chris Akor
Published date:
Thursday, 02 March 2017
Christopher Akor

Question: Doesn’t it badly distort reality to call something that creates large numbers of jobs for American workers “foreign aid”?

Are actions that greatly increase our export earnings “foreign aid”?

Is it “foreign aid” when we help to secure for ourselves new sources of essential raw materials?

Throughout the American presidential campaign, Donald Trump was largely silent on Africa. His views about the continent have been a mystery, but recent events are beginning to give a picture of where he stands in relation to the continent. Earlier in the week, his administration presented a proposal to increase defence spending by as much as $54 billion next year. However, what caught the eye was how to Mr Trump plans to fund the increase. White House officials say the President will call for a significant cut in foreign aid to help pay for the increases in Pentagon spending. This, we must admit, is in keeping with his “America First” policy and in his words; America has “to start winning wars again”.

But his real scepticism about foreign aid came to fore upon examining the sets of questions his transition team sent to the State Department last year. State Department, Pentagon and African specialists are unanimous in their assessment that the framing and tone of the questions suggests a president that wants a US retreat from humanitarian and development goals, while at the same time pushing for more business opportunities in the continent. The New York Times published a list of the questions to include:

“How does U.S. business compete with other nations in Africa? Are we losing out to the Chinese?”

“With so much corruption in Africa, how much of our funding is stolen? Why should we spend these funds on Africa when we are suffering here in the U.S.?”

Of particular importance to Nigerians is a question related to the US Participation in the war against the Boko Haram terrorists. The New York Times paraphrased it thus:

On terrorism, the document asks why the United States is even bothering to fight the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, why all of the schoolgirls kidnapped by the group have not been rescued and whether Qaeda operatives from Africa are living in the United States.

“We’ve been fighting al-Shabaab for a decade, why haven’t we won?”

“We’ve been hunting Kony for years, is it worth the effort?”

The questions didn’t also spare AGOA – African Growth and Opportunity Act. The Act, enacted by the Cliton administration and upheld by successive administrations, significantly enhances market access to the US for qualifying Sub-Saharan African countries. The Trump transition team challenges the benefits.

“Most of AGOA imports are petroleum products, with the benefits going to national oil companies, why do we support that massive benefit to corrupt regimes?”

The questions also reflect the thinking of President Trump on the continent on the few times he has said anything about the continent. During the Ebola crisis in 2014 for instance, Mr Trump argued on twitter that Americans infected with the virus should not be allowed back into the United States. As two American health workers became critically ill and were airlifted to Atlanta for treatment, Mr. Trump Twitted: “Stop the EBOLA patients from entering the U.S. Treat them, at the highest level, over there. The United States has enough problems!”

Inevitably, a question on the Ebola epidemic also came up: “How, do we prevent the next Ebola outbreak from hitting the U.S.?”

True, the framing and tone of the questions show, according to J. Stephen Morrison, an “overwhelmingly negative and disparaging outlook” on the African continent. An assumption that runs through the entire questions is whether Africa really matters to US interests at all.

It is therefore not surprising that the first expenditure line Mr Trump is proposing to cut off is the about $8 billion cumulative aid package to the entire Sub-Saharan Africa.

But while many are understandably disturbed, I see a window of opportunity here. Africa stands to benefit more from the United States promoting business opportunities in Africa than being mere beneficiaries of aid packages.

Like I have argued elsewhere, by its very nature, foreign aid is an instrument for promoting the donor country’s economic and foreign interests. It may benefit the receiver, but the benefit to the giver is real and indubitable. It was first used on a large scale by the US after World War II to help rebuild the economies of Western Europe and to help contain the Soviet expansion in the aftermath of World War II. An unstated reason was also the desire of the U.S. policy makers to ensure a Europe that would provide a buoyant market for American exports.

President Truman had earlier warned that “without a new aid programme there would be sharp drop in American export”. President Kennedy, in responding to criticisms over his administration’s emphasis on foreign aid said “I wish American businessmen who keep talking against the [foreign aid] programme would realise how significant it has been in assisting them to get into markets where they would have no entry and no experience and which has traditionally been European…”Paul Gray Hooffman, the great American aid administrator, once admitted to the fabulous benefits of foreign aids in an article in fortune Magazine; “Doesn’t it badly distort reality to call something that creates large numbers of jobs for American workers “foreign aid”? Are actions that greatly increase our export earnings “foreign aid”? Is it “foreign aid” when we help to secure for ourselves new sources of essential raw materials? Is it “foreign aid” when we follow a course that could eventually lower the cost of goods and services Americans need every day?”

Already, the Pentagon, the Chief beneficiary of the proposed aid cut is opposed to the idea. Several former Pentagon officials, including some retired generals and admirals in a letter to congressional leaders argued that “elevating and strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defence are critical to keeping America safe” and prosperous if I may add.

Some of the administration’s insiders have come out to say, for instance, that they do not think Mr Trump will abolish the AGOA pact because the pact has created more than 120, 000 jobs in the United States since its inception.

But I expect African governments to begin to reject these so-called aid packages and push for business opportunities instead. Imagine the benefits Nigeria could derive, for instance, from concessioning the West and East rail lines to General Electric. GE will not only run a very profitable business, but it will help solve one of Nigeria’s teething problems – how to effectively and securely transport goods, services and people from one part of the country to another. That will help transform the economy of Nigeria and will do much more than all the aid packages Nigeria has received ever will.

By Chris Akor


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