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Four more years of Donald Trump bodes ill for the future of Africa

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Dr David Monyae is the Director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

The Trump Administration has had a dismissive and patronising approach to Africa, including Trump describing the continent in very insulting and derogatory ways, calling some African countries ‘shitholes’. However, if the US wants to maintain its place at the pinnacle of the global pecking order, it needs Africa.

The 2020 United States presidential election is crucial and consequential for many reasons, ranging from America’s domestic issues such as race and the economy, to international issues such as America’s moral and political standing and influence in the world.

The Donald Trump Administration has lived up to the expectations and fears that Trump represented during his eccentric 2016 campaign. He has inflamed racial sentiment in domestic affairs, embraced conspiracy theorists that support him and withdrawn America from international treaties and agreements that he thought were to America’s detriment. He has also upped the ante in attacking China, the country that poses the greatest threat to America’s enduring standing as the most influential global power.

The coronavirus pandemic, which Trump calls “the China virus”, has added another complication to global politics, and to China-America rivalry in particular. America’s handling of the pandemic has been stunningly ineffectual and to deflect the backlash Trump has had to blame Democrats and some specialists within the US, and of course China at the international level. Indeed, the Sino-American rivalry has conjured up the spectre of a new Cold War.

The prospect of an emerging Cold War has global consequences because it means the rest of the world will be compelled to pick on which side its sympathies lie. This is likely to have major implications for Africa, a continent that needs strong relations with more developed regions of the world. Africa is also susceptible to superpower hectoring because of its weak economic situation and attendant lesser influence on global affairs.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has had a dismissive and patronising approach to Africa. Africa could scarcely forget the allegation that Trump described it in very insulting and derogatory ways. However, if the US wants to maintain its place at the pinnacle of the global pecking order, it needs Africa. Africa is the youngest continent, with almost 60% of the population under the age of 25, and its population is set to grow exponentially in the next 50 years. The US appreciates this, even though Trump’s actions might suggest otherwise. The fight against global terrorism, which has been a vital preoccupation of the US since 2001, can be assured of success only if Africa is brought to its centre. Lack of development in Africa creates a conducive environment for disgruntled citizens to gravitate towards extremist groups that rebel against ineffectual and corrupt governments.

In addition, mobilisation towards terrorist groups might escalate in Africa because the young population will continue to grow, adding more potential converts to terrorist groups, especially if Africa does not manage to provide sufficient employment and economic opportunities. For this reason, the US will need to work in close concert with countries where terrorist groups have been most active. These are countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia and now Mozambique.

All this, however, might to a great degree depend on the outcome of the November election in America. A victory for Trump would mean a continuation, if not an exacerbation, of what has been the case in the past four years. Trump would continue the current path because another victory could be an affirmation that his methods and views are working and are appreciated by voters. This, however, could bode ill for certain parts of American society and for many parts of the world, Africa included.

For Africa, the issue of immigration and duress applied to Africa to disengage from China in the political and technological sphere will come to the fore. However, America will have to show wilful and obvious intent to engage with the continent as an important region for future global politics. Emigration has been pivotal to propping up some of Africa’s faltering economies. South Sudan, for example, received remittance flows from its emigrants to wealthier foreign countries of $1.3-billion in 2019 which is about 34% of the country’s GDP. Nigeria received by far the largest remittance flows with $23.8-billion followed by Ghana ($3.5-billion) and Kenya ($2.8-billion).

These numbers go to the very heart of what hostility to emigration could entail. It is inarguable that countries should be vigilant in admitting migrants. However, vigilance and strictness should not usurp the importance of fairness and humanity in the case of refugees.

The November election is important to Africa for more reasons than the aforementioned ones. It could also dictate the political texture of the continent. The Obama Administration tried to be normative in its relations with Africa, by urging African governments to adhere to the tenets of democracy and to put constitutions and the well-being of citizens before the ambitions of rulers.

This has changed under the Trump Administration, as seen even in America itself where some expectations of democracy have been brazenly eroded. Trump has characterised peaceful protesters as terrorists and anarchists, among other unsavoury descriptions. Police brutality has been excused. Trump has gone further to express misgivings about the credibility of America’s voting system. This is an indirect hint that, should he lose the upcoming election, he might not concede defeat.

What would this mean for Africa with another four years of Trump? The US-African relationship would likely revert to what it was during the Cold War. America would establish strong bonds with African leaders who distance themselves from China, irrespective of the democratic credentials of such leaders. This, in turn, would mean extensions of term limits in Africa would be met with indifference if not encouragement by America, if those who did so stood by America’s side.

Despite the bleak possibilities, there are still opportunities for rejuvenation of Afro-American co-operation. American engagement in other spheres in Africa, ranging from security to non-government advocacy and education could give America an advantage over other competitors in Africa. All this, however, will be greatly influenced by the outcome of America’s 2020 election and the temperament of the next administration. DM

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All Comments 5

  • This author’s job title informs his opinion. He is pro China, anti US, clear as day. So we take his opinion from whence it comes. I am not a Trump fan, by a long shot, but her certainly makes some very accurate observations and comments.

  • The US has little to do with Africa, let alone need us. Even Obama paid us no attention…. we are just too poor to count. Apart from that, who wants allies that you could never criticise without it being turned into yet another race story? No, they will continue to avoid us like the plague.

  • So, Pres. Trump tells the truth. The truth is better than lies. Lies need a bodyguard of more lies.
    Anyone who disagrees with what Pres. Trump has allegedly said is either and Eskimo or lives on Mars.

  • So, Pres. trump tells the truth. The truth is better than lies. Lies need a bodyguard of more lies.
    Anyone who disagrees with what Pres. Trump allegedly said is either an Eskimo or lives on Mars.