From aid to trade, turbulence awaits

Different stripes: Voters celebrate the Republican president-elect. (Photo: Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

Different stripes: Voters celebrate the Republican president-elect. (Photo: Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

Following president-elect Donald Trump’s victory in the United States elections, the world is scrabbling to predict what effect a Trump presidency will have in a local and global context.

This includes concerns about the implications for US foreign policy in Africa.

Renowned South African author and playwright Zakes Mda, a professor at Ohio University, says irrespective of which administration is in power, it will make little difference to Africans.

“It is high time Africa stops looking at America and asking if this or that president will be good for Africa,” Mda said this week.

“Africans must do things that are good for Africa themselves … Americans will always do things that are in their own interests. Their constituency is America and the Americans,” he said.

“African presidents … must be good by not being [President] Jacob Zuma.
They must look at the interests of the people, not of their stomachs and those of their families. They should not be in the pockets of international capital or whatever, not only the Guptas, but of all stripes,” he added.

What are the risks a Trump presidency could pose for Africa and the rest of the world?

1. Foreign policy and global security

To what extent will Trump deviate from the present trajectory of US foreign policy?

Trump’s policy could range anywhere from a return to the isolationism of the pre-9/11 George W Bush years to a full-on dismantling of a bipartisan foreign policy that has remained largely unchanged since the Eisenhower administration.

Yet Mda believes that, with the exception of Obamacare, few of the things Trump said during the election campaign will become policy.

Obamacare is the nickname of the controversial law instituted to reform the healthcare industry in the US and make it more affordable for citizens.

Mda predicted the president-elect was likely to stick with the country’s current foreign policies, with the US stance on the Middle East remaining unchanged.

“When it comes to foreign policy, Americans will continue to do the things that they do … because that’s part of the national interest of America. That’s part of the military-industrial complex that determines things like that.

“It does not matter whether [the president] is a Republican or a Democrat,” said Mda.

2. An inward-looking US

A key strategy for Trump will be to turn the US’s gaze inward, both economically and politically. Many of his economic policies reflect a mercantilist perspective on economic development — essentially, the opposite to free trade.

Trump is on record as opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and wishes to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) to improve the context for US business.

One can only assume that such logic will persist and extend into areas such as the African Growth and Opportunities Act (Agoa). This gives certain African exports preferential access to the American market.

If this agreement is cancelled, African producers will lose tariff-free access to an important market to sell their goods — which could lead to job losses and economic decline.

Other signs of the turn inward can be seen in Trump’s desire to focus on domestic infrastructure projects as a way to grow the economy rather than on international co-operation agreements.

3. Humanitarian assistance

Another important question about a Trump presidency surrounds the future of humanitarian aid. A turn towards isolationism is implicit in all of his “make America great again” rhetoric. But there is also evidence to suggest that he may have support for rolling back the US’s commitments to improving human development abroad.

The average American believes the US gives roughly 20% of its budget away to foreign assistance. The actual figure is less than 1% — and there is broad support (from 56% of the population) for cuts.

About a third of US foreign aid is directed to health programmes, many of which are in Africa.

4. Increased divisions

To gain votes Trump sought to use immigration and migrants, particularly Muslims and Latinos, as a wedge to reinforce stereotypes and normalise prejudice. For a continent such as Africa, which remains beset by these very legacies, this can hardly be a good sign of things to come in its relationship with the US.

In contexts where people turn away from each other and seek to marginalise differences politically and economically, extremism and hatred tend to emerge. Trump’s divisiveness will do little to stem radicalism and the growing disquiet in race, ethnic and religious relations within and between countries.

Trump’s presidency could also see elevated support for authoritarian leaders — many of whom govern African states — who use counterterrorism as a guise to repress citizens who voice opposing views, further restricting civil liberties.

South Africa, a country Trump referred to as a “total — and very dangerous — mess” in a tweet last year, will not be immune from this treatment. — The Conversation, ISS Today, Reuters

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004.
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