Trump’s legacy in Africa, Biden expectations

Francis Owusu, Padraig Carmody and Ricardo Reboredo

Donald Trump was driven to the US presidency by promising to rewrite globalization rules. This includes restricting trade when it directly hurts the US, restricts immigration and reduces world order obligations.

His government’s foreign policy “America First” also meant that he was deprived of his obligations to Africa, which he notoriously called “land of the hole”.

Historically, the U.S. foreign policy approach to Africa can be classified as benign neglect. It is characterized by a general lack of interest in the continent in the era before World War II.

After World War II, American policy became involved or disconnected with individual countries, mostly defined in terms of counteracting the Soviet Union’s attempt to gain influence in the region.

A serious and sustained engagement between the US and Africa began under the Clinton administration. It was subsequently deepened with significant dual support.

The governments of Clinton, Bush and Obama have seen a remarkable continuity in both Congress and the White House on the American agenda in Africa. Africa’s share of US annual foreign aid funding has increased over the past two decades. Although U.S. development and security assistance to Africa has increased, part of the increase was in support of President George W. Bush’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), launched in 2003.

Under Obama, U.S. aid allocated to Africa ranged between $ 7 billion and $ 8 billion annually.

Trump’s election indicates a radical break with this consensus. His approach represents in part a return to the pre-Clinton era. Despite the government’s rhetoric, however, Africa still received $ 7 billion in annual U.S. allocations in the first three years.

Trade between the United States and Africa fell to about $ 41 billion in 2018, from a peak of $ 100 billion in 2008. In general, African countries still exported natural resources, such as petroleum and metals, to the United States. .

Since 2000, the Growth and Opportunity Act in Africa has been the main channel through which trade takes place. It offers tariff-free access to 6,900 products from 39 countries.

In our article, we show how the Trump administration’s policies have adversely affected Africa.

Under Trump’s administration, investment policies have been driven by pressure to open up markets for US goods and services. Its trade policy favors bilateral, rather than multilateral, agreements.

This move, if sustained, could undermine the growth of smaller countries, such as Lesotho. This is because such economies may not have enough economic interest for the US to justify a separate trade agreement.

There were also punitive measures against countries that were contrary to the government’s expectations of reciprocal ‘free trade’.

Rwanda, for example, has been suspended from tariff-free access to the US market after imposing significant levies on second-hand clothing imports.

This is due to lobbying by the US Secondary Clothing Exporters Association.

The position of the administration, which is largely uninterested, could also have detrimental effects on US foreign private investment in Africa. US foreign direct investment in Africa declined from $ 50.4 billion in 2017 to $ 43.2 billion in 2019.

This 14 percent drop occurred at a time when other countries such as China were increasing their investments in the region. The administration has also paralyzed the capacity of the State Department and its international aid agency by not filling essential posts in these agencies and by reducing the budget.

Such actions have damaged relationships and cut lines of communication.

Trump’s ‘Muslim’ travel ban has denied access to citizens of a number of Muslim-majority countries, including several African countries. It was brought under the banner of American security, and led to the further strengthening of negative images of the continent as a place of uncertainty and danger.

The Trump administration has from time to time expressed concern about the alleged bad and negative consequences of Chinese involvement on the continent. The impact of his own policy, however, was to reduce US influence in the region and further open the “playing field” to Chinese actors.

The loss of American hegemony on the continent is evidenced by the diversification of Africa’s direct foreign investment resources. It is also visible in shifts in trade with key foreign partners, and a greater diplomatic representation of other countries in Africa.

Biden’s administration

Joe Biden’s government is likely to bring about some change and continuity in African policy. Official ties are expected to become more diplomatic and certain policies – such as the so-called “Muslim travel ban” – could be reversed. But there are still some important questions about its direction.

In general, US policy towards Africa is likely to be driven by a relatively narrow geopolitical view. It views the continent as a source of insecurity and terrain for humanitarian aid. Combined with the scale of domestic problems stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and the perceived need to curb China, Africa is likely to provoke only occasional strategic interest.

The US focus on its national security imperatives will remain a primary policy area. New partnerships and initiatives, for example with Nigeria and Mozambique, are largely informed by Islamic fundamentalist uprisings there. The Trump administration has greatly expanded the use of U.S. air and ground attacks in hotspots such as Somalia. This is a policy that Biden is likely to pursue, even if operations are scaled down somewhat.

Major power competition with China plays an important role in US-Africa relations. The Trump administration’s “Prosper Africa” ​​plan, which aims to double trade and investment between America and Africa, was presented as a US response to China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”. However, Prosper Africa did not have the funding to achieve its goals. In fact, it came down to a coordination and consolidation of the various parts of the American bureaucracy on the continent.

The Biden government is likely to continue the existing discursive pattern of competition with large powers. But the focus, given its policy history, could move towards the revival of multilateralism and the support of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

As far as trade is concerned, the big question facing the new administration is the future of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which expires in 2025. as evidenced by his ongoing effort to create a ‘model’ free trade agreement with Kenya.

Such free trade agreements would change the nature of the US-Africa Trade Partnership in two ways. They will place further emphasis on reciprocal trade concessions, and are likely to need further drainage or elimination of policies to help emerging economic sectors in African countries, particularly the manufacturing sector.

Finally, the relationship between the US and Africa is characterized by ‘signature’ initiatives. George W. Bush’s had the president’s emergency plan for AIDS relief, Obama had ‘Power Africa’ and Trump named prosperous Africa. Biden will probably try to continue this tradition, but exactly how it remains to be seen. – The conversation

Francis Owusu is a professor at Iowa State University, Padraig Carmody is a professor of geography at Trinity College Dublin and Ricardo Reboredo is an independent researcher at Trinity College Dublin.


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