Foreign Policy

A consensus play: The opportunity of Africa for a Trump administration


Just about 20 years ago, the International Republican Institute (IRI) established an informal network called “Uhuru,” which is Swahili for “freedom.”

Uhuru provided a social gathering platform for us Republicans who also considered ourselves Africanists. At the time, we were a couple dozen members including congressional staff, workers at NGOs and think tanks, and private consultants and contractors. Uhuru convened once a quarter at random bars for Happy Hour.

{mosads}Over $2.00 beer and wine, we brainstormed and sought to remain relevant in the development of U.S.-Africa policy. In the late nineties, Africa was tough territory, while apartheid ended in South Africa, progress towards peace and democracy across the rest of the continent was anemic.

In early September of this year, during a warm autumn afternoon, five of my fellow Uhurus. met in 2172 House Rayburn Office Building, (the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing room), for an impromptu reunion.

While we took pictures of our aging selves in front the portrait of former Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), the conversation veered towards presidential politics, then to Africa, then to Donald J. Trump.

And someone joked, “Okay, which one of us will become Trump’s Ambassador to Africa?” We all chuckled, as we knew that candidate-Trump was not paying attention to the place, and we were pretty certain that he didn’t know that there were 54 unique countries on the continent.

That joke in HROB was funny then, but so much now.

After Donald Trump’s surprising and historic win on 7 November, the Africa policy community was turned on its head. We Uhuru alumni included.

No one thought to contemplate Donald Trump’s Africa. Many have since opined that Trump’s victory could spell the demise for America’s engagement in Africa, pointing to his disinterest during the campaign, where he only referenced Africa twice, and only anecdotally.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, was a known commodity — having spent 30 years traveling the Continent focusing on access to education, the fight against sexual violence, addressing maternal and infant mortality. Africa knew what it would get with Hillary.

But you know what? A clean slate is not necessarily a bad thing. And not when it comes to a continent that is in an uneven state of democratic and economic transition, where the promise of a rising Africa has yet to be fully realized, and where new technologies, while enabling the entrepreneur, have yet to empower a people against entrenched political interests.

One could take this train of thought even further, and argue that symbolically, Trump’s upset victory over the established political order in the U.S., where a businessman, with no governing experience, broke down the barriers-to-entry into presidential politics, is exactly the kick-in-the-pants that Africa needs.

So rather than join the chorus of those who fear that Africa will be forgotten, relegated to the Lonely Planet hallway of a Trump Administration’s State Department, and in the spirit of our Uhuru-inspired discussions, I offer the following for consideration.

President-elect Trump’s domestic rallying cry during the campaign was to stop the flow of illegal immigration. Build the wall. Enforce our immigration laws. But the truth is that physical and procedural barriers to entry will not be enough. A Trump administration will need to tackle the challenge at its source.

In the case of Africa, the migrants coming to the U.S. are largely economic, driven out of their homelands because of lack of opportunities. There are no jobs. Nearly 1 in 3 Africans are between the ages of 10 and 24, and approximately 60 percent of Africa’s total population is below the age of 35. This is a ticking time-bomb if nations fail to develop their economies, and address the expectations of a young and restless population.

Earlier this month, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, called to bolster the economies of Africa. She pleaded for a “Marshal-like Plan.” Her Economic Minister, Gerd Mueller, elaborated, “If the youth of Africa can’t find work or a future in their own countries, it won’t be hundreds of thousands, but millions that will make their way to Europe.”

Germany is calling for investing in programs that support youth education and training, and on strengthening economies and the rule of law. This plea from Europe could be an opening for a Trump Administration. A bridge to unity with one of our most important allies, a way to turn a perceived clash of immigration policies, into a consensus on shared interests in Africa.

And if the Trump Administration decided to move in this direction, it would already have tools at its disposal, specifically, ones which address systemic barriers to economic growth.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), developed during the administration of George W. Bush, conditions U.S. foreign assistance on performance, demanding that nations invest in their own people, before the U.S. will invest in them. It is a small part U.S. foreign assistance to Africa, but it could become the leading the edge.

The Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), an Obama Administration initiative, seeks to pool U.S. government resources with private sector programs, and develop ecosystems for entrepreneurs around the world.  Added to that is the Obama Administration Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). Surely this space is ripe for a businessman-turned-president to build upon.

The Obama Administration Power Africa Initiative, codified into law, by the Electrify Africa Act, recognizes that 2 out of 3 Africans lack access to reliable power and that without power, development, value added, job creation, economic and social stability will not be achieved. It seeks to leverage private investment with public sector technical assistance. This program is consistent with president-elect Trump’s call for prioritizing U.S. infrastructure renewal.

For fifteen years, emerging U.S.-Africa policy has been shaped by the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which provides unilateral trade preferences between qualifying African nations and the United States. Maybe the Trump team could give AGOA a re-boot, take a harder look at the obligations of reciprocity for participating nations, including creating open and fair regulatory policies.

United States Africa Command, (U.S. AFRICOM), established under George W. Bush, overseas military relations with African nations, the African Union, and African regional security organizations. Since 2007, it has partnered with select governments and regional organizations to combat threats including counter-terrorism, and weapons and drug trafficking. It could be a model for a president-elect looking at security in the context of shared obligations with our allies.

In the 20 years since IRI founded Uhuru, many more Republicans have become engaged in Africa, we are almost at parity with our Democratic friends. Moreover, Africa policy is one of the few places where partisanship is left at the door when you enter the room. Good ideas are embraced no matter where they come from — MCC (Republican), Power Africa (Democrat), the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) (Republican) Feed the Future (Democrat) and AGOA (Democratic Congress/Republican Administration).

For a Trump Administration, Africa policy could be a consensus play, not only to work across party lines in America, but to build bridges with our European allies, many of whom feel whiplashed from the campaign rhetoric, and are looking for constructive engagement with the new U.S. administration. An Africa initiative could be that low-hanging-fruit while plans are developed to address the more intractable issues of Syria, Iran, Russia, China and foreign trade.

Levinson is President and CEO of KRL International LLC a DC-based consultancy that works in the world emerging markets. She is the author of Choosing the Hero: My Improbable Journey and the Rise of Africa’s First Woman President (Kiwai Media, June 2016).


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Tags 2016 presidential election Africa Donald Trump Hillary Clinton United Nations United States

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