What Might Trump’s Foreign Policy Mean for Africa?

To flip the famous second-wave feminist slogan: the political is personal.  Feminist scholars have increasingly focused on the intricate ways in which politics influences the lived experience. (1) Arguably leading the forefront of this political affect is the United States.  And whether we like it or not, the man who vowed to pull off ‘Brexit times five’ did just that, now leaving us with bated breath to see how his foreign policy will impact us all.  Yet to be inaugurated, it remains too early to tell what the reality of a Trump presidency will be but we can make some educated assumptions based on his campaign platform.

American interventionism excludes no one.

For those who don’t live in the US, it might cause pause to wonder how the political outsider-turned-President will affect those beyond the American border.  But American interventionism excludes no one.  Though often sticking its nose where it shouldn’t be, the US also donates significant foreign aid as well.  According to Forbes, for fiscal year 2012, “the United States remained the world's largest bilateral donor, obligating approximately $48.4 billion—$31.2 billion in economic assistance and $17.2 billion in military assistance.” (2)

For example, over the years Haiti has received considerable monetary support for development and growth from the US.  “Since a devastating earthquake in 2010, the U.S. Government has committed $4.2 billion in assistance to help Haiti transition from disaster relief to a long-term development plan. While challenges remain, key advancements in health services, investments in the agriculture sector, municipal governance and legal protections for vulnerable populations as well as investments in infrastructure amount to real improvements. The U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is working to build a stable and economically viable Haiti. The focus of U.S. assistance is on long-term reconstruction and development, promoting economic growth, job creation and agricultural development, providing basic health care and education services, and improving the effectiveness of government.” (3)

Under a nationalist presidency, it seems reasonable to speculate that the US government may have less of an interest in emergency relief and development projects, as money would be routed away from international outreach and back into the US. (4) And in order to ‘make America great again,’ often a weak and worthless picture is painted of foreign institutions and countries to convince of such an agenda. (5) As for Africa?  Trump has said very little about African countries during the election campaign, perhaps because he knows so very little about them.    

Under the Obama administration, relations between most African countries and the US were positive and mostly stable.  There is room for critique to be sure; the embassy overthrow in Libya fueled development projects throughout Africa, said to be an attempt at compensation. (6)  But should the US shift foreign policy and reduce such development projects in the continent, good relationships may quickly tarnish.  

I am currently based in Africa, working on an international development project, and am apprehensive of any removal of US aid.  Though development projects are not above their fair share of problems to critique, I have seen the potential for capacity building and trickle-down economics to work.  Though I am the first to challenge this as anything but a perfect solution, should the US reduce its foreign aid, entire community economies will suffer.

Would Trump want to keep access to the US markets tax free for African states?

Of course, the development sector is not the only industry to be effected.  President-elect Trump has demonstrated his deep suspicion of trade deals. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a designed to give African countries easier access to the US market by cutting import duties on particular goods. (7)  Non-oil exports from Africa to the US, under the auspices of AGOA, have now reached $4.1 billion, which makes it a vital economic lifeline for the continent. (8) Businesses have greatly benefited from this trade deal, but would Trump want to keep access to the US markets tax free for African states?  

Then there’s the rhetoric Trump uses when speaking about Muslims. (9) Islam plays a large role in many African countries, particularly Morocco, Egypt, and Tunisia.  Many Africans may feel it a personal attack that Americans have elected someone who does not like Islam.  Furthermore, less money in foreign aid may equal less support to assist countries in dealing with the security challenges presented by ISIS, Boko Harem, and other such extremists groups. (10)

Finally, the past few decades have seen a boom in the focus on women in international development.  Whether Trump understands the complexity of pushing for gender equality in international development remains unclear.  Judging from his remarks concerning women, I don’t think he’ll be wearing a ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ shirt, nor care too much about development projects with a gender dimension. (11)  What we ought to now ask ourselves is how this attitude might affect African women.  If Trump chops up foreign aid, there are sure to be gender equality-focused projects benefitting women left in the wake.  Any slump in development means there would be little to cushion the challenges presented by shifting - or ending - trade deals between African states and the US. 

Alas, perhaps all these challenges will be something President Michelle Obama can reverse in 2020. 

Lydia Birtwistle-Sawyer is currently working in Burkina Faso after completion of her MA in Gender and Law from SOAS, University of London.