Donald Trump’s victory came as a shock to democrats in Africa. They had held up the American political system as a paragon of democracy and can’t understand how this candidate is appealing to an American electorate.
Africans expect something better from a “first-world” country and a population that is better educated than the majority in Africa. At a time when the commitment of African leaders to democracy and good governance is faltering, African democrats will now have a tougher fight for more democracy and against racism. It is unsurprising that some of the continent’s questionable leaders rushed to congratulate the president elect. Zimbabwe’s state-owned Herald newspaper rejoiced in the defeat of the “warmonger” Hillary Clinton.
However, very little is known about Trump’s position on Africa. The continent just seems not to be on his radar because he is an insular president focused on US interests. This means that Africa is looking towards an uncertain future in its relationship with the new president. But based on his remarks during his election campaign, Africa needs to worry. Trump believes that trade deals are weighted against the US. The new administration may revise the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which is designed to give African countries easier access to US markets by scrapping import duties on certain goods. Under the act exports from Africa to the US have now reached $4.1 billion, which makes it a vital economic lifeline for the continent.
Reduction of foreign aid
Trump is not a fan of foreign aid. He may reduce America’s extensive aid programme. Left-leaning US donors provide wide-ranging grants to African NGOs. These funds are likely to be reduced or re-directed to conservative organisations.A reduction of aid to and trade with Africa would automatically increase China’s influence in Africa. Trump has pledged to make the US “great” again. This may override his isolationist tendencies and convince him to increase US support for Africa. Republican presidents have always been more prone to intervention. He will likely follow this line not just as far as trade and aid is concerned but especially with regard to the “War on Terror”. Based on his Islamophobic tendencies he has said he would allow torture and wants to keep Guantanamo Bay open. One has to fear that the “War on Terror” will be intensified with increased collateral damage and less thought given to the protection of human rights.
A hard-line “War on Terror” combined with his rhetoric attacks on Muslims could become the most effective recruiting tool for terrorists across the globe, and in Africa for Boko Haram and Al Shabab. His promised tough tactics in the “War of Terror” wouldprobably be counterproductive: studies show that abuses committed against civilians are likely to push people towards terrorism.
It is feared that the new administration would sabotage the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and similar strategies to solve global climate problems. This would have long-term catastrophic consequences for Africa because its small scale farmers are hardest hit by drying soils.
South Africa and other African countries just formally withdrew from the International Criminal Court by notifying the United Nations. They claim the court is biased against Africa. How can the US now oppose such a move when it is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that created the international court and when its leader wants to maintain Guantanamo Bay?
Most African leaders do not support gay rights. Some countries like Uganda even persecute homosexuals. Even South Africa voted to scrap a United Nations gay rights watchdog. An American administration under the leadership of a man who is openly opposed to gay marriage certainly will not try hard to stop this trend. Life for gays in Africa will become more difficult.African states were created by colonial powers with little regard for tribes and ethnic compositions. African leaders have to deal with these complex foundations to build coherent nations. This can only be done by being conciliatory and open for compromise. Policies along tribal lines and confrontation are bound to lead to internal conflicts. Those African leaders who base their policies on populist tribal interests and on exclusiveness may feel encouraged by Trump’s victory.
The moral compass lost its bearing. It suits most African leaders to have at the top of the most powerful country in the world a man who thinks along their lines of populism and autocratic rule. It is the time for progressive movements and civil societies in Africa to keep the idea of democracy and good governance alive. In such a situation it would not make sense to look for help from autocratic leaders of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China). Rather, the European Union could serve as a model, a union that is based on democracy, multilateralism and solidarity across borders and ethnic lines. In that respect the EU has much in common with African states; both have to be based on compromise and rejection of exclusiveness. Will the EU be able to fill this role?