Trump and Africa
It looks like Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate in the forthcoming American presidential election, handing the White House to Hillary Clinton and leaving the GOP a pitiable mess for the decade to follow. I might be mis-underestimating the Republican Party. A brokered convention might yet appoint someone other than Mr. Trump as its presidential candidate. (Although Mr. Trump appears to be more symptom than cause of the party’s malaise.) If my gloom on behalf of my Republican friends (I am not a Republican, nor even an American citizen, but I care) turns out to be misguided, I will gladly apologize and recalibrate my expectations with regard to the election. But then, I might also be wrong about the American electorate in general, and the world may yet be faced with a President Trump. And so I suppose I must write about the prospect of a President Trump and the implications for Africa. I am, after all, committed to writing about America and Africa after Obama.
A couple of prolegomena:
It is nearly impossible to predict the policies of a Trump administration. Mr. Trump has a fairly established record of nationalistic rhetoric, and nationalism is a coherent and serious ideology. Even so, given the ease with which Mr. Trump adjusts his positions on matters of principle in pursuit of tactical advantage, it is folly to try and divine the parameters to his twists and turns as president.
A Trump administration won’t bring about Armageddon. While I have no doubt that a President Trump would turn out to be among the worst presidents in American history, even so the results wouldn’t be apocalyptic. Even America’s worst presidents do less damage than bad heads of state elsewhere. America’s political arrangements are comparatively robust, include a very real separation of powers, benefit from serious people in its military and bureaucracy *, and afford the citizenry considerable influence. The machinery of state churns with adequate effectiveness and remains oriented towards America’s constitutional ideals. For four years the White House will alternately amuse and alarm the world, diminishing America’s power and prestige and distressing the fabric of the international order that America has helped weave since World War II. But it won’t be the end of the world.
On to Africa …
The rising economies of Africa might make shrewd use of the preoccupations of a Trump administration. Since 2009 Africa has traded more with China than America, with The Economist estimating the 2014 Africa-China trade at $156.4 billion and the Africa-USA trade at $72.1 billion. Given Mr. Trump’s indignation over America losing to China by any measure, skillful negotiators on behalf of African governments might leverage this situation to pry advantageous terms out of a Trump administration (although the recent drop in trade because of the slowdown in the Chinese economy weakens Africa’s bargaining position). The challenge would be for African governments to secure arrangements that might survive when the international economic order snaps back to its post-World War II equilibrium after Trump. In this fantasy scenario I’ll be cheering for Ethiopia and Tanzania (while hoping that my birth country, South Africa, finds ways to benefit from the situation despite the carryings-on of its President Zuma).
Aggressive interventions against Islamicist terror in Africa might increase. Islamicist terror cults like Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab (rising along the ribbon of inter-religious conflict stretching across Africa from Nigeria to Kenya) not only affect African countries, they also threaten American security. African governments seeking help against such terrorists may benefit from Mr. Trump’s vehement promise to have America act very aggressively against Islamicist terror under his presidency. The question then would be how African and American soldiers might avoid committing the war crimes Mr. Trump has promised with equal vehemence.
The third of Africa suffering anarchy might continue to be mostly ignored in American foreign policy. One of Africa’s great present challenges is how to re-establish state authority over the vast reaches of the continent where at present no state effectively governs. Absent an American interest (as seen from Mr. Trump’s nationalistic perspective rather than from the perspective of the primal commitment to human rights informing the United States of America’s political existence since their founding), no help should be expected from a Trump administration in re-establishing such authority.
Indulging in this thought experiment has led me to conclusions that surprise me: a Trump White House might afford Africa some temporary economic advantages, some additional military assistance in dealing with Islamicist terror (albeit with accompanying ethical complications), and little change one way or the other with regard to addressing state fragility. All in all, Africa might suffer less from a Trump presidency than America would.
* (Reader, if President Trump offers you an appointment, please say yes. It’ll drive you crazy and ruin your career but you’ll help make the world a safer place.)
Gideon Strauss is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Public Justice and Associate Professor in Worldview Studies at the Institute for Christian Studies.
Photo Credit: By U.S. Army via Wikimedia Commons. A French-speaking U.S. Special Forces NCO watches weapons marksmanship training for a member of a Malian counter-terrorism unit in December 2010.