Trump vs Africa: how the continent can counter destructive policies

Donald Trump has promised to make America great again. Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Every four years the CIA’s National Intelligence Council (NIC) provides the incoming president and his administration with an assessment of the most powerful global forces likely to affect foreign and domestic affairs. Known as the CIA’s Global trends, the report is also available to the public and normally has a time horizon of five years and beyond.

Donald Trump would probably be prompted to dismiss the 235-page 2017 edition with a tweet after getting just half-way down the first summary page. The next five years, the report says, will

close an era of American dominance following the Cold War.

Trump would undoubtedly see this as a personal affront to his promise that he will “Make America Great Again”.

Ironically, Trump’s own behaviour during his presidential campaign and transition only lends credence to one of the report’s general forecasts that the next five years

will see rising tensions within and between countries.

So far Trump has stirred tensions with a range of countries. He has made controversial statements that have offended, among others, Europeans, Asians and, of course, Mexicans.

The report provides a useful starting point to reflect on what’s in store for Africa over the next five years. And how the continent should think about responding to challenges it identifies in the context of a Trump presidency.

A case in point are the report’s findings set against Trump’s stance on climate change. The Global Trends 2017 puts greater emphasis on the urgent need to mitigate and adapt to global warming and other man-induced climate change than earlier editions. But Trump’s climate denial rhetoric and the prominent deniers he is including in his cabinet, contradict all available evidence-based judgements.

This might suggest that the continent and Trump are on a collision course given that Africa will suffer more than most regions from the threat of climate change. This needn’t be the case. There are some low-cost ways African Union members, individually and together, could undertake to slow down, and even derail, Trump and his climate deniers. And shrewd diplomats would do well to use the report as a useful reference for prodding US negotiators. They might also use it for gauging levels of public and Congressional support for Trump’s controversial policies.

Clues to Trump’s views on Africa

There have been few indications of Trump’s interest in sub-Saharan Africa. But a few clues of how his administration views the continent have been reported by the New York Times.

The report was based on a leaked four-page list of questions about Africa his transition team sent to the State Department and Pentagon. The questions indicate a general scepticism about the value of foreign aid or even US security interests in sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting Africans have squandered American money and effort.

Questions included:

With so much corruption in Africa, how much of our funding is stolen?

and in relation to the African Growth and Opportunity Act

Why do we support that massive benefit to corrupt regimes?

and regarding US business interests

Are we losing out to the Chinese?

Based on these questions, it’s possible that Trump will opt for an American retreat from the bipartisan development, humanitarian, and security assistance goals of previous administrations. Even so, policies he pursues on global issues such as trade and climate change will have a dramatic impact on the continent.

Trends facing Africa

The Global Trends report conclusion is that prospects for progress on the continent clearly outweigh the dangers. It says that in the next five years African countries will focus on internal issues as they struggle to consolidate the gains of the past 15 years and try to resist the geopolitical and economic headwinds that threaten them.

It also identifies the key challenges, among them the familiar issues of rapid population growth and rural-urban migration, severe if uneven environmental and health risks, radicalisation, and failures of governing institutions.

The report’s emphasis on climate change is particularly telling. It cites credible scientific evidence of global warming and forecasts dire consequences for countries across the world, including in Africa.

An emaciated cow walks in Gelcha village, one of the drought stricken areas of in Ethiopia. Reuters/Tiksa Negeri.

The report endorses the findings and process approved by 194 countries participating in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The Obama Administration was a global leader in the IPCC and agreements reached in Paris in 2015 on reducing greenhouse gases emissions in a voluntary process now endorsed by virtually all UN members.

Obama was also committed to a bilateral agreement with China, obligating the world’s two largest emitters to major reductions. And he made a pledge vital to Africa of US$3 bn toward an initial IPCC $10 billion fund to assist the most vulnerable and under-resourced countries adapt to global warming. This fund is scheduled to grow to $100 billion annually by 2020.

Trump, however, has repeatedly threatened to renege on all these US commitments once in office.

What Africa needs to do

Here are some low-cost ways African Union members, individually and together, could undertake to slow and even derail Trump and his climate deniers:

  • Seize every opportunity in bilateral talks and multilateral forums to reference the findings presented in Global Trends 2017. Although prepared during the Obama administration, it is the work of non-partisan civil servants.

  • Devise and implement public diplomacy campaigns in partnership with civil society groups, environmental activists, and the African Diaspora. Recalling lessons from the highly effective anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s and 1980s could be helpful.

  • Develop a better understanding of and links to America’s booming alternative energy sector. Costs of solar, wind, and other clean energy sources have fallen dramatically to the point that economics, rather than politics or ethics now drive most major reductions of America’s dangerous emissions. There may be positive business opportunities for African companies and countries to exploit for economic grow, development and dealing with the effects of global warming.

  • Actively support Americans (and anyone else) who support a carbon tax, with generous allowances for low polluting African countries swap credits with rich emitters, with cash generated assisting climate adaptation.

  • With Obama gone, China alone appears poised for global leadership on climate change. South Africa could help by using its membership in the BRICS and close ties to China and Brazil to press India, and especially Russia to meet their obligations. Perhaps it might even get the group to increase its contributions to the special fund for seriously affected African countries.

  • Reassure potential American donors and partners, including Trump and his allies, that funds allocated for helping Africans adjust to climate change will be accounted for through a voluntary transparent process of planning and reporting. Such accountability is a key vision of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and its African Peer Review Mechanism, currently under renewal.

  • Finally: tap into African expertise. Arguments should make full use of the continent’s small but growing community of climate scientists and their many links to America’s scientific community and environmental activists. Holding Trump to facts, not opinion, has failed so far. But evidence suggests public sentiment and economic incentives increasingly favour better climate management.

Africa’s appeals to America for fairness can be as effective as they once were for freedom.

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