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Trump's Priorities Could Shift US Africa Policy, Analysts Say


FILE - Then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gestures as he arrives for a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, Nov. 7, 2016. Terence McNamee, Brenthurst Foundation deputy director in South Africa, says he suspects Africa will be "very low" on Trump's list of presidential priorities.

People across Africa reacted with mixed feelings last month to news of businessman Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential elections.

Fatima Sadiqi, a professor of linguistics and gender studies at the Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University in Morocco, recalled that "populist parties didn't hide their joy and democratic parties didn't hide their shock;" but "beyond their immediate reactions, there is a general sense of two things: surprise and apprehension."

Analysts inside and outside Washington are weighing what U.S. relations with Africa will be like under the new leader, who has promised to shift U.S. foreign policy priorities and reshape America's alliances after he takes office in January.

"The gut instinct for most Africans — and I accept I am generalizing here — is that President-elect Trump is not only oblivious and ignorant about African issues, but by the virtual complete absence of any mention of Africa during the campaign, it is going to be very low on his list of presidential priorities," said Terence McNamee, Brenthurst Foundation deputy director in South Africa.

McNamee said there hadn't been a lot of debate about what a Trump presidency would mean for Africa. He noted that "until the new president's team is finalized — that is, who the secretary of state will be, who's the head of USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development], trade representative and so forth — basically, Africa doesn't have a lot to go on except the president-elect's campaign rhetoric."

FILE - Then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum in Washington, Dec. 3, 2015. In the campaign, Trump called for a "complete and total shutdown" on Muslims entering the United States. A campaign statement Dec. 7 said the proposal came in response to the level of hatred among "large segments of the Muslim population" toward Americans.

FILE - Then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum in Washington, Dec. 3, 2015. In the campaign, Trump called for a "complete and total shutdown" on Muslims entering the United States. A campaign statement Dec. 7 said the proposal came in response to the level of hatred among "large segments of the Muslim population" toward Americans.

Terrorist propaganda

Some of the rhetoric, such as "his attack on Muslims, was reacted to very negatively here," Sadiqi said, and "generally it's thought to play into the propaganda of the terrorist groups on the continent."

The growing trend of extremist groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Qaida's AQIM in Mali and al-Shabab in eastern Africa present all kinds of challenges to African governments.

Sadiqi said that for many, the future of the African economy, which she said was slowing down in some places, is also a big source of concern.

"If Trump's campaign ideas are put into practice, the situation will worsen. ... Especially, we hear a lot about the president-elect refraining from trade deals and foreign aid."

In general, McNamee characterized U.S.-Africa relations as only "OK," saying he thought they were superficial.

For example, "the initiatives of the Obama administration like Power Africa and YALI [Young African Leaders Initiative], while not unimportant, they are not hugely noteworthy in historical terms," he said.

He wondered whether "the U.S. business community has really caught on to the business opportunities on the continent or are they going to fall behind the Chinese, who overtook the U.S. in terms of volume of trade back in 2009 and never looked back."

Robin Renee Sanders, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and a big supporter of President Barack Obama's Power Africa program, said she hoped such an initiative wouldn't be abandoned.

"There have been an additional 3,000 megawatts of power added to the grid as a result of Power Africa," she told VOA. "You have the 'Electrify Africa' legislation; you have a number of off-grid projects that are supported by USAID and the African Development Foundation."

FILE - President Barack Obama addresses a Young African Leaders Initiative gathering in Washington, Aug. 3, 2016.

FILE - President Barack Obama addresses a Young African Leaders Initiative gathering in Washington, Aug. 3, 2016.

YALI progress

Ngozi Bell, an advocate with the U.S. Small Business Administration, echoed those sentiments on the current administration's YALI program.

"In business, there are a few things you should care about," Bell said. "One is the ecosystem. Once you've built an ecosystem, you start an economic movement that takes on a life of its own." YALI has built that, she said, by pulling in investors, practitioners, business development and continuing education.

"The second thing is that you have brought in very hungry and excited young people. ... They formed relationships and networks, so they have the responsibility themselves to take it to the next level," Bell said.

While it's easy to think about doing away with some of Obama's signature policies, American University professor Kwaku Nuamah said it's easier said than done.

"Trump is going to have to keep a lot of these policies," he said. "It's hard to cut policies once they've already been funded and there's a constituency for it."

In addition, Nuamah and others said security, health and climate change should be part of the president-elect's African agenda.

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    Mariama Diallo

    Mariama Diallo is a senior reporter covering national and world affairs for Voice of America in multiple languages. She was recently the VOA acting bureau chief for the agency's West Africa office. 

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