Africa Watch

The cost of two callous presidents

Birds of a feather

President Jacob Zuma’s latest antics just adds to the woes waiting ahead for Africa in the wake of Donald Trump rise the power in the United States.

If the attention, or rather lack thereof, Donald Trump gave to Africa during his presidential campaign is anything to go by, the continent is going to feature low on America’s foreign policy priority list for the next four years.   

With Trump showing little personal interest in Africa, American foreign policy regarding the continent will be directed by career diplomats who is expected to strictly follow the instructions from Washington.

Be prepared

However, it remains crucial for Africa to prepare itself should President Trump decide to proceed with his campaign promise to reassess America’s foreign aid assistance to the continent.

In this regard, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) established in 2000 with the aim to enhance Sub-Saharan African countries’ access American markets by granting them tariff free access, will come under review.

Trump has expressed his opposition to trade deals that he felt had unfairly impacted the American economy and, has vowed to renegotiate America’s trade deals that he deems to prejudice American business interests.

Trump could argue that AGOA fits the bill because it created a trade deficit for the US that reached US$8 billion in 2016.

AGOA has become the main trade conduit between Africa and the US. With the inclusion of more than 40 African states, AGOA is responsible for almost all trade between America and the continent.  It is estimated to have created 120 000 jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa and has more than doubled trade between the region and the US.

Trump and Congress

Fortunately, the current consensus among experts is that it is highly unlikely that Trump will tamper much with AGOA.

AGOA has been popular with both parties in Congress as proven by the decision in 2014 to extend it until 2025.

Already at odds with his own party on other issues, it is unlikely that Trump would test this brittle relationship by demanding changes, or the repeal, of an act that allows for less than 1% of America’s total imports.

It is however also more than likely that the Trump administration will do little to promote and improve AGOA.

Other targets

Also in the Trump crosshairs is America’s humanitarian aid and development assistance to Africa.

Sub-Sahara Africa receives a greater proportion of US humanitarian aid than any other geographical region. This amount has grown substantially over the last two decades with a particular focus on health, with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) initiated by President George W Bush as flagship.

The Obama administration shifted focus to public-private infrastructure development with the multi-billion-dollar Power Africa Initiative, aimed at doubling electricity access in Sub-Saharan Africa as focus.

At the time of its announcement many commentators suggested that the Power Africa Initiative was Obama’s response to China’s progress in Africa. But, the Power Africa Initiative could be in jeopardy.

During his presidential campaign, Trump was adamant that the aid budget should be cut and the money spend domestically. He was particularly scathing when alleging that: “every penny of the $7bn allocated to the Power Africa initiative would be stolen”.   

Also at risk is the prospect of USAID to continuing to  provide relief to the crippling drought and encroaching famine in East Africa, described as the worst in decades, if Trumps remains committed to reduce the funding of USAID by a proposed thirty per cent.

In another setback for Africa the Trump administration plans to cut funding for United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations by US$ 1 billion and to eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars for other UN programs that care for needy children and seek to improve the living standard of the world’s poorest.

While Trump is contemplating big cuts in aid to those less privileged and jettison America’s traditional role as the champion of the downtrodden, he has no desire to do the same with the military budget. In fact, the White House wants to redirect a large portion of the money that becomes available with shrinking foreign aid, to increase the U.S. defence budget by $54bn to a staggering $639bn.

Paradoxically the US military has come out against Trump’s plans of foreign aid budget cuts, arguing that it will weaken America’s security outlook.

Some 120 admirals and generals, including former CIA director David Petraeus, in a letter to Trump raised the point that “elevating US diplomacy” is key to American security, and that aid and a fully operational State Department are crucial to the military’s ability to maintain America’s security.

Only time will tell if President Trump will take note of the military’s sound advice.

Even worse

While President Trump would hurt Africa and by implication South Africa with his policy of America first, it is something Africa can do little about except for making diplomatic overtures to the Trump administration to reconsider.

Trump’s decision to cut back on aid will be hurting the poor, the marginalised and the vulnerable in Africa and can be considered by all civilised standards as inhuman and callous.

It is, however, by no means as hurtful as to what South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has done in recent months, culminating in his recent cabinet reshuffle.

A move, which, as Richard Poplak wrote in Daily Maverick, will negatively impact on the South African rand, resulting in: ”…plant; food and fuel prices will rise; ratings agencies will junk us; borrowing costs will explode – a steadily intensifying cycle of future imperfect phrases that will drag the country, our neighbours, and the entire region into a deepening maelstrom of economic recidivism.”

by Garth Cilliers

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