President Trump has issued the annual “National Security Strategy” report, as required by law. Here is my analysis of what it means for African leaders and U.S. Africa relations.
The strategy generally follows President Trump’s emphasis on “America First,” indicating he does not want other countries to take advantage of US generosity in development programs and trade.
Much of the document could have been written by the George H.W. Bush (41) or Obama administrations, and hews closely to their policy positions. But there are several elements which should catch the attention of African governments as they could affect U.S.-Africa trade and security relationships.
President Trump’s security strategy uses the word “reciprocal” when it talks about “fair and reciprocal trade” as a global policy. Currently, the US Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a one-way street designed to help African nations develop their export economies. The United States imports African products and goods duty free. African governments do not reciprocate: American exports to Africa pay customs duties.
The US Secretary of Commerce will likely focus on this absence of reciprocity in due course. Fortunately for Africa, some of the strongest supporters of AGOA are Republican members of Congress.
If I were advising African governments whose businesses are growing thanks to AGOA, I would encourage them to demonstrate how their societies and economies benefit from this trade policy, and to consider granting reciprocal free trade to the US.
Trump’s inclination to want to punish governments that break with the US on its high-priority interests should also catch Africa’s attention.
When the Security Council voted 12-1 to criticize the United States for President Trump’s statement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on December 19, the US Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Nikki Haley, said that she will be watching the vote in the General Assembly, and take the name of every government that votes against the United States. That is a threat that should not be ignored.
Trump’s document also challenges the conventional view of China in Africa. Unlike his predecessors, President Trump criticizes China’s deep involvement in Africa. His strategy statement accuses the Chinese of being interested not in development, but in the extraction of natural resources, and of a willingness to support corrupt, authoritarian regimes to promote its interests. It identifies both China and Russia as competitors for “influence.”
Much of President Trump’s statement of policy is not really different from what President Obama was saying in his final two years. For example, with respect to developing nations, the strategy says:
The United States will promote a development model that partners with countries that want progress, consistent with their culture, based on free market principles, fair and reciprocal trade, private sector activity, and the rule of law.
President Obama expressed the same ideas during his summit meeting with African heads of State in August 2014. He told the African leaders that it is up to African governments to adopt the policies that will encourage private sector investments by both African investors and foreign investors.
Trump’s National Security Strategy also says:
The US will use diplomacy and assistance to encourage states to make choices that improve governance, rule of law, and sustainable development. We already do this through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which selects countries that are committed to reform and then monitors and evaluates their projects.
As expected, the NSS also emphasizes the global war on jihadist terrorism. In its section on Africa, the Trump administration pledges to continue the bipartisan policy of seeking to end violent conflicts, promote effective governance, improve the rule of law, develop institutions accountable and responsible to citizens, and encourage regional integration. It also vows to respond to humanitarian needs, while addressing the root causes of these tragedies; and to suspend US assistance to governments ruled by “corrupt elites.” African governments in particular should pay attention to these statements – a hint at what’s to come in US-Africa policy moving forward.