New York (BBR) - African leaders do not need to wait any longer for the direction of the Trump administration’s Africa policy, if it ever comes, because there would not be much to cheer about. Going by the well-publicized statement the United States President made to a group of African heads of state on September 20, at the sidelines of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the days of aids windfall are over.
Gone are the days that through its various agencies like USAID, the USA doles out large chunk of funds to needy African countries to assist in one developmental goal or the other, to the delight of the leaders, with some of them shamelessly misappropriating the funds without conscience.
With his resolute “America First,” policy, President Trump says it loudly that the days of big brother USA have run out, because, in his reasoning, American citizens also need the money. To Trump, such charity now begins and stops at home.
While hosting a luncheon for leaders of Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda during the UN General Assembly, Trump laid bare his mind on Africa, which gives insight into whatever policy content in future US-Africa relations.
“Africa has tremendous business potential, I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich. I congratulate you, they’re spending a lot of money. It’s really become a place they have to go, that they want to go,” Trump was reported to have said during the parley.
In deconstructing Trump’s perception of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) through the above statement, first, it can be argued that from his transactional approach to everything, the US President preempted the African leaders in their usual sing song of poverty in the continent. Don’t even talk about being poor because, “I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich,” Trump seemed to be telling them indirectly. As a self-proclaimed world-class negotiator, Trump quickly arrived at where the African leaders may have planned to go at the meeting, thus stopping them from repeating the rather trite excuse of lack of financial resources.
Secondly, the African leaders may have planned to use the opportunity of a face-to-face meeting with the new US President to push their other card—ecological and socio-political issues like crime and conflicts as reasons to deserve assistance. Again, Trump shot them down already by telling them straight to their face that, “Africa has tremendous potentials.” Trump sure has a point here, because Africa is home to 1.2 billion people in 54 countries and is by any reckoning not short of human and material resources, rather what the continent is short of are leaders with sincere and good managers of resources.
According to the World Bank, “six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies are in Africa.” In its Economic Outlook (June 2017) for instance, the World Bank stated that Growth in “SSA is forecast to pick up to 2.6 percent in 2017, and average 3.4 percent in 2018-19, slightly above population growth. The recovery is predicated on moderately rising commodity prices and reforms to tackle macroeconomic imbalances.”
Thirdly, although most African leaders may reluctantly agree that their countries have tremendous potentials, but they would quickly point at the prevalent low purchasing power that has inhibited the citizenry from maximizing such potentials. But the US President undercut that argument by telling them that, “they are spending a lot of money.”
In agreeing with Trump, most African leaders and the elite do actually spend a lot of money, most times on the wrong things, and at tax payers expense like marrying more wives, assembling fleet of cars, buying properties abroad, extravagant shopping spree abroad by wives/concubines, and even stashing considerable amounts in foreign bank accounts.
Most African leaders do not have good history in managing government funds, there usually is a very thin line, if any, between public funds and personal income, a reason majority of the countries in SSA sit tight in the lowest rung of the transparency index.
According to Jose Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International in the 2016 report, “ in too many countries, people are deprived of their most basic needs and go to bed hungry every night because of corruption, while the powerful and corrupt enjoy lavish lifestyles with impunity.”
Lastly, Trump also disabused whatever notion the African leaders would want to present to him as a case for more aids due to brain drain, where professionals from various walks of life are leaving the continent in droves for greener pastures abroad, especially USA. Instead of buying the argument, the US President informed the leaders that their countries have, “ really become a place his friends have to go, they want to go, and get rich.”
The entire statement qualifies for the dictionary meaning of an innuendo, an indirect or subtle reference to the true state of affairs in most African countries, which the leaders may not want to admit.
As it is now, Trump has pulled the rug from under their feet as the largesse would not be coming in as usual. It is therefore a time for African leaders to be more discerning to their environment. With more determination, honesty and creativity, they can indeed make their various countries where people would really want to go.
This has become even more expedient going by Trump’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for Africa, which was first on display at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany in July when he had to vacate his sit for Ivanka, his daughter, when it was time for talks on African development.
This was also manifested during his address to the general assembly with just a sentence towards the end of his speech praising the African Union and UN led peacekeeping missions and a second praise for America in leading humanitarian assistance and relief efforts in South Sudan, Somalia and Northern Nigeria.
That Africa is not a front-burner concern for the Trump administration can further be seen in lack of not only an African policy, almost a year since its inception, but also endorsement of minimal engagement by abolishing office of special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan by Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State in August to save $5 million.
The crippling cuts to Africa was brought to head in the 2018 budget proposals that cut aid from $8 billion to $5.2 billion, with new emphasis only on security and military.
These cuts, according to the UN, are already having real-live consequences with millions of people on the brink of starvation in South-Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria and may be counterproductive, even to the USA.
This is because, as reflected by Uju Okoye, a Toronto-based researcher on African politics, “where there is hunger, there is anger and conflict; therefore, Trump’s aim of cutting cost at any cost leaves Africa’s myriad hotspots even more vulnerable and inimical to world peace.”
Williams Ekanem is a Nigerian Journalist based in New York.