Despite how prominently foreign policy issues feature in American politics and presidential campaigns, foreign policies as it concerns Africa is hardly on the front-burner with African nations in the dark over what direction the actions of the most powerful country on earth concerning them will take.
The presidential elections of last November which produced Donald J. Trump as President-elect were no different from past ones – not once did Africa come up during the campaign and after the elections. It has left people wondering if his administration will ignore Africa completely or if he will surprise us and have a program or policy that will help Africa like those of his predecessors, Bill Clinton’s Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and George W. Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
However, this article by the New York Times speaks of questions concerning Africa prepared for the US State Department and the Pentagon by members of Trump’s transition team which also offer an indication of the direction foreign policy concerning Africa will take: one less inclined towards offering aid and military adventurism even against Islamic terrorism, and one towards opening business opportunities across the continent.
As Trump takes office on Friday, it is important to ask: are African nations preparing for this likely change in American policies towards them, especially in situations where many of the countries have become dependent on America for crucial parts of their economy and society?
Take Nigeria, for instance: under PEPFAR which has provided antiretroviral treatment to over 7.7 million HIV-infected people, Nigeria has received $3.4 billion to fight HIV/AIDS since 2004. Prior to the start of PEPFAR, less than 5000 people were receiving ARTs from the government out of the almost 300,000 HIV-infected people in the country then. Today, almost a million people are on treatment.
However, despite the large population of HIV-infected people in the country, only N2.3 billion was allocated by the Federal Government to fight the disease through the National Action Committee on AIDS (NACA) in 2016, with only N558million of that going to treatments for people living with HIV (PLWHIV) and that was just for two states.
In the event of funding for PEPFAR reduced or even cancelled, is Nigeria prepared to make up the shortfall of providing free ARTs for its 3.5 million citizens living with HIV?
Such questions are those that countries across Africa must face, whether it is in receiving American assistance in fighting Islamist groups such as Al-Shabaab and other al-Qaeda affiliated groups, or in receiving grants for health projects such as AIDS and tuberculosis.
This possible change in American foreign policy in Africa resurrects the debate on whether aid helps Africa or pushes it further into poverty, as argued by Dead Aid, a bestseller by Zambian economist, Dambisa Moyo. Expectedly, her book received criticism from many quarters who accused her of discounting the huge impact aid has had on the continent, especially in the areas of health and education.
However, it is important to take a second look at her argument that a dependence on foreign aid weakens the social compact between governments and their citizens, and encourages corruption since the revenue of the government is not from the productive activities on the population.
It is in the light of this that the suggestion of the questionnaire from the Trump transition team of a focus on opening business opportunities could likely be to Africa’s long-term advantage. These business opportunities, if mutually beneficial, will make African nations less dependent on foreign aid, force them to create business-friendly climates and economies that are tax-based and on the productive activities in their countries.
It is important that countries begin to examine the level and form of dependence on the United States and commence making plans that will ensure they are not left in a lurch no matter the direction Africa-focused foreign policies under President Donald Trump take.