Martins Hile, Editor, Financial Nigeria magazine

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Africa in Trump's first 100 days in office 09 May 2017

The first 100 days in office as US President was initially an important milestone for Donald Trump. During the campaign, he boasted he would accomplish so much by that presidential milestone. Being president of the United States was as easy as running his real estate businesses, he must have presumed.
President Trump's first 100 days in office were eventful, but he had to disavow the marked calendar because of lack of substantial accomplishments. The bill to repeal and replace Obamacare couldn't garner enough support among congressional Republicans. His two travel bans were thwarted by the courts and protested against around the world. His tax reform remains on the drawing board after it was enunciated.

To be sure, President Trump wants to achieve. And it is true, 100 days is too short a time to define a presidential mandate of four years. As President, Barack Obama thought it was the first 1,000 days that would make the difference, even though he got significant legislative accomplish-ments before the 100-day mark.

However, for a president that hit the ground running as quickly as Trump did, the first one hundred days, at least, set the tone for his administration. It is on this point that valid concerns about his presidency have been raised. He has projected America's military power by bombing Syria, dropping the “mother of all bombs” on an ISIS' haven in Afghanistan, and he has made military strike against North Korea as an option left on the table. Inconsistencies in his pronouncements have only worsened his chaotic policy outlook.

So, what do we know so far about his policy for Africa? Except that Africa is on the fringes of his policy thoughts, not much else is known. The only African head of state that has visited President Trump's White House was Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. But the strategic importance of Egypt to the United States is not anchored on Africa. It is more about the volatile geopolitics of the Middle East, where Egypt has been exercising a stabilising influence.

However, on February 13, President Trump called President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa on phone. The US President subsequently called President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya on March 7. The essence of the calls could very well be limited to touching base with the economic powerhouses of Africa.

As a no-frills engagement for Trump, he spoke to Buhari while the Nigerian leader was on a medical leave in London, and in spite of Yemi Osinbajo being Acting President at the time. Buhari's health has remained parlous. Even as he retreats into the recesses of Aso Rock Villa, unable to attend routine functions, which is causing a rumbling in the polity, US position on Nigeria's presidential power vacuum is unknown. Indeed, it is too early for any public intervention by a foreign government in the Nigeria situation, given that constitutional provisions for addressing President Buhari's incapacitation has not been availed.

Similarly, South Africa is in a state of disquiet. Ahead of electing the leader of the ruling ANC in December, President Zuma has been trying to assert his interest, despite allegations of corruption against him, and in the face of growing political opposition. The economy has been teetering. The unemployment rate was at a “chronic” 48% in the third quarter of 2016. Socioeconomic challenges have led some South African youths into regular bursts of xenophobic attacks on fellow Africans in the country.

If what President Trump hasn't said or done about Africa generates concerns, more so would be the few policy actions he has taken about the continent. In mid-April, he ordered deployment of US military to Somalia. He also seems willing to uphold the arms deal President Obama agreed with President Buhari. These suggest the continuation of America's age-long “gunboat diplomacy” in Africa.

President Trump has also cut funding to programmes and institutions that support humanitarian causes in Africa. His “America First” policy has meant the few good causes that US funding backs in Africa would either be scaled back or jettisoned. Trump's fiscal priorities are about building the wall he promised along the US southern border with Mexico, the broad tax cuts to Americans and increased military spending.

The risks to the US and its Western allies in withholding aid to Africa have been spelt out. Surges in migration from Africa could result, at a time anti-immigration in the West has led politicians on the far right to embrace uncertainty, a la Brexit. Decades of progress in reducing the burdens of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS could be reversed. The blowback from this can reach the US homeland, through international travel and increased radicalisation.

The effectiveness of Western aid in Africa has been questioned. But the answer cannot be less aid. Africa that is on the blind side of President Trump is a lose-lose situation to be avoided. Thus, whatever the milestone he now believes in, he would do well to benchmark his Africa policy, especially against that of his Republican forerunner George W. Bush that saw PEPFAR effectively counter the HIV scourge.