Trump: a boon or a curse for Africa?

Position:Donald Trump - Cover story
 
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A little after two months since Donald Trump became President of the US and in theory at least, the most powerful person on earth, the world, including Africa, is still struggling to work out what will happen next and how decisions made in the White House will affect them.

Nevertheless, as other regions are busy doing, Africa must also lose not time in analysing the Trump phenomenon and be prepared for what might ensue.

Will the Trump administration spell danger for Africa's economic growth and deinocratisation process? Will his "America First" policy jeopardise

African exports and will the growth of the hard right "hate lobby" in the US affect the lives of the over two million African migrants and students living there? Will his budget cut to foreign aid disrupt the current peacekeeping missions and lead to a renewal of violence?

Or, as one of the contributors to this cover story argues, will Trump be a blessing for Africa?

These arc just some of the questions that Africa's thought leaders are concerning themselves with. In this composite cover story, we look at various aspects of the Trump phenomenon to try and chart a course for Africa over the coming few months.

Can Africa out-trump Trump?

Donald Trump takes pride in his deal-making skills. So far, he has made bad choices in terms of foreign policy and handed his critics a stick to beat him with. His budget proposals will hit Africa hard unless he can be persuaded to soften his stance through expert dealmaking from the African side. Analysis by New African Editor, Anver Versi.

It has been just over two months since Donald Trump entered the White House as president of the US but no one, neither in America nor the rest of the world, really knows what will happen next.

It has certainly not been business as usual. Trump effectively put a spoke in the established, well-oiled American political carriage, particularly at the Washington-based Federal level, and sent the cart careening off the path, disgorging its contents, including a multitude of advisors, consultants, lobbyists and politicos, and scattering them all over the place.

Has any political leader, anywhere entered office amid such a cacophony of invective as well as adulation as Trump has generated? Yet, despite all the din around him, he has gone his merry way, infuriating his enemies and delighting his supporters in equal measure.

How Americans deal with Trump is their own business but we in Africa cannot afford to take a sanguine view and believe the tempest will not affect us profoundly.

Love it or hate it, the US is economically, politically and culturally the most powerful nation on earth and ripples in that nation cause waves to wash on our shores.

We cannot wish it away and must deal with whatever policies the Trump administration rolls out in our direction. The first step is to try and understand the Trump phenomenon and then work with, on and around that, to (using his own philosophy), get the best deal we can.

To start with, we should remember that Trump's default position is that of a ruthless businessman, not a career politician well versed in the art of making politically correct statements while doing the opposite.

Trump calls it as he sees it. In his book [he Art ojthe Deal, he states that all negotiations are based on power differentials. Which cards are you placing on the table and which are undisclosed in your hand - and, pardon the pun, can I trump it?

Power differential

A businessman's chief asset, he says, is to look at people square in the face and work out what they can bring to the table, if anything. He has no time for the niceties of diplomacy nor the labyrinths of ideology. If you have something to trade, let's exchange. If you are bringing nothing but promises or idle threats, on your way.

In any exchange, he says, it's all about who holds the power. If you have power, use it, otherwise what is the point of having power? He has already dismissed most of the developing world as having nothing to contribute bar their natural resources. "Why didn't we at least just take their oil?" he asks in exasperation at the US's Middle East wars.

When he talks about making America great again, he means wielding the big stick. When he talks about building walls with Mexico or engaging in a trade war with China, he is laying down his bargaining positions. When he tells big business to bring jobs back to the US, he is telling them that he is the boss, not they.

He is well versed in the use and deployment of distraction, bluff and double bluff, threats and counter threats, charm offensives, body language and gestures and being able to paint the big picture that others can believe in. These stratagems, he writes, are what made him such a formidable businessman and allowed him to get what he wanted.

So far we have seen him deploy his full array of strategies not only to climb the greasy ladder to the White House but also to retain the loyalty, even love of his supporters, despite his systematically slashing away at their lifelines including health insurance, jobs and we I fare.

Out of his comfort zone

But we have also seen him come badly unstuck as he and his team begin to realise that there is a vast difference between being the CEO of his company where his word was law and being the US president where his word, or tweet not only has far reaching consequences but will be minutely dissected, analysed and thrown back into his teeth.

As CEO of a vast business empire, he lived in his own bubble and his echo-chamber where reality could be what you wanted it to be and no one would disabuse you of the fact. In the harsh glare of the international spotlight, "alt-facts" will be called out for what they are and the drilling and probing will be relentless.

Clearly, Trump is on very slippery ground once he is out of his comfort zone of bare-knuckle deal-making and onto the vastly more complex floor of international relations. His hastily announced "Muslim ban", designed to appease the rabid hate lobby, has blown back into his face, providing his critics with a rallying cry and a principle which even strange bedfellows have found a common cause to unite around. The latest ban on "Muslim carry-on laptops" defies logic and again provides his critics with a stick to beat him with.

His wish to "drain the Washington swamp" and fill his cabinet with hardened businesspeople who have little or no international experience has left US foreign policy aimless and dangerously drifting. Even Rex Tillerson, his Secretary of State has said that he did not want the job but only took it because his wife insisted on it. Will the former ExxonMobil chief be able to curb his natural business instincts to deal with the complicated minutiae of foreign affairs? (See page 22)

Turning the tables?

What does all this mean for Africa? So far Trump has shown no signs that he even knows where Africa is (apart from the visa ban on Somalis and Sudanese) but his budget proposals could have a major impact on the continent.

He wants to cut $10.9bn from the State Department, including the $2.8m to the African Development Foundation which provides grants of up to $250,000 to communities and small businesses in Africa.

He wants to cut $2.6bn from the Environmental Protection Agency which means that African environmental organisations will face a severe cash crisis at a time when they need support...

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