KHADIJAH A ROBINSON
As the U.S. election draws closer, the prospect of a Trump presidency, which many considered impossible, has become at least a possibility. Many Africans are rightfully asking: what that might mean for Africa?
The 2016 election has countries and people across the world watching the process with bewilderment. In Africa, many are tuning in with more interest than usual believing that the outcome will have a significant and negative impact on U.S.-African relations. His political platform has been unsettling to many.
Worrisome to some is that Donald Trump favors a more insular America. Trump promotes ‘America First’ and delights in highlighting negative effects of globalization.
Outside of Trump’s political positions, his rhetoric has alienated many across the African continent. For example, at a rally in 2015, Donald Trump referred to the Kenyan team that won the IAAF World Championships in Beijing as “frauds.” In another talk, Donald Trump mispronounced “Tanzania.”
Donald Trump rarely addresses Africa or U.S.-Africa relations, in his campaign speeches. While Trump’s campaign has focused heavily on U.S. relations with Russia and China, he has not talked about Africa from a policy perspective. Though Trump himself has not laid out an Africa-oriented policy, Joseph Schmitz, an advisor to the Trump campaign, outlined policy goals of a potential Trump administration relating to Africa at a recent Wilson Center event.
Schmitz said a “Trump administration will be smart on African aid and trade.” He also discussed the ‘problem’ of African immigration to Europe, and highlighted that a key to the US-African relationship under Trump will be striving to eliminate corruption in Africa and Washington alike.
Schmitz said that Trump is committed to engaging private business-people in positions of policy leadership regarding Africa. Donald Trump has not outlined other concrete objectives for Africa-related policy. However, his general foreign policy positions would have concrete effects on the continent.
The American relationship with Africa has strengthened significantly under the presidency of Barack Obama, as evidenced by initiatives such as the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit and the U.S.-Africa Business Summit in August 2014 , with over 1,000 attendees. If Donald Trump’s general policy positions impact his policy direction regarding Africa, a Trump presidency would ensure a significant shift from the status quo in U.S.-African relations when it comes to trade, aid, and immigration.
Donald Trump has indicated that if he were to become president, he would seek to renegotiate all of the U.S.’s foreign trade deals. Trump favors bilateral trade agreements (BITs) over multi-party agreements, such as the trans-pacific partnership (TPP) or the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the latter of which has been a critical program for U.S.-African relations.
AGOA was signed into law in 2000. The Act offers incentives for African countries to open their economies and build free markets. AGOA imports into the U.S. totaled $26.8 billion in 2013. While Trump has focused heavily on his opposition to the TPP, he has yet to comment on AGOA and its future should he be elected president.
However, Trump has expressed a general opposition to multi-party treaties, and this sentiment, coupled with his declaration to “put America first,” casts doubt over the continuance of AGOA and other favorable trade arrangements with Africa should he be elected president. AGOA may be subject to particular scrutiny under Donald Trump as it promotes African imports to the U.S. without simultaneously promoting U.S. exports to Africa, which contributes to the trade deficit that Donald Trump has criticized repeatedly.
When Donald Trump speaks about his trade policies, he zeroes in on the trade deficit, which he has noted is around $800 billion. Though Trump is most focused on China, the U.S. has had a trade deficit with sub-Saharan Africa for many years as well. In 2014, the U.S. exported $25.38 billion worth of goods to sub-Saharan African countries, while importing $26.75 billion. The deficit was more pronounced in 2013 prior to the dip in the commodities market, with $39.29 billion in imports and $23.94 billion in exports.
The landscape of African economies is changing, and consumerism is on the rise; however commodity exports still drive most economies on the continent, making African countries unfavorable trade partners for a protectionist.
In 2014, the last year that is fully reported by United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the agency had $10 billion in commitments in sub-Saharan Africa alone. USAID is only one platform through which the U.S. supplies assistance to Africa; other programs, such as the Peace Corps., the State Department, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Department of Agriculture, and more, provide significant assistance to non-profit organizations, small businesses, governments, and individuals across the continent.
Donald Trump has indicated that he would lower the amount of foreign aid that the U.S. sends abroad, though he has not specified how he would implement the cuts. The U.S. is currently the largest donor of aid to Africa by far (giving over twice that of the next country). Though the long-term benefits of foreign aid are extensively debated, a sudden decrease in aid would undoubtedly have a significant disruptive impact on many countries on the continent, such as Rwanda (which relies on foreign aid for about half of its budget).
Donald Trump supports some immigration policies that, if implemented, would be amongst the most drastic the U.S. has ever pursued. Trump has, for example, repeatedly announced that as president, he would seek to ban all foreign Muslims from entering the United States, at least temporarily. This policy would undoubtedly alienate many ally countries on the continent. It is unclear if Trumps ban would extend to Muslim heads of State, of which there are several dozen. Around 30% of sub-Saharan Africans are Muslims, while the overwhelming majority of North Africans are.
For example, approximately 50% of Nigeria’s population is Muslim, including President Muhammadu Buhari. Last year, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the U.S. exported $3.44 billion worth of goods to Nigeria and imported $1.92 billion, making it a significant trade partner. In 2013, the Office of the United States Trade Representative notes that Nigeria was 40th largest goods export market and the 30th largest goods import market for the U.S.
Additionally, Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa, and has significant political economy on the continent. Although U.S.-Nigeria relations strengthened under President Obama, a policy such as the ban which Trump advocates would wear on the budding partnership.
Immigration is a particular focus of Donald Trump’s campaign. First, Donald Trump vows to “increase standards for the admission of refugees and asylum-seekers” should he become president. His political platform cites abuses of the refugee-immigration system as impetus for this policy. Heightened scrutiny of potential refugees will significantly affect some populations of Africans. For the last several years, Sudanese, Eritrean, and Congolese people have consistently been in the top 10 countries of origin for U.S. refugees.
In addition to refugees, who are fleeing political, gender, and social violence, voluntary immigrants from Africa have accounted for an increasing number of immigrants to the U.S. in recent years. In 2000, there were 881,000 African-born immigrants living in the U.S., compared to the 1,830,000 in 2013.
Many Africans enter the U.S. through the diversity visa program, which requires a high school education or the equivalent, or two years’ experience in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience, and which seeks to encourage legal immigration from countries other than the major sending countries of current immigrants to the U.S.
In fact, Africans are now the majority of those entering the U.S. through the diversity visa program. Stemming this flow of African immigrants will undoubtedly have an impact on things such as on remittances to the continent, which climbed to $35.2 billion in 2015. Additionally, such a move may increase tension between the U.S. and African countries that already retaliate against the perceived inequity of the U.S.’s immigration system by charging U.S. citizens more to obtain visas (amongst other hurdles to entry).
H-1B visas are also on Donald Trump’s presidential chopping block. While no African countries produce the leading recipients of these visas, which are granted to educated and/or specially trained immigrants seeking to work in their field of specialty, the limitation of these visas may affect Africans more and more as the population becomes more educated and mobile.
Trump’s platform is strongly aimed at “control[ling] the admission of new low-earning workers,” which means limiting legal immigration into the country. There is a risk, however, that isolationist policies will encourage reciprocity from African countries, leaving the continent less open to Americans.
A Trump presidency would significantly impact U.S.-Africa relations, as three of the major arenas in which the U.S. interacts with the African continent – trade, aid, and immigration – would change substantially. For both U.S. businesses and citizens pursuing opportunities in Africa or seeking to bolster cross-Atlantic interactions, changes in these areas can prove critical.
Khadijah Robinson is an associate and a member of the Africa team at the DC-based law firm Covington.