A sound Trump policy on Africa could protect US interests

Editor's note:

This piece was originally published by The Hill.

Despite President Trump’s acknowledgment that the “United States faces an extraordinarily dangerous world,” his regional strategy toward Africa is too weak to advance American interests on the continent. Most high-level leaders who attended the recent Atlantic Dialogues in Morocco agree that geopolitical and economic competition from China, Russia, India, France, and the United Kingdom threaten America’s national interests and soft power in Africa.

Trump’s national security strategy commits to protect the homeland, promote American prosperity, preserve peace through strength and advance American influence with the return of principle realism. But its priority actions are not strong enough to realistically counter global competition in Africa. Given the region’s increasing importance in an interconnected world, Trump should demonstrate a more vigorous strength to address threatened economic, security, and influence interests.

Economic threats

China, the European Union, and other new players such as India are rapidly expanding economic and trade ties in Africa. The continent is likely to present $5.6 trillion of market opportunities and a population of over 1.52 billion consumers by 2025. Despite the growing potential, the United States has regressed. For example, after a few years of progress, U.S. exports in goods to Africa decreased from about $38.09 billion in 2014 to $22.28 billion in 2016. China exports to Africa have increased substantially, from $13.22 billion in 2005 to $103.19 billion in 2015.

  • Trump should vigorously expand programs such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Power Africa, and the U.S. Africa Business Forum, among others. American corporations have benefited from the trade law of AGOA; about $9.3 billion in American imports were exempt from import taxes in 2016. Power Africa, an initiative developed to increase power and electricity generation and access, will create an estimated 40,000 U.S. jobs and generate billions of dollars in exports by 2030. The last U.S.-Africa Business Forum, organized in 2016, mobilized $9.1 billion in trade and investment between Africa and the United States.
  • Supporting the ­Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) would benefit the United States economically. By 2025, Africa will have about 1.52 billion people (2.4 billion by 2050) and $5.6 trillion in market opportunity. This will represent a unique opportunity to grow American exports and profitable foreign investments.

Security threats

America’s security interests are under attack. Soldiers and citizens are being killed or kidnapped in Africa. Terrorist groups with operational bases in fragile African countries are calling for the production of chemical and biological weapons and attacks on the United States.

  • Trump’s National Security Strategy should include strengthening continental military capabilities. Direct U.S. military intervention should be used as a last resort. Ad-hoc attempts to resolve crises through interventions and coalitions such as the Sahel G-5 and Multinational Joint Task Force provide short-term gains but are demonstrably ineffective in achieving long-term security, unless they become permanent.
  • The United States should support the Africa Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) and the Peace and Security Council (PSC). It could provide funding to the Peace Fund and help develop comprehensive defense security training programs, especially those focusing on technical expertise. Strong African states will be less vulnerable to fragility and terrorism, and better equipped to protect American interests, if they are empowered to join the global fight against terrorism.

influence threats

American ideals such as democracy and freedom are in danger as China becomes the reference point for African citizens and leaders. Confucius Institutes are deployed to promote Chinese language and culture. China’s model of governance and state-led economic development is growing in popularity, outpacing the United States in Central Africa, especially fragile states such as Somalia that are unstable and vulnerable to insecurity.

  • The United States must reassert its increasingly contested leadership of the free world in a context where China and other players are gaining substantial soft power, geopolitical influence, and economic opportunities in Africa.
  • Advancing U.S. values in Africa, such as fundamental liberties, economic freedoms and self-government, which are also founding principles of the African Union, will help promote American security and economic interests on the continent.

With shared values and common interests, African leaders will most likely bring much-needed support for the United States to achieve its international goals when facing global challenges or dealing with countries such as North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, or Syria. With a sound Africa policy, Trump can protect threatened U.S. interests and sustain a great U.S.-Africa partnership for shared security and prosperity.