Five ways Pompeo could revive Trump’s Africa strategy

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stands by as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a statement on the conflict in Syria in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
Editor's note:

This op-ed was originally published by The Hill.

President Trump made history in 2018 with his Africa Strategy, but many observers have grown impatient because they expected more vigorous action and policies to match the administration’s words and actually advance U.S.-Africa relations. Trump’s Africa Strategy was aimed at promoting prosperity, security and stability in relations, and the business-friendly Prosper Africa launched on June 19, 2019, aims to substantially increase two-way trade and investment between the United States and Africa. 

As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prepares for his first Africa visit on Feb. 15, with stops in Senegal, Angola, and Ethiopia (including at the African Union), he has a unique opportunity to revive Trump’s Africa Strategy by focusing on these key topics, as considered by U.S. and African partners:

  1. Assure his African counterparts that the U.S. will prioritize Africa during the G7 Summit again. In 2018, and for the first time since 2001, Africa’s usual focus during the G7 was replaced by other topics. The Brookings Institution report “Foresight Africa 2020-2030” outlines some of the critical issues for the continent that represent  both a tremendous opportunity for the world and potential risks for global stability and prosperity if ignored by global partners.
  2. Vigorously support the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and a partnership with the African Union. If successfully implemented, the AfCFTA will contribute to the United States’s prosperity by offering unique opportunities for expansion of businesses and contributing to job creation in the United States, while also advancing Africa’s prosperity. The AfCFTA creates a vast market for U.S. goods and services and could harmonize policy and regulatory regimes, meaning that the same rules will be implemented at the continental level, to reduce the cost of transactions. Unsurprisingly, most U.S. corporations and trade actors doing business with Africa have shown strong interest in successful implementation of the AfCFTA. They see opportunities for business in Africa. Any insistence towards bilateral free trade agreements with AfCFTA member states would worsen incidences of trade deflection and undermine the AfCFTA in trading and industrialization. More broadly, it would undermine regional and continental integration initiatives in Africa.
  3. Focus on how the Fourth Industrial Revolution can contribute to mutual U.S.-Africa prosperity. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and digitization could transform Africa into a global powerhouse, and as the leader in education, technology, innovation, governance, and cybersecurity, the U.S. can play a unique role in developing partnerships for digital integration to accelerate business and the future of work. Core African challenges—which also represent unique opportunities for the U.S. and African businesses and institutions—include the imperative of fixing the labor-skills mismatch; enhancing agile governance for secure, effective management of the 4IR and integration into global value chains; and building a conducive business environment and institutional capacity for innovation. There’s also a need for physical and digital infrastructure that will remove barriers to innovation and technological progress such as a lack of electricity, internet density, and broadband penetration.
  4. Reestablish the U.S.-Africa Business Forum, co-hosted with the U.S. government, or a similar U.S.-Africa trade and investment forum with high-level engagements. It is estimated that by 2030, Africa will have 1.7 billion people and combined consumer and business spending of $6.7 trillion. This presents tremendous opportunities for growth for both U.S. and African corporations. Since making the largest deals often requires engagement at the highest levels among top private and public leaders, reestablishing the U.S.-Africa Business Forum could substantially contribute to job creation in the U.S. and Africa.
  5. Play a more effective role in addressing Africa’s security and fragility challenges. Africa will represent 40 percent of the global workforce by the end of the century. In order to be effective, the U.S. should innovate with a decentralized approach focusing on cities and local governing institutions, as well as more vigorously on private-sector development and bridging the implementation gap. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in 2018, 1.8 billion people, or 24 percent of the global population, lived in fragile contexts, and by 2030, that number is expected to total 2.3 billion (3.3 billion by 2050). Most of the fragile states in the world are located in Africa, so working to end insecurity and fragility would be critical for sustained peace and development.

Pompeo will discuss matters of bilateral interests between Senegal, Angola, and Ethiopia and the United States, but the only real way to advance the Trump administration’s Africa Strategy—or, more broadly, U.S.-Africa relations for mutual prosperity—would be to engage with issues of continental interests as well, and beyond words and commitments, take action.