What Trump means to Kenya and Africa

mutiga-4 What Trump means to Kenya and Africa

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On September 4, 1987, a 41-year-old Donald J. Trump took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times in which he outlined the isolationist, “America first” world view that has helped propel him to the presidency.

He called on policymakers in Washington to tear up trade deals that did not favour the US and to limit engagement with the world.

The billions spent abroad, he said, would be better invested to “help our farmers, our sick, our homeless … end our huge deficits, reduce our taxes, and let America’s economy grow unencumbered by the cost of defending those who can easily afford to pay us for the defence of their freedom.”

Trump railed against the American military’s role in defending allies and protecting important sea routes.

“The world is laughing at America’s politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help,” he wrote.

The world has reacted with a mixture of shock and disbelief at the upset victory that Trump scored over the heavily favoured Hillary Clinton on Tuesday. The shock is giving way to analysis on what a Trump presidency would mean for the world.

The Republican presidential candidate did not mention Africa when he outlined his campaign platform, except for passing references to the disastrous American intervention in Libya which sowed chaos in that country but analysts say the incoming administration would have profound implications for the continent and the world.

“Trump’s whole manifesto was about reclaiming America for Americans,” says Zaddock Syong’o, a foreign policy analyst and former assistant minister for Trade.

“That means he is likely to have a foreign and domestic policy that is very inward looking, with national and economic self-interest coming first. Africa should expect that any engagement will be on a scratch-my-back I-scratch-yours basis.”

Trump’s long-held isolationist world view, which he repeated in a March 2016 interview with the New York Times headlined: “In Donald Trump’s worldview, America comes first, and everybody else pays,” is likely to trigger the most far-reaching review of American foreign policy in decades.

The expected retreat from goals such as democracy-promotion that Republican and Democratic party administrations have pursued since the end of the WWII could have major consequences for Africa.

Some strongmen are already celebrating, with an adviser to Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila, who has been accused of defying the constitution to extend his stay in office, telling the BBC on Thursday that they expected a reduction in American “meddling” in the internal affairs of his country.


Leaders in Burundi and South Sudan, who have come under pressure from the Obama administration to respect the rule of law and curb conflicts in their territories, will also be watching developments with interest.

Support for civil society groups, which have been the main beneficiaries of these democracy promotion efforts, could also be in the balance if America pushes forward with the inward looking approach to foreign policy.

More worrying for governments, including in Kenya, will be questions over whether some key aspects of American financial assistance, especially in healthcare, would continue.

An MoU signed between President Kenyatta and Obama during his visit in July 2015 indicated that Kenya was the world’s biggest recipient of funds from the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (Pepfar), which aims to reduce child mortality from HIV/Aids and the US leader signalled that support would continue.

With Trump seeking to re-channel funds internally, it is an open question as to whether that commitment remains.

Dr Joshua Kivuva of the University of Nairobi’s political science department says support in areas that align with American “strategic goals” would continue but he adds that the latest developments offer Africa a chance to be more self-reliant.

“This moment was always coming. America itself is in financial distress which is why people voted for a candidate who said he would channel funds to their crumbling infrastructure, the inner cities and their schools,” he said.

He added that African leaders should seek to foster good governance so that disruptive events such as the Trump election do not have a significant bearing on their citizens’ lives.

One of the main issues to watch in the first few months of a Trump administration will be the fate of tens of thousands of Africans working in the US.

There are 121,300 Kenyans in the US, according to the 2014 census, with estimates indicating about 30,000 live illegally in several cities.

The migrants are a big source of foreign exchange, with the World Bank listing Kenya as the third highest recipient of remittances in Africa in 2015, behind Nigeria and Ghana.

In 2015, Kenya received Sh163 billion from Kenyans living abroad, mainly in the US. This was the biggest source of foreign exchange to the country, displacing tea exports which had long been the main earner.

Kenyans that have regularised their stay in the US will not have a problem. But those who are there illegally could increasingly find it hard to find work while some may face deportation.

“There will be a clear policy of ring-fencing opportunities for American citizens,” says Mr Syongo.

“That means there will be an effort to directly and indirectly push out those who are in America illegally because the core constituency that elected Trump has been led to believe that they are unemployed and underpaid due to the influx of immigrants.”

Reports of attacks on non-white Americans are also likely to see Kenyan students seeking to study abroad looking elsewhere. With 7,000 students in the US in the 2014/5 academic year, Kenya was the third biggest source of students from Africa in the US, again behind Nigeria and Ghana.

On the security front, analysts see a mixed picture. Some say Trump could prove to be a major recruiting sergeant for extremist groups because of his shocking remarks, such as a proposed ban on the entry of Muslims to the United States – one of his more notorious statements during the campaign.

However, Trump appears to have walked back that threat and the statement was quietly removed from his website after he secured victory. Extremist groups, including the so-called Islamic State, have been quick to call on supporters to prepare for a long war with America.

Al-Shabaab was one of the first to take advantage of Trump’s xenophobic stance, releasing a propaganda video in December urging American Muslims to join the terrorist organisation because they were unwanted in America.

Trump’s isolationist policy approach could still lead to the surprising outcome of an improved security environment, some say, because American military intervention particularly under the George W. Bush administration, led to a series of disasters that President Obama struggled to resolve throughout his time in office.

Writing after Trump was declared the winner of the election, Salim Lone, who served as spokesman under former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, argued that despite Trump being “a person with the most odious views”, there could be some surprising benefits in terms of stability from his victory.

“Trump’s recognition of how military interventions in the Middle East have backfired, and his desire to work with Russia could be a game changer,” Mr Lone said.

He added that the outcome of the election would help to focus attention on problems that dog many countries, particularly income inequality.

“Trump’s presidency will shake up the complacency of the system, in part through its incapacity to address his base’s serious economic woes, and lead to a new search for solutions to declining incomes. This will be a boon to progressive organisers, while a Clinton candidacy would have strengthened the system and weakened the progressive cause through the extraordinary support she enjoys from both the parties and their billionaires,” he said.


Although there are concerns that a Trump administration could tear up the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows Africa tax-free access to the US market, John Campbell, a Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York says this is unlikely.

Trade volumes under Agoa are low and it is unlikely to be a top priority although there is also no guarantee it would be renewed in 2025.

Mr Campbell says Trump is likely to continue security cooperation with countries, including Kenya and Djibouti, because fighting terrorism was an important plank of his campaign. He adds that the biggest signal of a Trump administration’s approach to Africa would be whether he engages in a wholesale change of personnel in key embassies.

All American ambassadors are traditionally expected to tender their resignations when a new administration comes into office. Ambassadors who were political appointees usually have to leave their posts but career civil servants retain their posts and it will be instructive to see whether Trump seeks to bring in a whole new team, something analysts say would be unlikely given the competing priorities he would have.

If there are major changes in personnel in key US embassies, including Kenya, that will raise the question of the fate of numerous agreements struck with the US before and during the Obama visit.

Kenya has been hoping for the introduction of direct flights from the US, for example. President Obama also hoped to take on Chinese influence in the region with the signing of a $9.5 billion (Sh900 billion) plan for American firms to take part in the Lamu Port South Sudan and Ethiopia Transport Corridor (Lapsset) programme and it is unclear if that will go ahead.

More broadly, the ugly nature of the campaign and the extreme positions taken by Trump have done lasting damage to the view of America in the world, say some observers.

The lost opportunity to install a woman as head of the most powerful country on earth has led to regret by those that hoped the powerful symbolism would have inspired millions around the world.

“There was great hope that Hillary would go ahead of other women and demonstrate that women can earn any position they are qualified for,” said communications executive Gina Din-Kariuki, while speaking at a results-viewing party at the US ambassadors’ residence.

“The very fact that the winner of the election is Trump, a man who has said shocking things about women, is dispiriting.”

Ms Din-Kariuki said there was hope that Trump would be restrained by institutions such as Congress but added that America’s position as a democratic exemplar lay in the past.

“I was here when Obama was elected in 2008 and the sense of optimism and respect for America was unbelievable. The fact that a man such as Obama who has set such an example with his elegance, class and dignity is being replaced by someone like Trump is simply sad.”


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