The U.S. has a whole constellation of engagements with African states that are now going to be in the crosshairs of the incoming administration, from $8 billion in financial assistance for USAID to multinational partnerships that have provided access to life-saving antiretroviral therapy for more than 9.5 million people living with HIV last year. He has not outlined any vision for the future of U.S.-Africa ties, but Trump campaigned on his willingness to enforce white privilege at home, and his foreign policy outlook so far is a unique blend of recklessness and disinterest. That matters for Africans in the U.S. and beyond.
African citizens already living, working, and studying here in the U.S. will now be confronted with a president who actively campaigned on a platform that promised routine “intimidation of people of color, of immigrants, of people from diverse backgrounds,” said Laura Seay, a professor of government at Colby College in Maine, to MTV News. “I have heard people yell out racial slurs from cars at people of color in Maine,” she added. “That genie in a bottle is out. And it’s not just out there like it was in the campaign. It’s been validated, it’s been normalized.”
Distance is not guaranteed to shield those watching from overseas from the Trump administration’s impact, either. Julia Amukoshi, a poet and Mandela Washington Fellow from Namibia, told MTV News that Trump’s electoral victory generates a series of concerning questions. “Will the foreign aid toward Africa be cut severely? Will it cut down Africa’s slowly growing economic growth? Will it make African dictators stronger and fiercer? Will it drive young people into the arms of terrorists?”
When it comes to assessing the next administration’s impact on African states, the most hopeful narrative seems to be that they will be overlooked by U.S. foreign policy from 2017 to 2021. A more likely outcome? Efforts launched under President Obama in African states to help LGBTQ people and women and girls will be cast aside, and a Trump administration will encourage questionable military interventions in the pursuit of terrorist threats. Trump’s agenda in Africa “is likely to downgrade the importance of alliances with African states for virtually everything except for security and terrorism,” said Brian Klaas, a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics.
The U.S. will turn away from foreign policy initiatives that are pro-women and pro-LGBTQ.
The Obama State Department’s budget request states that roughly $1.3 billion will be spent on efforts to improve gender equity and address gender-based violence worldwide in 2017, because “it is not simply the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do.” But Trump’s embrace of misogynist, “grab ’em by the pussy”–style rhetoric is a jarring contrast to the Obama administration’s emphasis on advancing the rights of women and girls around the world. This unwelcome reversal in tone from the public face of the world’s only superpower will reverberate around the international community, with real consequences.
U.S. leadership on promoting the well-being and acceptance of LGBTQ people could fall by the wayside, too. Since 2012, the Obama administration has channelled $41 million into advocating for LGBTQ rights abroad. Under President Obama, the State Department even created an LGBTQ envoy position to safeguard LGBTQ people from harm at the highest levels of government. Since 2015, Randy Berry, the first to take on this role, has engaged with politicians in countries from Uganda, whose police arrested a trans activist for appearing at a Pride parade, to Tanzania, whose Ministry of Health has actively tried to block critical resources from being provided to organizations that serve the LGBTQ community.
But even though pro-LGBTQ foreign policy is just getting off the ground, those gains could be washed away in 2017. Seay told MTV News, “I think we’ll see significantly less administration support for LGBT activists in Africa.” More concerning are the narrowing escape routes for activists who have worked to advance the quality of life for LGBTQ people in countries where their identities are criminalized, and put their lives at risk in the process. Under Obama, some of those activists could seek asylum in the United States. But in 2017, they will be on the wrong side of Trump’s xenophobia. And they will be far from alone.
Trump’s views on migration could put millions of lives at risk, starting with refugees.
Trump’s rhetoric about “building a wall” to keep out undocumented immigrants often overshadowed his virulently anti-refugee stance during the campaign. In 2015, 32 percent of all refugee arrivals were from African states, and even though refugees are the most heavily vetted immigrants to the U.S. (an application for resettlement can take a year to process), those channels to safety and a new start could be blocked entirely under Trump’s administration. Peter Tinti, a senior research fellow at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime with a focus on migration, told MTV News, “For all its faults, the U.S. has been a leader when it comes to taking in refugees through third-country resettlement programs, but Trump’s victory almost certainly means taking in fewer refugees.”
And with the rise of nationalist populism worldwide, Tinti said, “It is unlikely that other developed countries, given their own political climates, will step in to fill the void.” He added, “Trump’s election will further embolden the ascendant far-right parties in Europe. If these parties win, it will have serious repercussions on migration — irregular and regular — from Africa to Europe.” But even if they don’t? “Mainstream parties, in fear of losing, might see fit to compromise some of the most basic principles of human rights when it comes to refugees and asylum seekers in hopes of staving off right-wing electoral victories,” Tinti said. “In fact, things are already trending that way.”
Authoritarians will get less attention from the U.S. when they abuse their citizens.
Not everyone is disappointed by the idea of Trump sitting in the Oval Office next year. Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, whose controversial third term as Burundi’s president has led to sustained political violence and the mass exodus of a quarter of a million people, very intentionally positioned himself to be the first international leader to congratulate Donald Trump. On November 9, he tweeted, “Your Victory is the Victory of all Americans.” Trump’s win is a definite boost to leaders who don’t show much interest in responding to the needs of their own citizens.
Trump’s election “will give further political cover to authoritarian leaders in Africa,” Klaas said. A Trump presidency offers Nkurunziza and leaders like him a chance to reset their relationship with American officials. Just last week, President Obama issued a letter to Congress expressing continued concerns about the killing of civilians and continued violence in Burundi and asking for a continued State of Emergency. With a more disinterested U.S. foreign policy, Pierre Nkurunziza and other autocrats will have a much easier time abusing their own citizens while the government of the United States looks away, or commits those exact same abuses at home. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the unpopular President Joseph Kabila is said to be stalling elections until he can change the constitution to give him a third term. With Trump in office, the U.S. government will be unlikely to try to put any barriers in his way.
Security will be Trump’s (only) focus in Africa.
In 2016, the United States is already projecting increased military power in African states. Small clusters of special operations forces fan out across the continent to places like Cameroon and Somalia to work with regional military forces in search of fighters from terror groups like Boko Haram or Al-Shabaab. In Djibouti, a small country wedged between Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, and the Red Sea, the U.S. has built a base that hosts more than 4,000 troops at any given time. Djibouti also serves as the primary launchpad for drones used in surveillance and armed strikes across Africa and the Middle East — and it’s not alone, as the U.S. is set to operate not one, but two drone bases in Niger next year.
After Inauguration Day, that same U.S. security infrastructure will be operating under a new Commander in Chief who has openly attacked the dignity and identity of Somali Americans in Minnesota, campaigned on promises to kill the families of suspected terrorists, and who most likely couldn’t locate Djibouti on a map. That’s good news for African governments who, in Klaas’s words, are willing to “use counterterrorism as a pretext to crush opposition and dissent” to maintain their grip on power.
Trump’s win sends a troubling signal — but it’s too early to tune out.
Africans living in the U.S. and in African states will be watching the Trump White House very closely and with serious concern. To many, including Sebabatso Manoeli, a lecturer at Oxford University, Trump’s electoral victory symbolizes the failure of the world’s largest multiracial democracy to live up to its promise. And now, “the social fault lines in the Unites States have become very apparent to a watching world,” Manoeli told MTV News. Manoeli added that to the extent that it’s had any, "the United States will lose its moral authority in Africa.” As a result, U.S.-led efforts at democracy promotion in African states are likely to take a backseat for at least the next four years.
But to those who would doubt democracy because of Trump’s win, Klaas offers a reminder: “Forty-six percent of Americans did not vote on Tuesday. There are consequences to that disinterest.” He added, “Most young people do not agree with Donald Trump and most did not vote for him. But decisions are made by those who show up.”