Why a Trump victory bodes ill for Africa

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 November 2016

The American people have spoken. They have chosen their new president, amidst massive anxiety and fear of what this change could mean, not only for the people of America, but for the entire world.

They have on Tuesday, the 8th of November 2016, chosen the best they can offer the world: Donald Trump.

With the election of a self-professed bigoted Donald Trump as president of the most powerful nation in the world, the reordering and realignment of global economic and political priorities and relationships is about to begin. This could throw the global economy into another recession and political turmoil.

The outcome of Tuesday’s vote is that America has sadly chosen to end its leadership of the free world to become an isolationist, and an insular nation.

For many in Africa, watching Americans this week tearing up the rule book of liberal democratic freedoms, by allowing a very rich, extremist and powerful property magnate to buy his way into the highest office in the land – The White House, is all too familiar.

Money buys votes in Africa – but no one expected to see this in America – the bastion of liberal democracy and freedoms. What will the founding fathers of America make of this. But more importantly, what does the election of Trump means for Africa, as China continues to carve out a place for itself on the continent?

The tearing up of the established rule book that governs world order as we have come to know it in the last fifty years, and the self-withdrawal of America’s much respected leadership role, will be seen as a shocking reflection of the wounded face of the liberal democracy that has characterised America in the past two hundred and forty years.

Obama meets African presidents 2013But as the rest of the world watches in awe at developments in America, the people of Africa are left pondering what a Donald Trump presidency could mean for Africa – a continent many believe to have been very much neglected by president Obama, from whom as the first Black president of the USA, so much was expected.

Because of America’s rather ephemeral and distant economic and political engagement with Africa, China has made the continent a key trading partner and political ally, notwithstanding the debate as to the benefits of this Sino-African marriage of convenience for the people of Africa.

What is striking though, is the fact that throughout his twelve months of campaigning, not once did Trump discuss his policy towards Africa. The continent has no place in Trump’s list of priorities, perhaps except withdrawing Africa’s special trade concessions and funding to help pay for the $4 Trillion tax cuts he has promised low paid workers in America.

As professor David J Hornsby writes in theconversation.com; “In a moment where the international community needs to be coming together to solve collective problems, President-elect Trump appears more interested in taking the US on its own path.”

This is what he says about prospects for Africa, with Trump as president of the United States of America:

Like many, I didn’t think it could be true. President Donald J Trump just seemed so implausible given the many profoundly concerning revelations about the Republican Party nominee’s personal views on women, the state, migration and migrants, Muslims, and even taxes.

How, in 2016, could an individual who thinks it’s okay to grope women, build a wall to keep migrants out, ban Muslims, call Mexicans rapists, and brag about avoiding taxes be at all appealing to the American electorate?

Well, that implausibility has become the new reality. The world will be ruminating over this for some time to come.

I won’t lie, I am profoundly concerned about the implications of Trump’s election for international affairs, and particularly for American foreign policy in Africa. Here is why.

trump2An inward looking US

A key strategy for President-elect Trump is to turn the US inward, both economically and politically.

Many of his economic policies reflect a mercantilist perspective on economic development. This can be summed up as being the opposite to free trade.

Trump is on record opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal and wishes to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement to improve the context for American business.

One can only assume that such logic will persist and extend into areas like the African Growth and Opportunities Act. This gives certain African exports preferential access to the American market.

women farmers - investing-african-agricultureIf this agreement is cancelled, African producers will lose tariff free access to an important market to sell their goods – likely leading to job losses and economic decline.

Other signs of the turn inward can be seen in his desire to focus on domestic infrastructure projects as a means of growing the American economy rather than on international cooperation agreements with other states.

Love it or hate it, American financial capital is important to African development. In 2015 alone US $14 billion poured in. Having less investment coming to African states does not spell good news regardless of how much some believe China pitches in.

Further, unlike the Obama administration which believed that it maintained a degree of responsibility for assisting development in other states, Trump has given no indication that he or anyone within his inner circle holds similar views.

With the economic turn inwards and the focusing of American resources on its narrowly defined “self-interest”, I hazard to guess that US development assistance will also be affected.

Increased divisions

To gain votes President-elect Trump sought to use immigration and migrants, particularly Muslims and Latinos, as a wedge to reinforce stereotypes and normalise prejudice.

For a continent beset by the legacies of stereotypes and prejudice, this can hardly be a good sign of things to come for Africa in terms of its relations with the US.

We know that in contexts where people turn away from each other and seek to marginalise difference politically and economically, extremism and hatred emerge.

This will do little to stem radicalism on the continent and the growing disquiet in race, ethnic, and religious relations between countries.

trump3The threat to international security

International security and conflict under a Trump administration is probably the most worrying facet of his election.

In international relations speak, Trump is what we call a “hawk”.

This is someone who seeks to use power to dominate and coerce others into doing their bidding.

Here is a man who believes the world needs more nuclear weapons rather than fewer. He’s antagonistic towards China and Iran, and believes the use of force is the best way to solve conflict.

We can expect an American foreign policy to be dominated even more by questions of security than it is now. And, I fear, the use of force will be far more readily considered and employed that it seems to have been for the last eight years.

The implications of this for Africa are real as a number of states continue to deal with civil or insurgency conflict. How the US under a Trump administration will engage in conflict is a big and concerning question.

donald-trumpCollective action will be difficult

Overall, the election of Trump spells a difficult road ahead for global cooperation around important collective issues, like climate change.

Trump believes that climate change is a Chinese invention and has committed to cancelling the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

In a moment where the international community needs to be coming together to solve collective problems, President-elect Trump appears more interested in taking the US on its own path.

After eight years of this under George W. Bush, we know what the consequences will be. Deferring action on climate change will have disastrous consequences for states battling related problems like drought, extreme weather events and rising sea levels.

Sadly, African states will suffer in this context of decreased global cooperation and appreciation for the common but differentiated responsibility that developed countries, like the US, maintain.

In a new era of crass power politics, African states will only be marginalised further from western dominated decision-making.

What’s the positive coming from this moment for Africa?

Not much – other than that the checks and balances within the American political system will not give Trump a blank cheque to do with as he pleases. This is true even though Republicans remain dominant in the country’s other legislative branches.

Sadly, I foresee a global order emerging that will be less about cooperation and more defined by division.

About the author

David J Hornsby is an Associate Professor in International Relations & Assistant Dean of Humanities, at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.


  1. Donald Trump’s victory in America symbolises that God sees everything, and he is the only answer to all problems in all countries of the world and not the political experience that the nationals might have.

    Hillary Clinton is a more matured and practically experienced politician than Donald Trunk, but she is not able to win because of the following reasons:

    1. She got her campaign stage over crowded with the Obamas. And although the black minority voters in the USA responded very well with 88% votes for Hilary, she fell short in moving the majority of white voters, because Barak Obama failed to exhibit a line up of his achievements, after two executive terms of office.

    2. Hillary’s term in office as Foreign Secretary with the Obama administration, exhibited a series of failures in countries under her coverage, which left the nationals of those countries in wars, homelessness and deaths. This kind of failures is indeed unsuitable for human existence in any part of the world.

    3. The deletion of emails by Hillary did not go down well to the voters, because her excuse of mistake was not accepted by many, especially when she was considered as a very matured politician. This deletion was done on purpose.

    4. Trump had no political experience and had never held a public office, especially for political service. People saw him as a clear, open minded candidate with the intention of making positive change for the benefit of the American people.

    5. Whether we like it or not, Trump is just a very remarkable entertainer-politician the world has ever seen on a political campaign stage.

    This very American politics has just added to our education, beyond what is taught in political science classrooms at Harvard and Cambridge universities.

  2. I also disagree with the analysis. It is a generalisation to say that “Money buys votes in Africa…” This certainly was not the case in the 2007 General Elections in Sierra Leone.

    The governing SLPP Government were dishing monies and goodies to all and sundry who came to pledge loyalty. In particular, their Presidential candidate Solomon Berewa, whose residence at Spur Road was transformed into a cash point with long queues outside, causing traffic jams. But Solo B and the SLPP lost the election.

    Secondly, to extend this generalisation to the just-concluded elections in America shows ignorance about the war chests of the two candidates. Yes the President-elect, Donald Trump is a businessman and billionaire, but Hilary Clinton’s war chest was far heavier.

    The vast amount spent on adverts against her opponent counted for nought! It was not money that won Donald Trump the Presidential election in “…the bastion of liberal democracy and freedoms”.

  3. I disagree with the above analysis and want to differ about President Donald Trump. Following the Republican nomination of Mr. Trump, some of us in Sierra Leone opined that a Daniel is about to come to the US, and that has come to reality.

    We created the “TRUMP FOR A GREAT AMERICA” to clear some doubts on African’s misconceptions about Trump. We did it and succeeded. We believe we owe it a duty and responsibility to go to the drawing table and present programs for the development of Africa.

    We need to urge President Trump to help African people to repatriate the stolen wealth out of the continent, which we believe is kept over there. I can assure you that we can do it successfully.

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