It could have ended with the shattering of the glass ceiling in the US having the first woman president in Hillary Clinton. Instead the 2016 election ended in consternation, protests by citizens and markets alike and pleas for continuity from the White House no less as property and entertainment mogul Donald Trump became the country’s 45th commander in chief.
Much of the despondency caused by the outcome across the world stemmed from his bold — if untutored — utterances while on the campaign trail that he would relook at the environment, security and trade agreements that his predecessors signed on to in a bid to ensure that they served American interests more.
Within the US his proposals to restrict the entry of Muslims, build a wall along the border with Mexico and introduce tax barriers for companies that relocate from the US were divisive but struck a chord with voters who felt that globalisation was responsible for their lack of jobs and limited access to government services.
From his domestic and foreign policy pronouncements, Mr Trump succeeded in becoming the world’s most polarising leader. But he changed tune in his victory speech: “It is time for us to come together as one united people. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans. I want to tell the world community that while we will always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone, with everyone — all people and all other nations. We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict.”
But it is still frightening to decipher what a Trump presidency — set to start on January 20 — 2017, has in store for Africa. The continent has borne the brunt of trade imbalances, bad governance, deepening extremism and the debilitating impact of climate change on food production.
To date, Mr Trump has only mentioned Africa by name once, when he said corruption would hinder the success of the $7 billion Power Africa programme launched by President Barrack Obama two years ago. While that could be taken to imply his presidency will come down on corrupt regimes in Africa, his foremost concern for security suggests a continuation of the status quo, where the US closes its eyes to domestic excesses of regimes that are key to its national interests.
“Trump probably shares the views of Samuel Huntington, Henry Kissinger, and even Hillary Clinton that democracy in some countries may not be in the best interests of the United States. The difference between Trump and the establishment heavyweights is that he probably would refrain from intervening where voters are perceived to have voted wrongly,” said Macharia Munene, a professor of history at the United States International University in Nairobi.
US interests in East Africa, according to Africa Command (a 2000-strong force stationed in Djibouti) largely focus on regional security, political stability and humanitarian efforts with progress on democracy and human-rights parameters of engagement in Burundi, Eritrea, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan.
Another exception is Kenya, where corruption is singled out as the main impediment after insecurity to achievement of sustained growth. President Barack Obama has already taken the thunder out of any of Mr Trump’s potential actions by extending sanctions on Sudan as well as a national emergency on Burundi to late next year.
Also, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation has asked Kenya to refund $16 million just a couple of weeks after the Health Ministry was implicated by an internal audit over the whereabouts of $51 million. Across the region, however, there is a feeling that Mr Trump’s regime will not alter much of the US strategic interests in East Africa or effect drastic changes in foreign policy.
“For us it is a question of getting acquainted and working with the new team. We believe the election results will not much affect US foreign policy,” said Rwanda Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo.
Shoo Innocent, a lecturer with Tanzania’s Centre for Foreign Relations, said what was likely to change were US priorities in Africa as Mr Trump had vowed to fight terrorist groups like Boko Haram, Al Shaabab and their cells.
What direction American policies will take for the rest of the world, however, will depend on the team Mr Trump picks for his Cabinet. Vice President-elect Mike Pence who comes from Indiana, the seventh largest producer of coal energy, is expected to drive the power agenda. Although he backs coal and fossil fuels for the sake of his electorate, he is also open to tax breaks on biofuels, geothermal, wind and solar. US venture funds and angel investors have shown interest in supporting clean energy solutions across East Africa. His support for fossil fuels could also boost US companies prospecting for reserves in East Africa, the newest oil and gas frontier.
While sectors that help push merchandise to Africa and bolster the domestic economy will benefit from Trump through strengthening of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, trade in the reverse direction may suffer as a Trump presidency could come with more protectionism. Enough safeguards already exist to protect the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act whose main beneficiary, textiles, pose little threat to US industries when compared with China in particular.
“There is every reason to expect that, under a Trump administration, the US will be less engaged in Africa especially where it concerns the expenditure of taxpayer resources on economic development initiatives,” said Witney Schneidman, a non-resident fellow at Brookings Global Economic Development Africa Growth Initiative.
Although the US has moved from loans to grants in its support for African programmes, its clout in lending at the International Monetary Fund, where it holds an 18 per cent voting right, is key to deciding which government gets funding. Nigeria and Egypt are in the final stages of concluding $29 billion and $12 billion financing, but their ability to tap into the facilities could become stricter under President Trump. He will however, be aware of the options African governments have in China.