China and terrorism expected to remain key issues in US-Africa policy after polls

Thursday November 05 2020
Kyle McCarter.

US Ambassador to Kenya Kyle McCarter at the Rivatex East Africa factory in Eldoret on October 27, 2020. US-Africa trade policy is unlikely to change after the elections. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The US-Africa policy will likely remain focused on countering China's influence, and fighting terrorism regardless of who wins the Oval Office in the November 3 US election.

American citizens will be deciding whether to give President Donald Trump a second term in office, or hand leadership to Joe Biden, the former vice president of Barack Obama.

President Trump has signalled reduction of US military presence in Africa, altered budgetary allocation to humanitarian programmes, and tightened visa conditions for most citizens of African countries.

Foreign policy and international trade experts say the US will continue to keep an eye on China, even if the Democrats win the White House. The US is also likely to sustain its momentum on fighting terrorist groups in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, including acting indirectly to support partners in the region.

Hassan Khannenje, the director of the HORN International Institute for Strategic Studies in Nairobi, told The EastAfrican that concerns about relations with China transcend party lines, and the US could fuel targeted policies to win back a continent considered strategic and a traditionally ally of Washington.



"For Trump, countering China, fighting terror and striking bilateral trade deals has been at the centre of US-Africa policy. Rhetoric has, however, not been backed by real action outside attempts to secure bilateral trade deals," Mr Khannenje said on Thursday.

"If Biden wins, the US, while seeking to counter China and fighting terror, may restore democracy and security at the centre of US-Africa policy."

Whichever party wins, he said, will sustain funding support for programmes such as health which the Trump Administration slowed down by reducing funding in successive years.

Whether President Trump wins or not, analysts at the South African Institute for Security Studies (ISS) say the US should alter its policy on Africa and treat it as a worthy continent, not just a collection of countries in a poor region.

"Respect will go a long way in rekindling US–Africa relations if Biden is elected. However, US foreign policy has been and will continue to be guided by a strong realist view based on ensuring ‘national security’ and pursuing 'national interests'. That much won't change whether it's a Democrat or a Republican in the White House," ISS analysts wrote in a bulletin ahead of the US elections.


The focus on US “national interest” is debatable when it comes to who between Republicans and Democrats benefit African countries. Former Republican president George W Bush began the controversial war on terror, but he also launched the Africa Growth Opportunity Act, allowing privileged exports from developing African countries into the US market.

Mr Bush also launched the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar), providing millions of dollars to support health programmes in Africa. Both programmes were subsequently supported by the succeeding (Democratic) Obama administration.

President Trump passed a law that turned the Overseas Private Investment Corporation into the US Development Finance Corporation, doubling its funding to $60 billion to target private sector investments in Africa. This was seen as a counter move to China's rising investments and connections on the continent.

In a virtual press conference on Thursday, Victoria Whitney, the chief operating officer of the Prosper Africa Initiative, one of the Trump administration's programmes to improve business in Africa, said the US will expand business ties in Africa to achieve "two-way" investments.

"We're committed to supporting small- and medium-sized African businesses,” she said.

In October, the US launched a new Development Finance Corporation-Prosper Africa investment unit to "help drive even more US investment in Africa”, starting early 2021.

Officials in Washington say focus on trade is the best assurance for sustainable development.