President Trump’s new strategy to improve U.S. - Africa relations

United States (U.S.) National Security Adviser John Bolton presented the Trump administration’s new Africa strategy last week at The Heritage Foundation. The strategy focused on three priorities:

  1. Enhancing U.S. trade and commercial ties with African nations through arrangements that benefit both the United States and Africa. According to Mr. Bolton, “We want our economic partners in the region to thrive, prosper, and control their own destinies. In America’s economic dealings, we ask only for reciprocity, never for subservience.”

  2. Countering the threat of Islamic terrorism. Specifically, Mr. Bolton announced, “ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates all operate and recruit on the African continent, plotting attacks against American citizens and targets. Any sound U.S. strategy toward Africa must address this serious threat in a comprehensive way.”

  3. Ensuring that the U.S. allocates its foreign assistance efficiently and effectively to advance U.S. interests. In particular, Mr. Bolton emphasized, “The United States will no longer provide indiscriminate assistance across the entire continent, without focus or prioritization. And, we will no longer support unproductive, unsuccessful, and unaccountable U.N. peacekeeping missions.”

With the strategy announcement, the Trump administration demonstrates its recognition that development is far less dependent on foreign assistance than it is on the willingness of African governments to adopt market and investment – friendly policies. The Trump administration wishes to “pursue modern, comprehensive trade agreements on the continent that ensure fair and reciprocal exchange between the United States and the nations of Africa.”

Analysts at the Heritage Foundation have strongly urged the U.S. to focus on and counter Islamic extremism in Algeria, Kenya, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, and other countries in the region, which the administration focuses on as part of its strategy for the region. Mr. Bolton also said, “The predatory practices pursued by China and Russia stunt economic growth in Africa; threaten the financial independence of African nations; inhibit opportunities for U.S. investment; interfere with U.S. military operations; and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests.”

The Trump administration’s new foreign assistance strategy will improve the effectiveness of U.S. foreign aid, which requires an overhaul of America’s foreign assistance programs that are, in the words of Mr. Bolton, “designed to counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War” and “fight terrorism after 9/11” rather than on today’s priorities. In particular, U.S. foreign assistance will “move recipient states toward self-reliance, and prevent long-term dependency” with less needy recipients graduated from foreign assistance and reductions in aid to countries “making poor policy decisions.” U.S. aid will “target resources toward areas where we have the most impact to ensure efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

In line with the strategy’s emphasis on the responsible use of taxpayer money, Mr. Bolton criticized the kleptocratic and violent South Sudanese regime that has misused American aid and expressed skepticism that the same leaders who led that country into war can lead it to peace. “Countries that repeatedly vote against the United States in international forums, or take action counter to U.S. interests, should not receive generous American foreign aid,” said Mr. Bolton. He also underscored the important effort to review all United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping operations to ensure they are fit for purpose and focused on resolving conflicts.

Though recent administrations have talked a big game about shifting the U.S. and Africa away from a benefactor-supplicant relationship toward a true partnership, the Trump administration’s strategy outlines a path to realize that goal.