Trump’s victory sparks African concern

Donald Trump's shock election sparks African fears around trade barriers, climate change and security.


Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States in a dramatic move that could have severe repercussions for America’s role in the international order and its relations with allies in Africa and beyond.

Trump’s stunning victories over bitter rival Hillary Clinton in a number of crucial battleground states, including Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, provided a path to the White House for a maverick who has been repeatedly dismissed as a divisive demagogue but who has defied experts at every turn. 

The result upset the assumptions of established pollsters and shocked international markets, with the Mexican peso – vulnerable to Trump’s nativist and anti-trade rhetoric – falling by over 13%. The dollar fell by 3% against the yen, while gold prices spiked by over 4% as investors sought a safe haven. 

The victory of the controversial property tycoon and former reality TV star after a bitter and unpredictable campaign plunges the US into unprecedented territory and presages perhaps the biggest overhaul in US foreign policy since the Second World War. Trump’s longstanding opposition to multilateral trade deals and abrasive policy stances – including a proposed ban on Muslim immigrants, threats to kill the families of terrorists and a plan to build a wall on the Mexican border – have provoked concern among international allies.

His frequent diatribes against globalisation, focusing on a ‘rigged system’ that delivers prosperity and jobs to other countries at the expense of the US – hints at a radical departure from the country’s post-war international consensus. With Trump’s often spontaneous utterances veering wildly from isolationism to heavy-handed interventionism, few have confidently predicted the likely impact of a Trump presidency on African relations. In an uncharecteristically conciliatory victory speech, Trump attempted to alleviate international concerns. 

“We will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us…I want to tell the world community that while we will always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone.”

But Trump’s consistent opposition to multilateral trade deals – which he blames for disadvantaging the US – could endanger the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a landmark piece of legislation introduced in the Clinton era which gives African countries tariff free access to the US market. Barack Obama signed off on a ten year extension to the act – credited with creating around 350,000 African jobs – in June 2015. The act enabled US trade with sub-Saharan Africa of $52.1bn in 2014. Trump has yet to single out AGOA, but his frequently expressed opposition to free trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement – signed by Bill Clinton – and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, introduced by Barack Obama – is likely to concern African states involved in AGOA. 

“Not only does Trump reject free trade but AGOA is a unilateral preference agreement that gives African countries duty free access to the US in return for making progress on economic and political reform. It is hard to see how AGOA is sustained in a Trump administration,” said Witney Schneidman, senior international advisor for Africa at Covington & Burling, who played a leading role in the passage and reauthorisation of AGOA. 

The outcome of the election could also have a dramatic impact on Africa’s fight against climate change. In his first major energy policy speech in May, Trump announced that he would cancel the hard-won 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the landmark document signed by 195 nations and the EU to limit global temperature rises by 2100. Africa, which will be the continent most affected by temperature rises, has lobbied aggressively for additional finance and stronger follow-up measures at this month’s successor conference in Marrakech.

Trump’s frequent broadsides against minorities may further impact on relations with African leaders. In the days running up to the election, Trump drew sharp condemnation for comments aimed at Minnesota’s Somali community, who he blamed for spreading extremism. The president elect’s bid to bar Muslim immigrants to the United States was roudly condemned on a continent where an estimated 45% of people share the faith. 

David Thomas

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