Tana Forum: Can the United States Ignore Africa?

Since the President of the United States, Donald Trump assumed office in January last year, his administration has said that it would be cutting foreign aid budgets that disproportionately affect Africa and turning its focus to other issues and areas.

However, recently Africa has been receiving a lot of attention from the international community in form of aid, trade, and investments. It has been regarded as the next investment destination in the world as investors are looking beyond the security challenges and other challenges facing the continent. These increase in investment and industrialization will help to unlock the potential for job creation and poverty reduction in the continent.

China seems to be taking the lead among the powerful countries that have increased interest in Africa. Chinese companies are not only present in almost all African countries but are carrying out various developmental projects. Most infrastructures that are being put in place are now constructed by Chinese companies. China is also signing a lot of bilateral trade in exchange for some form of development. A few days ago it was reported that the Ghanaian government is planning to barter Bauxite for the construction of roads, rail, and hospitals worth $10bn. China has also taken its investment in the continent further by building its first overseas military support base in the horn of Africa, Djibouti to support naval missions along the coasts of Somalia and Yemen. Currently, China has surpassed the United state as Africa’s largest trading partner. A position US occupied until 2009.

In spite of president Trump’s negative comments about Africa there seems to be a huge importance of the continent in the US foreign policy.

Currently, the  US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on a 7-day visit in Africa to see how the US can work with Africa to counter terrorism, advance peace and security, promote good governance, and spur mutually beneficial trade and investment. He also noted the need for African countries to be wary of the Chinese government and its loan facilities.

Last year, U.S. Defense Secretary, James Mattis reportedly told senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the military would increase its counterterrorism activities in sub-Saharan Africa, loosen rules of engagement and give commanders in the field more decision-making power.

As the U.S. military’s interest in sub-Saharan Africa has grown, its priorities in the region have shifted. The United States initially focused on East Africa to fight against the al-Qaeda affiliated militant group al Shabaab. But over the years, West Africa has started drawing more of the United States’ attention. It is worthy to note that the Trump administration, may set a limit on the partnership.

For months, Washington has gone back and forth at the prospect of backing the Sahel joint force, a counterterrorism effort made up of battalions from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in West Africa. Though Trump has pledged $60 million to the project, he has also indicated his displeasure with funding multinational efforts.

However, Trump’s distaste for funding programs such as U.N. peacekeeping missions, with the reports that the Pentagon wants to increase its activities in Africa and Tillerson’s comment during his visits makes for an interesting contradiction.

In view of this, African Heads of States need to work quickly to ensure that they get the necessary support they need to solve the various threatening security issues plaguing the continent. There is a strong indication that the Tana Forum scheduled to take place next month would see AU leaders, security forces, and security enthusiast come up with better strategies.