African countries expect Trump neglect, but some won’t mindFri, 15 Mar 2024 14:11:14 GMT

If Donald Trump wins November’s US presidential election and returns to the White House, what will it mean for American relations in Africa? Perhaps not much, but some on the continent are worried.During the Republican leader’s first term he never showed much interest in the continent, and is remembered mainly for his outburst about “shithole countries”.His successor and rival in this year’s election re-match, President Joe Biden, had pledged to pay more attention to Africa, but has so far failed to make a promised visit.So will it make much of a difference to Africans whether Trump or Biden wins the vote? In some areas the answer is “yes”, according to experts who spoke to AFP.Christian Moleka, national coordinator of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Dypol network of political scientists, says Trump’s approach to China and the UN will be key.While Trump’s first term had a “strategic vacuum” where an Africa policy should have been, his administration was focused on commercial rivalry with China.In central Africa, including the war-torn east of the DRC, Western and Chinese firms are in a race to secure access to rare minerals.An “America First” Trump administration could step up the strategic confrontation with China but be less concerned to engage with African governments on the rule of law and human rights.”Trump did not show an interest in Africa. We mainly remember his expression ‘shithole countries’,” Moleka told AFP.”A return of Trump would mean a reduction in American involvement in everything that is multilateralism such as the climate issue, and possibly a reduction in development aid.”- Strongman to strongmen -Trump’s transactional approach, mirroring China’s, might prove comforting for some African leaders, tired of lectures about democratic backsliding and LGBT rights.And his call for “total presidential immunity” and refusal to accept Biden’s 2020 victory will chime with African leaders seeking to abolish any constitutional checks on their rule.”It’s very likely that his return will encourage African strongmen,” Moleka said.   And Trump’s eagerness for the fight with China might backfire, with US disengagement opening a door for Beijing and Moscow.  “Trump’s lack of interest will give free rein to Africa’s autocratic regimes,” said Kelma Manatouma, political science professor at Chad’s University of N’Djamena.”These authoritarian regimes will easily revive open ties with Russia and China.”Trump’s disrespect for democratic norms in his own country — claiming the 2020 election was rigged and defending a mob that ransacked Congress — has damaged US influence.South Africa’s ruling ANC has mocked calls for US poll observers to attend the May general election, pointing to their country’s 30-year unblemished record of undisputed votes.Pretoria has also had a prickly relationship with Biden’s administration, which dismissed South Africa’s genocide case against US ally Israel as “meritless”.But Trump, a fan of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, is less likely to complain about South Africa’s sympathy for the Russian side in Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.While in some parts of Africa, local leaders may not resent US disengagement, in the Horn of Africa there is concern a Trump return could undermine anti-terror operations. In the final days of his presidency, Trump ordered the withdrawal of 700 US troops from Somalia, where they had been supporting local forces against al-Shabab militants.Biden reversed the decision, but if a returning Trump insists on a pull-out the Americans will be hard to replace. “If his approach is similar to the tail end of his previous term, where we witnessed an ‘America First’ approach … this will be very problematic,” consultant Samira Gaid told AFP.Gaid, a senior analyst at Balqiis Insights, a research consultancy based in Mogadishu, said US mentoring and training was vital for Somalia’s Danab Brigade commandos, an elite army force.- ‘Rekindled ties’ -“We might be looking at challenging times ahead, not just for Somalia, but for the region’s broader security landscape,” she said.African countries have at times been frustrated with the Biden administration, which has been distracted by crises in Afghanistan, Ukraine and the Middle East.But Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have made high profile visits.In practical terms, the US has put $250 million into financing a soon to open 1,300-kilometre (800 mile) rail line from mines in DR Congo and Zambia to Angola’s Atlantic ports.In short, Dr Julius Kattah of the University of Ghana warned, the continent might regret a Trump win.”Joe Biden’s administration has done well to rekindle that US-Africa relationship,” he told AFP, whereas his predecessor “practically abandoned the continent”.”Trump just didn’t care about Africa and, in the event he returns, his policies towards Africa won’t change.” burs-dc/ach