The White House announced a revised approach towards relations with Africa. Namely, it aims to counter China and Russia’s economic influence on the continent while moving away from humanitarian assistance and troop support. However, revoking humanitarian assistance seems counterintuitive since aid is exactly the comparative advantage the U.S. has over China and Russia. The U.S. is in no position to counter China’s economic investment on the continent, investments which now undergird major transportation, mining, oil, and construction projects. If countering rivals is the goal, it appears to me to be more important than ever to be a generous Big Brother.
Second, he says that increased accountability for donor funds is needed. I am inclined to agree. Indiscriminate donations to developing countries stymie local economic growth, prop up poor leaders, and create a troubling power dynamic between rich and poor nations. I have previously compared such international aid to oil wealth in the way that it adversely affects development. But, I am not sure it is accurate to depict all U.S. aid to Africa as “indiscriminate,” as Bolton did in his statement. There are increasing checks and balances on American aid to Africa, as exemplified in Bush’s PEPFAR initiative for HIV/AIDS.
The announcement also warns that the U.S. will revoke support for UN Peacekeepers. This is troubling at a time when Africa is seeing an unprecedented rise in migration-related clashes, such as those stemming from climate change. (As an example, desertification of grazing lands has forced cattle owners into land clashes in Darfur, etc.) Admittedly, UN Peacekeepers have been less than successful in many, many African milieus, e.g. Rwanda, DRC. However, pulling support doesn’t improve those missions and citing their failures seems to be an excuse for simply pulling economic support for humanitarian initiatives out of economic self-interest.
Pulling support for Peacekeepers comes in the wake of Washington’s decision to cut troops across the continent by 10%, including half of those fighting terrorism in West Africa. This troubles those following the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Overall, we can think of this as a privatization of African relations—pulling humanitarian and military aid in favor of increasing business and trade.
On a final note, it would be odd for the White House to announce an “Asia” policy or a “Europe” policy, for there is clearly too much diversity within those regions to take pan-continental approaches. Yet, that is exactly what President Trump intends with Africa. An overgeneralization of the continent is bad for politics, and for the business relationships the President hopes to build as well.