What a Trump or Hillary Clinton presidency would mean for Africa

Monday June 13 2016

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves after a press conference at the Trump Tower on May 31, 2016 in New York. PHOTO | AFP

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves after a press conference at the Trump Tower on May 31, 2016 in New York. PHOTO | AFP  

More by this Author
More by this Author

Flagbearers of the two main parties in the US presidential election are now known, with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and billionaire Donald Trump being presumptive nominees for the Democrats and Republicans respectively.

Whoever is elected in November will determine America’s foreign policy generally and her approach to Africa specifically.

Of the two candidates, Trump is less predictable. He has no political experience, has previously identified with both parties, ran for the nomination on the extreme fringes of the Republican party, and filled his foreign policy campaign team with people who have little or no experience.

Trump has proposed radical moves, including limiting the number of Muslims allowed into the US and building a wall on the border with Mexico to stem the flow of illegal immigrants from Latin America.

More than a third of Africans are Muslim and the Pew Research centre put the number of African migrants in the US at 1.4 million in 2013.

Nigeria, whose population is half Muslim, has the largest number of emigrants at more than 228,000 while Egypt, which is the second most populous country on the continent and whose population is majority Muslim, has the third-highest number of emigrants, with 183,000.

While Trump’s proposals are likely to be challenged on legal, financial and practical grounds, his administration would, at the very least, be hostile to immigration and roll back the Obama administration’s effort to give a reprieve to illegal immigrants with children born in the US who have no criminal record. Clinton would probably continue with the Obama reprieve.


The one thing Trump has been consistent about is his opposition to free trade agreements. He has promised to check Chinese dominance in manufacturing and accuses Beijing of devaluing the Yuan.

Trump would probably take an axe to the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with Europe as he rolls back parts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Asia.

Neither Trump nor Clinton are, however, likely to touch the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which gives goods from Sub-Saharan countries tariff-free access to US markets.

Set up by Congress in 2000 and renewed until 2025, Agoa is beyond presidential remit and is too small, in any case, to target.

Trump could be tempted to scrape President Obama’s Power Africa initiative but the $7 billion plan has little US Government money and facilitates American private companies investing on the continent, thus is good for the US.

Similarly, the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, set up by George Bush and maintained by Obama is likely to remain intact; it costs the US relatively little and does a lot to save lives.

The clearest policy difference between the two is likely to emerge on the democracy and security aspects of US foreign policy.
Trump has criticised the notion of “exporting democracy” to places like Libya, which Clinton supported as Secretary of State, and which Obama has described as the worst mistake of his presidency.

Trump will probably attempt to preside over a more insular administration that pulls back the troops and lets the world pick up the cost and responsibility of being global police.

Such a policy shift would face opposition from the Pentagon and reality checks from a bullish China in Asia, a cunning Russia in the Middle East and the threat of terrorism across the world, including in Africa. Hillary is likely to be as hawkish as her husband Bill.


She supported the 1998 cruise missile strike on El-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum and the sending of UN troops to Darfur in 2006.

She also backed the 2011 Nato attack on Gaddafi’s entourage that led to the capture and death of the Libyan leader, infamously noting in a subsequent interview, “we came, we saw, he died”.

At the State Department Clinton spearheaded the Obama administration’s Africa policy, which revolved around trade and private investment, development, democracy building and peace and security cooperation.

Both presidents would have to make trade-offs. Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men, Obama said in Accra in 1999 and Hillary echoed in her four tours of duty to Africa.

Yet the US has continued to work closely with Africa’s strongmen under Obama in Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Egypt and elsewhere.

“Trump is more willing to ignore democracy and work with strong men if it brings stability and helps African interests,” an African diplomat with a long tenure in the US told the Nation.

“Hillary will have a harder job having to juggle between pushing the democracy agenda while pursuing the American one. The policy will always revolve around American interest, regardless of who is president.”

The US embassy refused to be drawn into speculation about possible changes in foreign policy after the November poll.

“We can’t control what is going to happen in the election or who the next commander-in-chief is going to be.  But we sure can control what we’re doing right now on the ground and around the world. Our commitment to engagement in many regions is not going to stop,” the embassy press office said.