The Republican Party will, for the first time since 2006, control all branches of government. That means that the only institutional speed bump faced by Republican policymaking will be parliamentary rules in the Senate. But even then there is nothing to stop Republicans from going nuclear and rewriting the rules with a view of limiting the Democratic Senators’ capacity to stall the legislative process. If we’ve learned anything from the last eight years is that the more unconventional and anti-institutionalist wing of the Republican party has a lot of power.
Which means that the institutional expression of American politics over (at least) the next two years will depend A LOT on moderate institutionalists within the Republican Party.
So what does this mean for U.S. foreign policy in Africa?
- Power Africa, PEPFAR, AGOA, MCA, and other aid initiatives are likely going to be on the chopping block. There will likely be a lot of money for security, but those will largely be channeled through AFRICOM and may not be so great at achieving the same outcomes as the normatively preferable non-security development assistance.
- U.S. Exports to Africa may also see a decline. The Republicans do not like the EXIM Bank. The EXIM Bank helps finance U.S. exports to Africa. In theory President Trump might see the EXIM Bank as good for U.S. companies like Boeing. But this will only make sense if Boeing is still able to compete with Airbus after “it brings the jobs back home” (quick aside, Airbus is in Europe, where the French and the Germans will vote soon, so there is that….)
- Democracy promotion will see a rollback. President Trump is likely to go back to the old-fashioned purely interest-based engagement with foreign governments. This will be a sucker punch against democracy activists everywhere. Expect more term limit violations. The so-called democratic recession may finally arrive.
- A few gold producing countries — Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania and others — will benefit from the rush to gold occasioned by (hopefully) short-term economic uncertainty. Other commodity producers will be hit hard by global economic uncertainty. I would really hate to be the Finance Minister of Nigeria, Zambia, or Angola right now.
- Lastly, U.S. foreign policymaking through the IMF, the World Bank and the UN will be less stable. All the potential picks to head the State Department are on record as being not too enthusiastic about these multilateral institutions.
It’s not all doom and gloom though.
On balance, Republican foreign policymakers may actually achieve better outcomes than Democrats in Africa (as I think is the case over the last two decades). Less moralizing, they may focus on hard-nosed self-interested engagements — via trade for example — that are, on balance, good for Africans. Less handholding may even force African governments to realize that they are on their own, especially as Europe recedes inward as well. It may also force reformist pockets on the Continent to focus on feasible solutions to general problems of political and economic underdevelopment that are consistent with their domestic political economies; rather than constantly chasing aid dollars and euros. Such developments would actually enhance political development in such African states.
Even the potential escalation in the global rivalry between US and China (and possibly Russia) might be good for Africa. Everyone is gonna need allies in their corner for fights at the UN (of course conditional on African policymakers being strategic, rather than acting as mere water carriers for global powers).
Of course the wildcard in all of this is whether the right people will step up to the plate and agree to serve in a Trump administration.
Here at the Africanist Perspective the official line is that if asked to serve, and if you have the knowledge and expertise, please go ahead and join the administration. President Donald Trump’s Secretary of State and head of USAID will need you.
U.S. allies around the world need you.