Quick Thoughts on President Donald J. Trump and U.S. Foreign Policy in Africa

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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….)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Demography is Destiny (or why two heads are better than one)

Bradford DeLong has a fantastic blog post on the relationship between population size and economic growth and development. He writes:

In Kremer’s model, population will grow and eventually population will be high enough that research and development will proceed fast enough to push income per capita high enough to trigger the demographic transition and thus break the Malthusian proportional link between resources and technology on the one hand and population on the other. After that link is broken, economic growth will predominantly take the form not of Malthusian increases in population but rather Industrial Revolution and Modern Economic Growth increases in living standards and labor productivity.

The breakthrough to an Industrial Revolution, Modern Economic Growth, and our present prosperous global post-industrial economy is therefore baked into the cake. It is an all-but-inevitable event in human history produced by the simple fact that when it comes to generating useful ideas two heads are better than one: “the fundamental nonrivalry of technology as described by Paul Romer (1986)…”

DeLong then tests an alternative theory in which the economic takeoff of WENA countries after 1750 could have been a fluke, and concludes that the British industrial revolution at most saved the world 150 years — that is, “if you take the association between global populations and global economic growth back before the British Industrial Revolution seriously, as a causal relationship.

The whole post is worth reading. The empirical bits are clear and easy to follow. See also here.

In my Political Economy of Development class I make sure that my students understand the relationship between demography and human development — (i) the impact of demography on state development; and (ii) the impact of state development on markets and economic growth and development. To that end I often use these three illustrations.

Up until the mid 1990s tiny Europe had more people than all of Africa. In the next 30 years Africa’s population will grow by about 800 million people. By 2050 the Continent is projected to have 2 billion people; and half of the children being born in the world will be African. There is no reason to believe that the African experience after these demographic changes will not follow established correlations between population size, state development, and technological change.

The top 20 best countries to invest your money in Africa

This is according to the latest Ernst & Young’s Africa Attractiveness Report (2016). Kenya is ranked 4th. Ahead of Tunisia, Mauritius, and Botswana. You just need to spend a few hours in Nairobi, or the other 46 county headquarters, to understand why. While economic inequality remains to be a huge (political) challenge, it’s hard to argue against the structural transformations underway in the Kenyan economy.

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More on this year.

Is Brexit good or bad for Africa?

Writing in Foreign Policy, Alex de Waal is certain that Brexit is terrible for African countries, and that “[e]verything from the economy to peacekeeping missions will suffer.”

The damage to British interests is significant, but the losses for [African countries] could be greater still. In campaigning to leave the European Union, Minister for Africa James Duddridge argued that Britain would be able to forge stronger ties with the continent if it were unencumbered by EU inefficiencies in aid and trade. Perhaps if Duddridge had a blank slate on which to construct a new Africa policy, he could do better than Britain’s existing one, which is part bilateral and part multilateral through the EU.farage But no policy is ever built on a blank slate, and surveying the post-Brexit political wreckage, he is now faced with a salvage job that will involve decoupling Britain from numerous EU-led peace and development initiatives and renegotiating dozens of trade deals. Even deftly managed by Duddridge or his successor, the Brexit will leave Britain with a fraction of the influence it currently wields in Africa.

And over at Africa is a Country Grive Chelwa notes that:

The one obvious channel through which Brexit could affect economies in Africa is if it triggers a recession in the UK. A recession might affect trade and investment between the two regions. The Bank of England thinks a recession might very well be on the cards. A study reviewing all studies that have estimated the likely economic impact of Brexit found: “GDP losses for the UK in the range of 10% or more [could not] be ruled out in the long run.”

How much trade takes place between the UK and Africa? Not much, it turns out. Combining data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for 2014, the latest year for which we have comparable data, we calculated that exports from Africa to the UK represent about 5% of Africa’s total exports. Africa is more worried about a slowdown in China, its biggest trading partner by far.

…. The UK doesn’t have the same influence on the continent that it did decades ago. And Brexit will be further proof of that. If the UK sneezes Africa will … well Africa will say “bless you” and move on.

On balance, I agree with Chelwa. It appears that with regard to the UK-Africa relationship, the Brits stand to lose more than Africa as a unit following Brexit. This is for the following reasons:

  1. Lacking the amplifying effects of the EU, UK influence in Africa will be diminished. This is bad for the UK, but not necessarily so for African states. Notice that the UK’s security objectives in Somalia or elsewhere on the Continent have not suddenly changed following the Brexit vote. We should disabuse ourselves of the notion that the UK involvement in these theatres of conflict is out of pure benevolence. It is largely to protect British interests (tourists, MNCs, aid workers, other tied aid, etc). Those interests have not suddenly changed with Brexit. Is a post-Brexit UK better off with a stable Somalia? I think so. Viewed this way, what Brexit has done is not to change British interests in Africa but to increase the UK’s transaction costs in catering to those interests. The Brits may invest less in specific peacekeeping operations, but their self-interest dictates that they will not suddenly close the taps on these investments.
  2. A diminished UK diminishes Europe, which may reduce Europe’s leverage vis-a-vis African countries. This outcome could cut both ways. On the one hand, it may exacerbate the moral hazard problem faced by African leaders by allowing them to play different European powers off each other (why invest in good governance if Europe is always at the ready to help if things go south?) But on the other hand, a weaker Europe may be less willing to bail out African leaders all the time. This might force these leaders to take their jobs seriously, thereby improving the welfare of their citizens. 
  3. It is not clear that decoupling UK aid from the rest of Europe will necessarily lead to the UK cutting its aid budget. In fact, the opposite might prove true. Going its own way may force the UK to put more aid pounds into projects in the region than it currently does under a joint EU aid budget. Again, increased transaction costs may mean the UK spending more money than it currently does in Africa, which is good for African economies. Plus the UK is likely to find itself needing to make up for the lost amplifying effects of the EU with more aid pounds.
  4. A recession in the UK may prove contagious. This would be bad for the world economy, and Africa would not be an exception. That said, I don’t think economic turbulence in Africa would necessarily lead to the conflicts of the early 1990s. With a few glaring exceptions, most African countries would be able to withstand a global recession without collapsing. We saw this during the Great Recession.
  5. The world is learning a lot about democracy by observing the challenges it currently faces in the West. Suddenly, corrosive ethnic politics is not exclusive to poor countries. “Leaders” like Donald J. Trump and Boris Johnson are not things that only happen in Zimbabwe or Nicaragua. These data points will serve to demystify democracy as a system of governance, and refocus global attention on what really makes democracy work — a stable intra-elite consensus coupled with reasonably sufficient responsiveness to the electorate (down with the fetishization of elections!!!) This will be a valuable lesson for Africa and other developing regions of the world. The ongoing sociopolitical troubles in the West are bound to liberate the worldview of leaders and other elites in the Global South, and will empower them to mold their own societies in their own image, instead of trying to turn them into Denmarks. The often-misrepresented “European mystique” has lost its shine. And this is a good thing for the world.

This is not to say that Africa’s economies will be able to weather Brexit without any non-trivial hiccups. South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya are probably the most exposed (in that order). Other African economies will be exposed to the extent that economic troubles in the UK lead to a global recession (the gold exporters might even benefit…)

And Western security policies and support for missions in Somalia and across the Sahel may face short-term uncertainties. But these experiences will not necessarily be catastrophic (on the security front, America will most likely steady the ship).

In fact, I tend to think that the long-run impact of these experiences will be positive. English speaking African economies will have incentives to diversify their export destinations away from the UK. African countries will have more leverage vis-a-vis the UK and (a fractured) Europe (and the US). And the lessons from the political upheavals in the West will serve to liberate Global South elites to mold their own societies in their own image and in a manner that respects sociopolitical realities in their specific contexts.

This is the dumbest paragraph by Thomas Friedman you’ll ever read in your life

You can learn everything you need to know about the main challenges facing Africa today by talking to just two people in Senegal: the rapper and the weatherman. They’ve never met, but I could imagine them doing an amazing duet one day — words and weather predictions — on the future of Africa.

The title of his column in “Out of Africa: Part III.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

Younger Me: 18th century European views of Africa and Africans are sticky. This means that occasionally, even educated sophisticates like Friedman (especially as they get older), can let slip horse manure like this.

Current Me: This is racism masquerading as stylistic hyperbole. For an uncomfortably high proportion of Americans — whether educated or not, in media houses or in the seminar room — Africa is a simple place with simple people facing simple problems that require simple solutions. Africa is just different in every dimension imaginable.

Very few of these people ever updated since reading Joseph Conrad.

In order to know about Africa’s future, you don’t need to talk to someone with a sophisticated understanding of the Senegalese economy (or for that matter, Africa’s other 53 economies). Just talk to the rapper and the weatherman. Or some dude in Kibera. Or a warlord somewhere in Eastern Congo. And then pepper your story with some quotes from WENA (Western Europe, North America, and the Antipodes) diplomats.

Think about it. At least two college-educated people at the New York Times looked at this and let it through.

Also, there is a way to have an intelligent conversation about climate change in Africa without always tying it to conflict and migration to Europe.

H/T Matina Stevis.

Facetious Critical Geography, JFK Edition

jfk

Source: xkcd

Social construction, yada yada yada.

And on a slightly less serious note,  did you know that it is completely artificial that we have North at the top of maps?

Barack Obama on Uhuru Kenyatta

This is from Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic:

Obama’s relationship with Kenyatta is complicated. A careful reading of Obama’s memoir, Dreams From My Father, suggests that he holds Kenyatta’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, the liberator of Kenya, indirectly responsible for his own father’s premature demise. (The elder Kenyatta, a member of the Kikuyu tribe, froze out Obama’s father, a Luo, from government service after the elder Obama complained too insistently about corruption.) And the younger Kenyatta’s association with human-rights violators has placed a question mark over his head. But Obama also believes that Kenyatta is at least intermittently committed to battling tribalism and corruption, and aides tell me that Obama will devote a part of his post-presidential years to the issue of African governance.

Instead of focusing on “African Governance,” I’d suggest President Obama spends part of his post-presidential years as Africa’s economic ambassador to the United States and beyond.

“Good governance” and “good institutions” are great. But the notion that African states have to reach zero corruption and zero rigged elections before any factories can be built is a misguided fantasy. Institutions and positive economic performance co-evolve. Good politics is not always good economics; and good economics is not always good politics. Africa, despite everyone’s apparent belief in the region’s exceptionalism, is not unique in this regard.

Median vs Per Capita Income in Africa

CGD’s Anna Diofasi and Nancy Birdsall compiled median income (2011 PPP) data for 144 countries. In the data they find interesting cases of a mismatch between median and per capita incomes:

the median reflects how much the person at the 50th percentile of the income distribution earns (or spends), giving us a better picture of the well-being of a “typical” individual in a given country. Take Nigeria and Tanzania: in 2010, Nigeria’s GDP per capita (at PPP) was $5,123; Tanzania’s stood at only $2,111. This suggests that Nigerians were more than twice as well off as Tanzanians. Yet, if we compare consumption medians, a different picture emerges: a Nigerian at the middle of the income distribution lived on $1.80 a day, while his or her Tanzanian counterpart had 20 cents more to spend, at $2 a day.

I got curious and made maps of median (2011 $$) and per capita (2010 $$) incomes on the Continent.

income differences

What is going on with median incomes in Central Africa from CAR through to Mozambique? Also, what’s up with Zambia?

Africa’s Demographic Destiny

Notice that these are estimates. The Journal reports:

The biggest human increase in modern history is under way in Africa. On every other continent, growth rates are slowing toward a standstill for the first time in centuries, and the day is in sight when the world’s human population levels out.

But not here — not yet.

Some 2.5 billion people will be African by 2050, the U.N. projects. That would be double the current number and 25% of the world’s total. There will be 399 million Nigerians then, more than Americans. When the century closes, if projections hold, four out of 10 people will be African.

Billions of them will be living in cities that are today small towns. The land of open spaces that was Africa will have blended into one big megalopolitan web.

More on this here.

The vanishingly small African middle class

The Economist reports:

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 12.50.11 PMGood data on the exact size of the middle class are hard to come by, but it remains small across most parts of the continent. The Pew Research Centre, an American outfit, reckons that just 6% of Africans qualify as middle class, which it defines as those earning $10-$20 a day. On this measure the number of middle-income earners in Africa barely changed in the decade to 2011.

…… Unlike Asia, Africa has failed to develop industries that generate lots of employment and pay good wages. Only a few countries manufacture very much, largely because national markets are small and barriers to trading within Africa are huge. Most people who leave the countryside move into labour-intensive but not very productive jobs such as trading in markets. John Page, also of Brookings, reckons that such jobs are on average only about twice as productive as the ones that many left behind.

Things to remember as you volunteer or conduct research in a developing country this summer

Rafia Zakaria, on Al Jazeera America, writes:

My friend Jack likes to tell his favorite story about a summer he spent volunteering in Colombia. He recounts that story anytime he’s handed the opportunity, at parties, lunch meetings and airports. He highlights varying facets of the story on different occasions — the snake he found in his tent, his camaraderie with the locals and his skills at haggling. The message to his audience is clear: I chose hardship and survived it.

If designer clothes and fancy cars signal material status, his story of a deliberate embrace of poverty and its discomforts signals superiority of character. As summer looms, many Americans — college students, retirees and others who stand at the cusp of life changes — will make similar choices in search of transformational experiences. An industry exists to make these easier to make: the voluntourism business.

As admirably altruistic as it sounds, the problem with voluntourism is its singular focus on the volunteer’s quest for experience, as opposed to the recipient community’s actual needs.

Zakaria rightly adds that:

Despite its flaws, the educational aspect of voluntourism’s cross-cultural exchange must be saved, made better instead of being rejected completely.

As a volunteer or an academic researcher this summer, here are a few things you can do out of respect for the people you work with (especially if you fit standard definitions of “expat”). These points might seem obvious, but even seasoned professionals need a reminder every now and then.

  • Be respectful: I am often shocked at how some otherwise reasonable academics and college students acquire an aura of arrogant omnipotence the second they land in a developing country. Being accorded high status on account of foreignness can do real damage, it turns out. Do not feed off of this. Maintain a level head, and respect those that you deal with. It is for your own good. You will never be able to completely transform the societies you work in, or study. Be humble. Think incremental change. Remember that your presence is temporary. Do not exploit the goodwill of your hosts.
  • Work with the grain: Do not seek to disrupt the way people do things. You can offer advice and introduce people in the villages you visit to new ideas. But do not imagine yourself to be the great change agent. Because you are not. Sustainable change must be anchored within local power dynamics. Do not create parallel systems. I reiterate, whatever change you introduce must be anchored in existing systems. That is the only way the change will be incentive-compatible with the interests of those who hold the power to completely sabotage everything you do. You will most certainly fail if you ignore this reality.

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    This is not cool

  • Keep a diary: You will be in a lot of situations in which you can’t say exactly what you think (and shouldn’t). So keep a diary, and have it be the place where you jot down your naive and disrespectful random thoughts (we all have these thoughts). Review these diary entries once in a while. See if your entries change as you get to know your hosts better. If they don’t, find out what’s missing.
  • Lastly, do not plaster your social media profile wall-to-wall with images of anonymous people in various states of desperation. Nothing says that you are a jerk like having images of anonymous kids with torn clothes milling around you on your Facebook page. Whatever images you post, the world will know whether these were your real friends or just props to advertise to the world that you went to Nicaragua or Namibia. Do not post pictures of people whose names you don’t know, or of children whose parents did not give you permission to do so. Please, do not be that person.

Also, do not forget to learn. Learn and learn some more. And share with your hosts as much as you can.

The World Bank Group Africa Fellowship Program

The Bank has an exciting fellowship for PhD students from the Continent.

[youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=enZmGIMgOno#t=172]

According to the Bank’s website:

Fellows will spend a minimum of six months at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. getting hands-on experience in development work. This includes knowledge generation and dissemination, design of global and country policies and the building of institutions to achieve inclusive growth in developing countries. While benefitting from research and innovation in multiple sectors, Fellows will also work on economic policy, technical assistance, and lending for eliminating poverty and increasing shared prosperity. Special attention will be given to work with Fragile and Conflict-Affected States.

More on this here.

Do African leaders have a voice?

That is the question asked by Africa Is A Country:

These days, well-behaved African heads of state are rewarded by Barack Obama with the chance to meet with him in groups of four and have their picture taken with him. It’s like meeting Beyonce, but you get to call it a state visit. That’s what happened on Friday when Malawi’s Joyce Banda, Senegal’s Macky Sall, Cape Verde’s José Maria Neves and Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma were paraded before the White House press corps, sitting in star-struck silence as Barack reeled off a kind of wikipedia-level roll-call of their accomplishments. They beamed like competition winners. It was all very feudal.

….. The East African called it as they saw it: “The meeting was to reward them for their support for US interests in Africa.” Though some others wanted to be there. In Uganda, some sites were wringing their hands over why Museveni hadn’t been invited.

The post raises an important question especially with regard to the recent rise in African assertiveness. Most of this has been restricted to elite circles with regard to the ICC and general Western meddling presence on the continent. 

Among the many posts I hope to write soon – the dissertation and life permitting – is one on African IR (yes, African International Relations). For a very long time the Continent has engaged the world in disaggregated terms – mostly as a result of individual weakness. But recently some countries have realized their power (For instance Uganda and Kenya in their military and diplomatic usefulness, respectively) and are more than willing to exercise those powers. The realization of individual power has also catalyzed a tendency to use the regional bloc – the AU – as a leverage in wider international engagements (I expect Kenya’s president-elect Uhuru Kenyatta to use the AU a lot in dealing with the charges he faces at the ICC). 

And among the African elite I expect a new sense of self-confidence, with calls like these to become louder and more common. Whether the Western governments (and regular Western Africa watchers) will adapt fast enough or be caught flat-footed is still unclear, especially after the ill-considered and tactless obvious attempt to influence the outcome of the Kenyan election. Also worth considering is whether this new-found African assertiveness will result in actual progress and attempts at catching up with the developed world or turn out to be a mere echo of the empty rhetoric of African pride – a la Zaireanization – that was championed by a kleptocratic navel-gazing African elite of decades past.