The surprise victory by Donald Trump today signalled a startling new direction in American politics. Although full of patriotic, nationalistic zeal, the world is only partly aware of just what this means for them. For larger flashpoint regions such as Ukraine, Korea, China and NATO, there are possibly a few immediate lessons to learn. But what about Africa? In a nutshell, nothing yet. But there are some flags that may affect African states and organisations, depending on whether Trump himself takes his own bluster seriously.
US foreign policy expert Thomas Wright examined three major points which he concluded were the backbone of a Trump foreign policy. They were 1) opposition to U.S. alliances; 2) opposition to free trade; and 3) support for authoritarianism. Wright’s analysis could be taken with a pinch of salt. He has also concluded that the rise of Trump echoes that of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. That said, the three-fold characteristics of Trump’s foreign policy are the only serious grains of direction to go on at this early stage. So while the despair sets in and pundits begin to examine nuclear blast radii around major cities throughout the world, Africa is an unknown variable in all of this.
The first point on alliances is about the only major aspect the pertains to African military affairs. If applied by Trump to the continent, this could bode quite well. A decline of AFRICOM and US Army Africa-based, ‘parachute’ military diplomacy on the continent and an encouragement for African militaries to do it themselves seem like a coherent path forward. This is not to say drone strikes and Special Operations missions will end, but rather the pervasive atmosphere of American ‘interference’ could see drawback in favour of indirect funding. This is much like the EU’s model of military engagement with Africa. For an AU struggling to finance its interventions in Somalia and elsewhere, a Trump-fuelled cash solution may well be a great thing. American IMET funding for African nations is already substantial, and the mechanisms to increase these cash flows could easily expand cash to new nations. Ultimately it would be surprising to see a move by the Trump presidency towards expanding the ‘soft’ side of military diplomacy, ie exercises, training, military-diplomatic engagements, in favour of Special Operations aimed at purely defeating terrorist threats to the USA.
But, that being said, Trump is notoriously vague on specifics, and it will be up to whichever poor bastard is tasked with the role of being his chief of staff to appoint someone who can flesh it all out. At this point, we simply don’t know enough to draw any solid conclusions. Last night the world went to sleep expecting a ‘more of the same’ Clinton presidency. Now, however, anything seems to be possible. And insofar as African defence is concerned, that might not be such a terrible thing.
In sum, as far as defence goes, and as far as topics such as the war on terror, American intervention and the like, there is not enough information to start pulling out the crystal ball. When Trump selects a cabinet, when the nation’s foreign policy is announced, and when actual variables on the ground in Africa begin to change, then there will be a good start for analysis. Trump’s victory today highlighted the dangers of predictions based on limited information, and ADR is going to take this to heart.