3 Reasons Why the New Administration Should Focus on Africa

January 27, 2017 By Sean Hansen

2016 is finally behind us— and with it, much of the speculation regarding who will lead in Trump’s national security team. While some key picks remain unnamed (hint: USAID Administrator), many are watching to see how the Trump Administration will engage Africa, a continent with some of the world’s fastest growing economies and most intractable humanitarian crises.

What do we know so far? In 2015, candidate Trump agreed to double the number of people receiving HIV/AIDs treatment in Africa through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), stating that “I believe so strongly in that, and we’re going to lead the way.” Trump’s Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson recently highlighted the tremendous success of U.S. development programs in Africa, praising PEPFAR as “one of the best projections of American goodwill and compassion into the continent.”

Here are three reasons why the Administration should incorporate Africa into its foreign policy strategy.

Bipartisan Support. At Tillerson’s Senate confirmation hearing last week, both Republican and Democratic Senators raised important questions surrounding America’s development and diplomacy programs in Africa— highlighting support for strong engagement with the continent across the aisle. Peter Pham, who directs the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, observed that “most American efforts towards Africa have been largely bipartisan in nature, supported by both Republican and Democratic presidents and Congresses alike.”

Both Presidents Bush and Obama significantly expanded engagement with Africa while in office, through commercial diplomacy, expanded trade, and increased military coordination. Since Congress enacted the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in 2000, American and African businesses have improved ties to spur broad economic growth on the continent. Since 2005, U.S. exports to the continent have increased 75 percent to nearly $18 billion today. In 2013, the Trade Africa initiative was launched to further expand trade and economic growth with partner countries.

Growing New Markets. Last month, the Millennium Challenge Corporation selected two African countries— Tunisia and Burkina Faso— for new compacts to improve economic growth and democratic governance. Since the MCC was established in 2004, it has signed 22 of its 33 compacts with African nations to enhance economic growth, expand trade, and reduce poverty. Through these programs, the MCC has provided over 650,000 Africans with access to clean water, and helped train nearly 200,000 farmers on the continent. These compacts have not only helped boost economic growth in Africa, but have grown new markets for American businesses to trade with.

Burkina Faso is a great example of MCC’s success— since 2005, Burkina Faso has met MCC’s rigorous governance standards, and its exports have increased from less than $500 million to nearly $3 billion in 2014 – while in the same time, U.S. exports to Burkina Faso have more than doubled. All the while, Burkina Faso has remained a beacon of peace and security in challenging region.

Promoting Stability. Tunisia has emerged as a promising— if fragile— island of democracy and stability after decades of authoritarian rule and a peaceful transition recognized by a Nobel Peace Prize in 2015. Tunisia’s democratic transformation is reflected in its MCC Country Scorecard evaluation, in which it scored highly in political rights, rule of law, control of corruption, child health, and girl’s education enrollment. Yet despite the nation’s significant strides towards democracy, Tunisia faces growing regional security threats, including jihadist militants in neighboring Libya. 2016’s Fragile States Index noted that despite Tunisia’s democratic progress, it has shown signs of increased fragility over the last 10 years, largely due to the turmoil in neighboring Libya.

In a recent memorandum to President Trump, Senator Chris Coons highlighted this risk of growing instability, making the case that without U.S. engagement, “entire regions of Africa could descend into violence and conflict, threatening global stability and providing a fertile environment for extremism to take root and grow.” For Tunisia, regional instability and poor economic growth led the World Bank to downgrade it from an “upper-middle income” to a “lower-middle income” country last year— making it eligible for the MCC compact. These challenges underscore the importance of U.S. foreign assistance, through MCC compacts and USAID programs, in strengthening states threatened by instability and weak economic growth.

While we wait to see who will lead the MCC and USAID in the Trump Administration, one thing is certain: Africa should be seen as both an opportunity as well as a challenge to America’s efforts to reduce global poverty and promote economic growth. In his letter to the President, Senator Coons outlined why U.S. leadership in Africa should remain a priority, stating that “If we take decisive action on the continent, this can be an African century— with direct, tangible benefits for our own economic growth and national security.” If the Trump Administration seeks to leave a lasting legacy by improving global stability and economic growth, Africa should be at the center of its plans.

Photo: Lake Victoria, Uganda / CC