ON November 7, my opinion article indicated that a new foreign policy towards Africa would be unveiled soon. That new United States-Africa strategy, Prosper Africa, was unveiled last Thursday for immediate effect by the US assistant to the President for national security affairs ambassador, John R Bolton, stating: “Under our new approach, every decision we make, every policy we pursue, and every dollar of aid we spend, will further US priorities in the region.”
guest column: Pearl Matibe
The strategy’s core principle is “America First”, with a focus on economic relations, fighting terrorism and effective aid. Africa is now a key, front-line in a global economic rivalry. As such, it could be said that the US is asking African governments to ally with the US, and not with expansionist China, swift-moving, extractive Russia, Iran and the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) — the US’s primary geopolitical rivals that the White House termed “great power competitors”.
Said Bolton: “We will focus our economic efforts on African governments that act with us as strategic partners, and which are striving toward improved governance and transparent business practices.” It’s widely expected that the US will increase its relations with Kenya, Somalia and Mali.
US President Donald Trump’s White House doctrine was disclosed at the right-leaning think-tank, Heritage Foundation.
However, the Trump administration’s foreign policy towards Africa is growing silent on key issues; human rights, human dignity and promoting democracy. This will draw judgment that Africa’s foreign policy isn’t prioritising such tragedies.
Trump’s Africa doctrine
It’s Trump’s “America First” philosophy. Bolton said it “reflects the core tenets of President Trump’s foreign policy doctrine”. He defined it further: “It’s Trump fulfilling his central campaign promise to put the interests of the American people first, both at home and abroad” — the new Africa Strategy resonates with the Republican political party base.
Bolton was emphatic on Trump’s core principle: “We want to use American dollars in the most efficient way to protect the interests of the American people” and “get results for the American people”.
Who’s John Bolton? He’s a man with proximity to the US President and known for being a hawk on foreign policy. On March 22, Trump announced him as his new national security adviser to replace General HR McMaster. The Heritage Foundation’s executive vice-president, former assistant secretary of State who served in the Bush administration, Kim Holmes, stressed Bolton is an advocate for America: “He stands up for American interests and American values without apology and without hesitation.”
How events unfolded
The US legislation for the Better Utilisation of Investment Leading to Development Act (BUILD Act), a bipartisan Bill creating a new US development agency, the US International Development Finance Corporation (USIDFC), was passed in October. It reforms US development finance capabilities into a new federal agency.
Why’s the BUILD Act important?
The new legislation has basically doubled US development monies to $60 billion because there’s bipartisan consensus that the US is in a global economic battle with China.
On November 14, a meeting occurred when Senate’s foreign relations committee chair, Bob Corker (R-TN), along with colleagues, Trump administration officials and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (Opic) president and chief executive officer, Ray W Washburne, spoke to reporters on Capitol Hill about the BUILD Act.
A key person at that meeting was Ivanka Trump, adviser to Trump, who reaffirmed the critical role of women’s economic empowerment for economic prosperity and stability.
Other legislators present at the meeting were senators Chris Coons(D-DE), and representative Ted Yoho (R-FL).
The BUILD Act created the US International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) as a successor to OPIC (OPIC started in 1971). IDFC is “OPIC on steroids” and means much more funding and new kinds of support for American companies working in developing markets.
Just weeks later on the evening of December 11, Washburne, speaking to Bloomberg TV on the state of the trade war with China, said political risk is an issue for emerging markets. He’d been to South Africa, Rwanda and four other African countries with a purse of $1 billion looking for projects to invest in; not to Zimbabwe.
Washburne has, in the past, stated that to improve business climate and to attract foreign direct investment, “adoption of reforms and business-friendly policies are key to maintaining these investment flows”.
Two months after the BUILD Act became law, last Wednesday morning on the eve of the big news, US assistant secretary of State for Bureau of African Affairs, Tibor P Nagy Jr testified at the House foreign affairs committee’s “Development, Diplomacy and Defence” hearing alongside US Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) senior deputy assistant administrator in the Bureau for Africa, Ramsey Day.
That same day, December 12, Trump approved the new Africa strategy Prosper Africa.
Where there’s a will to implement economic reforms, there are governments that work with their opposition and get it done.
US national security interest number one: Promoting prosperity
Essentially, these are what the US is calling trade and commercial ties that help Africa thrive and prosper while controlling their own destinies; a path to economic independence. It’s intended to benefit both Africa and the US.
“Prosper Africa,” Bolton said, will develop Africa’s middle-class while the US overcomes its concerns of external powers such as China and Russia.
US national security interest number
Two: Strengthening security
The US intends to deal with those plotting attacks against the US. It hopes to be countering the threat from radical Islamic terrorism and violent conflict and concurrently, the White House says, “African ownership of responses to regional security threats” can happen.
Bolton said China built its permanent military base co-located with the US military base in Djibouti.
He said earlier this year, the Chinese fired military-grade laser beams at American aircraft, injuring two pilots.
The US hopes to help certain African governments strengthen their law enforcement agencies to increase security to their citizens.
US national security interest number
Three: Striving for stability
The White House has decided to make efficient use of its citizens’ taxpayer dollars. It will achieve this by funding targeted towards key countries.
Therefore, it’s possible Zimbabwe may see a decline in assistance. The White House states: “Foreign assistance from the United States will concentrate on states that promote democratic ideals, support fiscal transparency, and undertake economic reforms.”
Although it wasn’t revealed which countries will not be prioritised, it maintained that “the Trump Administration does not tolerate ineffective governance and will not spend hard-earned taxpayer dollars to subsidise corrupt leaders and violators of human rights”.
The White House has made it clear that: “Accordingly, we will make certain that ALL aid to the region — whether for security, humanitarian, or development needs — advances these US interests.”
Will Zimbabwe be prioritised?
What will Zimbabwe show for US hard-earned tax dollars?
Will Zimbabwe strive for improved governance?
Will the US take bold action?
“The [US] administration will not allow hard-earned taxpayer dollars to fund corrupt autocrats, who use the money to fill their coffers at the expense of their people, or commit gross human rights abuses,” said Bolton, adding: “From now on, the United States will not tolerate this longstanding pattern of aid without effect.”
Where does the trade-not-aid approach leave Zimbabwe?
If Zimbabwe’s people are interested in the US as a partner, they should be pushing for a reform-oriented government that fights corruption to help establish the right conditions that shape the country into a trade partner. This may help shield it from the US reduced foreign aid list.
A social media commentator noted: “China has a strategy on Africa. EU and the UK have a strategy for Africa. The US is putting together a new strategy on Africa to counter Chinese influence. When will Africa have a strategy for Africa?”
More importantly, when will Zimbabwe have a strategy for Zimbabwe? When will Zimbabwe be a responsible force in the southern Africa region and the continent? When will Zimbabwe have a transparent foreign policy towards the US?
What should Zimbabwe do?
Be the regional driver of a regional security force such as the G5 Sahel Joint Force
Freeze conflict with the opposition political parties because continuing it in perpetuity will be counterproductive
Moving forward, the US will ensure that bilateral assistance targets responsible, regional stakeholders and nations where State-failure or weaknesses are not the issue.
All their aid, whether for security, humanitarian or development needs will be to advance US interests.
It won’t be for “corrupt autocrats”, said Bolton. President Emmerson Mnangagwa, as I have said many times before, may have to re-evaluate his brand.
The Washington DC event was attended both in person and online by distinguished guests from the Trump administration, non-governmental organisations, policy experts, business representatives, the diplomatic corps (including Zimbabwe embassy officials) and experts on Africa.
Pearl Matibe has geographic expertise on US foreign policy, think tank impact, strategy and public policy issues. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe