The result of the vote could have a profound impact on US foreign policy in Africa, the EU’s Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) says.
During his tenure Trump has proposed a large-scale pullback of US forces abroad, including in West Africa, marking a strategic shift from the ‘war on terror’ to countering China’s growing influence in Africa through other means, says Giovanni Faleg, a senior analyst at the Paris-based EU agency. “As competition mainly revolves around the predatory economic practices (of China) the first pillar of Trump’s strategy is advancing US trade and commercial ties with the region,” Faleg says.
This included the Trump administration’s ‘Prosper Africa’ initiative whose objective is to streamline bureaucracy, expand the role of the private sector, and remove logistical trade barriers. “Trump has never personally considered Africa a priority region or traveled to sub-Saharan countries,” Faleg says, while “his rhetoric towards Africa in public speeches could not be more controversial.” During his tenure, Trump has only received the presidents of Kenya and Nigeria, while he imposed visa bans on Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania in January.
While Trump has pushed for significant cuts to foreign aid into the continent, these have been largely vetoed by Congress, meaning the US remained a leading donor in Africa, Faleg says. In recent months, since the onset of Covid-19, Trump has communicated more with African leaders as China ramped up its pandemic support on the continent.
“In late April Trump proactively phoned the leaders of Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa and his administration stepped up assistance and donations to tackle the coronavirus pandemic in the continent, after passively watching China take the lead in international support,” Faleg notes.
Virág Fórizs, Africa Economist at Capital Economics, says the outcome of the US elections is unlikely to be a game-changer for Africa. “A return to multilateralism under a Biden presidency could translate into stronger US-backing for the African Continental Free Trade Area, rather than the Trump administration’s approach of pursuing bilateral deals (with Kenya for example).”
President Biden would also be more likely to support the extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) beyond 2025, Forizs says. Data from the 2019 International Trade Administration showed that US companies have invested over $50bn in Africa since Trump took office in 2017. While Trump’s record suggests he may be a boom for US business on the continent, a Trump win could mean further volatility for the South African rand, says Greg Cline, head of corporate accounts at Investec.
“If you look back at rand volatility there’s always been a suggestion that it’s been a consequence of the US-China trade wars. We’ve seen up to $250bn in tariffs that have been imposed on China by the Trump administration,” he told South Africa’s CapeTalk radio on Monday. Biden’s election may lead to a partial cooling of trade tensions with China, which could have a positive impact on African markets which trade extensively with Beijing.