John Bolton, 2015. Gage Skidmore/Flickr/CreativeCommons

Trump Scramble for Africa

The Wall Street Journalreports on the Trump administration’s plans for U.S. policy in Africa:

President Trump plans to reshape America’s policy in Africa by challenging the continent’s leaders to make a strategic choice to align themselves with America instead of Russia or China.

As he has done in other parts of the globe, Mr. Trump is angling to strengthen ties with like-minded African allies and isolate uncooperative leaders who work with America’s biggest competitors.

“The predatory practices pursued by China and Russia stunt economic growth in Africa, threaten the financial independence of African nations, inhibit opportunities for U.S. investment, interfere with U.S. military operations and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests,” John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, is expected to say on Thursday in a speech unveiling the new approach.

U.S. security interests aren’t threatened by Chinese and Russian influence in Africa, and framing U.S. policy for the entire continent as a zero-sum great power competition isn’t going to be very appealing to African governments. Considering how large and diverse Africa is, defining U.S. policy as one for the entire continent is not smart, and it will probably be taken as a sign that the administration doesn’t know what it’s talking about. Most of these states had a history of non-alignment during the Cold War, and I suspect most of them will not want to be forced into making such a choice now. The administration’s plan is called “Prosper Africa,” but African governments will be understandably skeptical that Trump has any interest in seeing their countries prosper. The plan appears to be forcing African governments to choose Washington’s camp or risk facing “isolation” imposed by the U.S. That is a typically heavy-handed approach, and it’s one that won’t be welcomed.

Part of Bolton’s speech will involve more of the usual U.N.-bashing that we expect from him, and it will apparently include a threat to cut off support for peacekeeping operations on the continent:

Mr. Bolton also is expected to warn the United Nations that the Trump administration could end its support for peacekeeping efforts in Africa, home to seven of the 14 ongoing “blue helmet” operations.

Yanking support for peacekeeping operations would be a good way to anger and alienate a lot of governments across the continent. It seems that Bolton’s hostility to the U.N. is so great that he doesn’t care if it undermines the larger policy that he is supposed to be unveiling. Just by threatening to take away that support, the administration is telling its would-be partners that it isn’t reliable. Much as it has done in other parts of the world, the Trump administration thinks that it can rely on threats to cajole states to take their side, but it is no more likely to work in Africa than it has anywhere else.

By Daniel Larison
Source: The American Conservative

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