Africa could benefit from US diplomacy, but no member of the state department seems interested.
The Kenya presidential election was annulled last month, but the US president was more interested in a war of words with his political nemesis; Hilary Clinton and of course, the growing stock market. At the moment, he ought to be and truly is busy, with the emergence of different hurricanes and the problem with North Korea. However, it isn’t an abnormal thing for sub-Saharan Africa to receive little or no attention from the western world.
It’s almost a year after President Trump’s inauguration, and the post for assistant secretary for Africa affairs is still vacant. The lower positions in the White House, Pentagon, and State department are still vacant and the position of US ambassador to countries like Congo and South Africa are nonexistent.
Experts and top officials informed Al Jazeera that a violent flare-up in countries like Burundi and South Sudan could be imminent thanks to the inattentive US and for this, the Chinese have the opportunity to take advantage of Africa’s growing economy, and this may prove detrimental to the US sometime in the future.
Vanda Felbab-Brown who is a researcher with the Brookings Institution think-tank told Al Jazeera that “The problem isn’t that Africa isn’t a front-burner issue in the White House, that is only the case in exceptional circumstances.” She feels the administration is currently dysfunctional because of the vacancy left in so many positions.
She also stated that the west wing should have at least placed a phone call to Kenya after its September 1 elections were annulled and this would have ensured that both President Uhuru Kenyatta and his opposition accept the ruling of the Supreme court without any issues.
Falbeb Brown went on to say that the decision of the Supreme Court, right or wrong has only may the fragile stability in Kenya even more fragile, and it is in situations like this that the calls from top-ranking officials from the white house will go a long way, but that’s not going to happen.
54 countries and over 1.2 billion people make up Africa.
Africa is also the location of some of the world’s most protracted conflicts such as the ones in Somalia and DRC and policymaking on issues relating to these countries are quite worrisome.
Since 2015 when president Pierre Nkurunziza decided to seek a third term, the country has witnessed periodic low-level violence, and a warning from the International crisis group is that the tensions might escalate into some sort of mass atrocities and regional proxy conflict.
Some others look at a country like South Sudan who barely survived two years after its independence from Sudan before plummeting into a full-blown civil war. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives in the war and over 3.5 million people have fled their home.
News got out last month that Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State planned to terminate the special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan as well as a second diplomatic troubleshooter to Congo and the great lake regions. He wrote in a letter, the financial gains of scrapping the support staff and diplomatic envoys, stating that over $5m could be saved by doing that. Consider that along with the trump administration’s aim of cutting down the budget of the State Department by as much as 30%.
An expert at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Raymond Gilpin told Aljazeera that it isn’t until the task is complete that the office of the special envoy should be dissolved and that is how it has always been. However, from what we are observing with the activities in South Sudan and refugees crossing its border en mass as well as the humanitarian catastrophe in northern Uganda, it is evident that the task is anything but complete.
The consequences of the cuts are already materializing. Trump pushed back a deadline on if he should lift the Sudan sanction by another three months in July despite the fact that several key positions in his administration are still vacant including the position of the National Security Council.
The G20 summit in Hamburg in the same month was another proof of Trump’s lack of enthusiasm for Africa. It was an important close door discussion on issues concerning the development of Africa and Trump walked away from it, to be represented by his daughter, Ivanka.
Tillerson is of the opinion that the US diplomacy will still be effective despite the swinging cuts. J Peter Pham’s appointment as the secretary on Africa was held up in Congress, and at the moment, an alternative is yet to be provided according to reports.
Mark Green, the Trump appointee as head of the US Agency for international development has made a trip down to South Sudan to advocate for peace and to urge President Salva Kiir to work towards restoring peace, as well as to warn that the support of the US for their nation was under review. This shows that the United States footprint hasn’t completely vanished in Africa.
According to the US Commerce Department, the US exports to sub-Saharan Africa have doubled from $10.96bn to $21.81bn since the year 2000 however, this figure looks pretty small when compared to the $102bn worth of exports from China in 2015 alone. Hurby stated that with the massive road and rail infrastructural schemes of China in Africa, it is almost impossible for the US to match it; however, business people can turn enormous profits in entertainment and finance sectors where the US companies can excel.
Hurby went on to say that we are yet to develop any form of Trump administration program for Africa. So many of us have been waiting for the appointment of the right people into positions like that of the State Department and the White House but the wait has gone on forever, and there is a limit to how long people can wait.
Diplomats from Africa have stated that they are patiently awaiting the yearly scheduled UN General Assembly, where they can have a platform to highlight the security issues Africa is facing that is yet to receive adequate attention from the international community.
Tekeda Alemu, the Ethiopia’s UN ambassador, stated that he plans to make use of his country’s presidency of the United Nations security council this month to attract the attention of the world to South Sudan, where the unrest has prompted millions of people to flee the country to neighboring countries like Uganda. He went on to say that if diplomatic pressure is rightly used, the bloodletting in the country could be brought to a halt.
Alemu went on to tell Al Jazeera that what needs to be one is doable and that peace is achievable if there’s an adequate goodwill commitment to ensure progress. This can only be achievable if the countries in the region speak out with one voice and the Security Council responds positively with one voice.
However, he noted that Trump’s presidency is yet to confirm if he, Tillerson or any top US official will partake in Ethiopia’s debate on peacekeeping on September 20 even though Trump himself was present in Mid-Town Manhattan for the UN confab.