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Botswana: Africa: USA-Africa - No Policy? Bad Policy? or Both?


"Africa is terra incognita for the Trump Government: a continent it cares little - and understands even less - about. With no dyed-in-the-wool Trumpian Africa hands available, the government appears ready to cede Africa policy making to career civil servants and a few mainstream Republican appointees." - Matthew T. Page

The headline to Page's article in Quartz Africa states that "Donald Trump could be getting his US-Africa policy right by simply not having one." His view is actually additional nuanced, in judging that no policy would likely be only "less bad" than explicitly "bad policy" that may result from better White Home interest in Africa.

There is no doubt, however, that analysts are left to speculate about how much personnel appointments may actually shape Africa decisions on the ground.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains three well-informed articles analyzing the national of play in Africa-related personnel appointments under this government, inclunding this one by Matthew Page, until recently the U.S. intelligence community's top expert on Nigeria (see his website, inclunding commentaries by Richard Dowden of the Royal African Institute and Reed Kramer of

Although the notion of a unified "Africa" policy is largely a fiction under any government, there is no doubt that the Trump government is unusually bereft of authority and personnel at the National Department, which has the task of making sense of the policies of different departments and providing local knowledge to adapt policy to Africa-specific realities and changing circumstances.

In general, the incoherence of policy making under Trump, rapid staff turnover in his immediate entourage, lack of staffing in government agencies, and the ongoing investigations into his government make even the immediate next of any foreign policy highly uncertain. It is as well highly debatable whether continuity of policy guided by knowledgeable "adults" rather than zealots would actually produce "good policy."

That said, the consequences for Africa of U.S. world policy on climate change, counter-terrorism, health, corruption and illicit financial flow, human rights norms, and development goals, to name only a few such areas, will inevitably have fallout effects for Africa. These effects will surely be as great as, or better than, the impact of policy decisions on Africa-specific issues. And the policy directions on domestic issues across the U.S. Government will set the context for each agency's international engagement in Africa inclunding in multilateral institutions. Thus it is completely possible to have no policy on "Africa" and disastrously worse policies than the "less bad" (continuity) policies of previous administrations.

As readers are aware, AfricaFocus particularly features such issues on which world and U.S. policy has particularly negative effects on Africa. This AfricaFocus Bulletin accordingly includes below a partial inventory of issues and cabinet officials who are shaping U.S. policy, with brief references to AfricaFocus coverage and a few other additional links from current news sources.

Twitter updates from Reed Kramer this morning (23 Aug 2017):

"Retired senior diplomat & ex U.S. ambassador to #Ethiopia Don Yamamoto to be acting Assistant Secretary for #Africa @StateDept. Starts Sep 5"

"Appointment of 'acting' Assistant Sec likely means no nominee for top #Africa post @StateDept any minute at this time. Senate opposition blocking Peter Pham."

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on the USA and Africa, visit - Editor's Note


Better Off

Donald Trump could be getting his US-Africa policy right by simply not having one

Matthew T. Page

August 09, 2017 Quartz Africa

Last week, secretary of national Rex Tillerson made one of his rare press appearances to give a tour d'horizon of US foreign policy priorities. In his lengthy and candid remarks he touched on North Korea, China, Syria, Ukraine, and Venezuela, part other issues-but made no mention of Africa.

This omission reflects the reality that Africa is terra incognita for the Trump Government: a continent it cares little--and understands even less--about. With no dyed-in-the-wool Trumpian Africa hands available, the government appears ready to cede Africa policy making to career civil servants and a few mainstream Republican appointees.

Guided by this team of low-key professionals, could president Trump's Africa policy turn out to be additional pragmatic than extreme? Could it steer clear of Trump's trademark controversies and missteps? A lot of of the signs point to yes: with luck, bureaucratic effort, and Congressional top cover, US Africa policy under Trump may remain relatively fumble-free.

Adrift on Africa?

During Trump's initial six months in office, US-Africa policy has been adrift. At no time since before the creation of the National Department's Africa Bureau in 1958--a time at the same time as most African nations were still European colonies--has Washington been so distracted and disengaged.

Prospective budget and organizational cuts suggest Trump--unlike George W. Bush--does not see promoting good governance, human rights, and socioeconomic development as a strategic US interest. Trump's senior officials reportedly do not take Africa-related issues seriously, urging subordinates to keep them off their plate. They have thus far shown little interest in engaging with African nations beyond making business deals and leveraging military ties.

Perhaps because of this ambivalence, ambassador John Campbell's prediction last December that "career civil servants and diplomats, together with Congress, will play a large role in setting policy" has largely borne out. Key Republican senators derisively view secretary Tillerson's proposition to make deep discretionary cuts to his department; Democrats call Tillerson's plan "a devastating assault on American interests and values".

Congressional pushback from Republican Africa stalwarts like Sen. Jeff Flake, and Rep. Ed Royce and Rep. Chris Smith will as well intensify if Trump tries to undermine longstanding bipartisan programs, like the President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Congress will as well weigh in on Trump's forthcoming Africa appointments.

Personnel Problems

At least one of these appointments--Trump's new senior director for Africa Cyril Sartor--started work at the National Security Council last week. Next a painful ten monthlong vacancy, Sartor--a dour but Africa-savvy CIA mandarin-stepped into the breach. Tasked with advising senior government officials and coordinating interagency decision-making on Africa, Sartor is a veteran bureaucratic gladiator that will resist any effort to politicize his portfolio.

Beyond naming Sartor, the Trump government has failed to fill out its Africa team. At the National Department, the job of assistant secretary of national for African Affairs remains unfilled. Career diplomat Peter Barlerin-a trained economist that has from presently on to serve as an ambassador-has been treading water as Acting Assistant Secretary for several months. As a result, the Bureau and its 45 embassies across Africa continue to operate much as they did before with little--if any--new country-specific guidance.

The likeliest candidate for assistant secretary is Vatican-diplomat-turned-Africawonk Dr. J. Peter Pham. A prolific writer with a hard-nosed Africa policy strategy ready to go, Pham lacks strong ties to his prospective boss. Secretary Tillerson reportedly has vacillated over naming Pham, despite his preeminence part the GOP's miniscule cadre of Africanists.

At the Department of Defense (DOD), seasoned civil servant Amanda Dory stepped down as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Africa before this year. Dory's unexpected departure thrust her newly-minted deputy Michelle Lenihan into an acting role. On the military side, Air Force Major General Curtis L. Williams recently became chairman of the joint chief's in-home Africa advisor.

Over at the embattled US Agency for International Improvment(USAID)-still in danger of being dismantled by Trump-career professional Cheryl L. Anderson has been Acting Assistant Administrator for Africa.

Newly confirmed USAID administrator Mark Green, a widely respected former ambassador to Tanzania, likely will pick her replacement any minute at this time.

Dabbling Donald?

As new appointees slowly come on board, US-Africa policy will regain some of its shape and direction. Less liberal and ambitious than under previous administrations, its focus on democracy, development, and human rights will diminish. Guided by apolitical professionals, it almost certainly will not reflect Trump's bigoted, antihumanist world view.

But what if Trump tries to dabble in Africa policymaking? How would these policy professionals cope?

Next all, Trump's penchant for praising autocratic leaders could, for example, complicate efforts by US officials to nudge the continent's strongmen leaders to relinquish power and hold credible elections.

Trump's 'hashtag diplomacy' could as well spark an international incident.

If Trump and his top lieutenants continue to show as little interest in Africa as they do presently, the luck of one of these scenarios playing out seems remote. If this dynamic changes, however, Washington's beleaguered Africa policymakers will have just one option left: damage control.

Peter Pham: President Trump's perfect pick for top Africa post?

By Richard Dowden

African Arguments, August 1, 2017

Richard Dowden is the director of the Royal African Society and the author of Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles. - Direct URL:

If Pham becomes Assistant Secretary of National for Africa, it would likely mark a shift in the tone and priorities of US-Africa relations.

If Donald Trump has a to-do inventory and Africa is on it, it must come a long way down. It is seemingly impossible to find anyone on his team that has an interest in the continent. And the crucial position of Assistant Secretary of National for Africa remains blank, though perhaps not for much longer. Over six months into his government, there are growing noises suggesting the US president may finally be ready to put forward a name for the government's top Africa post.

J. Peter Pham's name has by presently been doing the rounds as the majority likely candidate. He is director of the Atlantic Council's Africa Centre and a prolific former academic with close links to the Republican Party.

A one-time Washington outsider who challenged the consensus on US-Africa relations, Pham has reportedly been trying to broaden his connections in departments whose staffs are additional likely to lean Democrat than Republican. He is working hard to establish relationships with experts across the spectrum, trying to build a policy consensus.

Pham has written profusely on Africa and rejects the previous approach - espoused by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama - that insisted democracy and human rights should be the cornerstone of US support. Instead, he argues that economic increase should take precedence, though he has recently emphasised security and good governance too. He urges US companies to grasp business opportunities on the continent.

New and un-realities

This approach may suit Trump well, though if appointed, Pham will be hard-pressed in trying to work out exactly what his boss' Africa policy is. Previous US presidents have typically talked the talk regarding respect for human rights, democratic accountability and a free civil society at the same time as it comes to Africa. But Trump is from a different planet.

His policy-light "America Initial" schedule, his incontinent outbursts, and his wilful ignorance about the world make it difficult to understand what he may want from the continent. The content of his phone calls to half a dozen African presidents meanwhile have not been made public.

Access to oil seems to be one of Trump's priorities, so Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria may be significant. Though less so their democratic and human rights records.

This uncertainty will mean that Pham's job, if he gets it, will not be easy. In fact, the language of the current government is reminiscent of America's mood in the 1980s. At that time, a senior unnamed US official told historian Niall Ferguson: "The judicious study of discernible reality is not the way the world really works any additional. We're an empire presently, and at the same time as we act we create our own reality."

This sounds close to Trump's dismissal of reality as "Fake News" and his programme of creating new realities.

"Overly optimistic notions"

The US has a number of large-scale projects in Africa. Its power to enhance or undermine national economies and governments remains immense.

Militarily, the US military command known as Africom has bases across the continent and engages in the training of soldiers, particularly in the Sahel where Islamist militant groups operate. Tackling this security threat was a priority in Trump's campaign. It has as well been identified by Pham as an area of possible bipartisan support in which the US can forge ahead.

An extra crucial programme in Africa is the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) through which the US has spent billions each year since 2003. Started under Bush Jr. and extended by Obama, the programme today supports around 11.5 million people with life-saving antiretroviral medicines. The US government recently agreed to maintain current levels of spending in 2018 despite the White Home's attempts to cut it back.

The US as well sees Africa as a source of raw materials and a trading partner. The African Increase and Opportunities Act (AGOA), initial signed into law in 2000, provides a framework for this commerce and offers certain trade preferences for African nations. In 2016, US imports from sub-Saharan Africa under AGOA totalled $9.3 billion, 56% of which was petroleum products. In the opposite direction, Pham wants to create additional request for American products on the continent and believes that "advancing US economic interests in Africa will, and must be, driven primarily by the private sector".

Pham says he wants Africa to take control of its destiny. But whether that means helping African states reach a mutually beneficial relationship with the US is not clear. He talks of "earned engagement" with the US, implying that African governments must initial win America's respect, or at least its favour.

He preaches stability and economic increase over democracy and human rights. And he insists that the US must correct its long-held and "overly optimistic notions of what African partners are capable of and willing to do".

If Pham takes charge as a lot of are expecting him to, it would likely mark a significant shift in the priorities and principles typically espoused by the US in dealing with Africa. The space for discussion and negotiation open to African governments would likely narrow even further. And under Pham, it seems policies would not be crafted alongside African leaders and their people, but unapologetically designed to fit the needs of Trump's America. For the president, his appointment may make perfect sense.

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