Ambassador Johnnie Carson
By Johnnie Carson
When it comes to Africa, don’t expect much from the changes that are taking place at the State Department. Africa has been poorly served by the Trump administration and that is likely to continue.
The appointment of CIA Director Michael Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State is not likely to produce an uptick in U.S. interest or engagement in sub-Saharan Africa. If anything, it will reinforce the administration’s focus on security, military and counter terrorism issues across the continent..
Current policy undermines U.S. influence & integrity in Africa
The emphasis on security issues could take U.S. policy backward – aligning this country with a number of increasingly corrupt and autocratic governments and endangering American lives by ensnaring Washington in longstanding conflicts that cannot be won by military means alone. The Trump team has failed to set out a comprehensive strategy toward Africa or introduce any new African policy initiatives. Important bipartisan programs established over the past 25 years are withering.
The outcome is the undermining of U.S. influence and integrity in those parts of Africa not entangled in conflict.
Tillerson’s abrupt dismissal following his abridged five-nation Africa trip is not good news for U.S. Africa relations. Although his ouster had nothing to do with Africa policy, he was probably the only cabinet-level official who had any interest or prior experience on the continent. His departure underscores the policy void. There is no senior official in the White House with Africa interest, and key Africa policymaking jobs in the State Department remain unfilled, including that of Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.
The choice of Pompeo to replace Tillerson is probably bad news for those looking for energized engagement with Africa and a broad set of policies that help address Africa’s economic, social, health and trade challenges.
Pompeo’s selection is probably good news for all those who believe that America’s number-one objective in Africa should be expanded security alliances to combat terrorist threats in Somalia, the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin.
West Point graduate and a hawkish conservative, Pompeo’s limited comments about Africa have focused on Libya and counter terrorism issues. A s a member of the House of Representative Intelligence Committee, he was strongly critical of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of the terrorist attack on U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya and the tragic death of Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Pompeo has also spoken out on the security issues across the continent, saying “there’s a big counter-terrorism threat there” and asserting that the U.S. government can do more to help Africa address these concerns. Although Pompeo has supported food aid for needy countries, his first priority in Africa is likely to focus on bolstering security collaboration with those states participating in AMISOM military operations in Somalia and with those countries in the Sahel and Lake Chad region fighting against Boko Haram and al Qaeda in the Islam Maghreb (AQIM).
If Pompeo pursues a predominantly security-first agenda in Africa, he will continue a short sighted approach that undercuts and devalues many of America’s important programs that prioritize economic development, good governance and rule of law.
Security and counter terrorism programs are not at the top of the agenda for all or even a majority of the 49 states in sub-Saharan Africa. The heavy focus on security issues gives the appearance of militarizing U.S. relations, diminishes America’s influence and creates a larger political, economic and development void for other countries to fill.
Might Ivanka Trump gloss up a ‘gloomy’ policy?
Pompeo’s strong support of Trump’s global agenda runs counter to many of the bipartisan policies and programs that have anchored American policy in Africa put in place by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
The proposed 30 percent cut in USAID’s budget will have a disproportionate impact on the agency’s activities in Africa. The draconian re-imposition of the Mexico City rule, which bars U.S. funding to organizations that provide information on family planning will cut off funding to many of the organizations and African government programs that provide anti-retroviral treatments under President Bush’s PEPFAR program to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.
The withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement will end America’s $3 billion contribution to the Green Climate Fund, which will disproportionately hurt Africa — the continent most vulnerable to climate change. Spending decisions have already reduced the size of YALI (the Young African Leaders Initiative), spending on democracy and governance efforts and programs that support expanded trade and commercial activities
The appointment of an Assistant Secretary for Africa might help to stabilize policy, slow down some of the negative decisions and begin to put into place a more comprehensive framework for working with this important region. However, Pompeo’s Senate confirmation will probably delay the appointment as well as the selection of ambassadors for critical posts like South Africa, Tanzania and Somalia.
It was widely rumored that a respected former diplomat, Tibor Nagy, would be taped for State’s key Africa position. But that nomination will probably not move forward in advance of Pompeo’s confirmation hearing, which is now scheduled for early April, and his confirmation, which could take many weeks.
Once he is confirmed, the new Secretary might be dispatched to Africa to talk up the American security agenda – or perhaps presidential advisor Ivanka Trump will be sent to put a glossy face on a gloomy policy.
Johnnie Carson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the first Obama administration, is a senior adviser at the United States Institute of Peace.