A vote for Trump in America is a vote for China in Africa
Today, Nov. 3, Americans will decide how much more power China can gain in Africa. Very few Americans have thought about the impact of their vote on the lives of over 1.3 billion Africans, even though Americans’ choice of president will definitely affect African lives. It may be inappropriate for Africans to attempt to tell Americans how to vote in their presidential election, yet Americans must know that four more years of Trump in Washington, D.C. could result in China gaining decades worth of power in Africa.
For many African countries, America is no longer a trusted trade partner but an unreliable acquaintance who cannot be counted on to hold up their end of the deal. In 2000, the Clinton administration initiated a multilateral deal called the African Growth and Opportunity Act. This act allows eligible sub-Saharan African countries to enjoy duty-free access to the U.S. market for over 1,800 products, and brought about a U.S. trade deficit with the African Union. By the end of 2019, that trade deficit amounted to over $3.5 billion.
In 2015, the Obama administration renewed AGOA for 10 more years, a year before Trump became president. Trump’s “America first” approach means that African countries must brace themselves for AGOA’s possible termination. It is the kind of multilateral trade deal that Trump is against. The United States can, without any valid reason, simply terminate AGOA at any time. Under Trump’s leadership, such a termination would not be out of the ordinary. Trump’s America prefers negotiating bilateral trade deals where individual countries can be overpowered rather than negotiating with multilateral unions like the AU. This was exemplified in a diplomatic disagreement between South Africa and the United States which came to be known as the “chicken wars.” The World Trade Organization supported South Africa’s imposed anti-dumping policies on American-imported chicken. On Feb. 10, 2020, Bloomberg News reported that the United States had removed South Africa’s designation as a developing country, along with 27 other countries. This came after Trump announced via a tweet on July 26, 2019 that he had “directed the U.S. Trade Representative to take action so that countries stop CHEATING the system at the expense of the USA!” This goes against WTO designations and has resulted in the loss of trade benefits that South Africa has enjoyed for over three decades, as well as the loss of millions of jobs.
It is very easy for the average American to precipitously agree with Trump. Why must the United States continue with trade deals that result in trade deficits? The answer is simple: it is in the United States’ best long-term interests to support African development. Africa has the world’s fastest growing economies that are forging strong ties with nations that support them. Clinton initiated AGOA to strengthen American diplomatic ties with the world’s fastest-growing region. The Obama administration also recognized the important role that the United States has to play in Africa’s development. Without this continued recognition, Africans will turn to China, who is ready to welcome African trade and offer financial support to African countries. In fact, China has recently become Africa’s largest trade partner and is currently investing in copper industries in Lusaka, upgrading airports in Windhoek and building electric power stations in Gaborone.The list is endless. China’s support is not seen as charitable by any African country. Economists are aware that China simply hopes to trap African countries in debt. That is why, for many decades, Africans have viewed countries like the United States as better trading partners than China. If China succeeds in Africa, it will continue to gain power on the global stage. Needless to say, if the sinking ship that is the United States does not repair its holes, its African partners may find themselves washed straight to the shores of China. And, if that ever happens, future American governments will find it harder to formulate meaningful foreign policy to advance American goals globally. Trump, on the other hand, is only concerned about how the U.S. stock markets look while he is president. The United States’ future does not seem to be on his agenda. That is why he sees Africa as irrelevant and has not set foot in any African country before his inauguration in 2017.
In a pre-Trump world, Africa would be receiving assistance from the United States in its response to COVID-19. According to the Congressional Research Service’s report, “as of May 18, 2009, the United States had provided more than $16 million to assist countries’ responses to H1N1 outbreaks.” In contrast, Trump’s “America first” approach has resulted in decreased funding to the WHO in the middle of the pandemic. His administration also refused to pledge to cooperate with the rest of the world in fairly distributing vaccines, should they become available. This comes after America’s aid to sub-Saharan African countries was reduced. This resulted in the unavailability of contraceptives, a 40% increase in abortion and a lack of HIV and cervical cancer testing because clinics that relied on U.S. foreign aid have been closed down in countries like Lesotho and Malawi. These funding cuts jeopardize global public health, and many African women could be most affected. So it is not surprising to see China ramping up its aid to these countries. Beijing is simply footing the bill where Washington is failing, and China is buying diplomatic power where the United States’ is diminishing. The effects of the United States’ dwindling diplomatic influence is being felt in American universities as well. Just last week, the International Students and Scholars Office sent an email reassuring international students that they would still have a place at Brandeis regardless of the election results. When in American history has an election ever been so consequential to non-Americans?
Simply put, the Trump administration is allowing China to buy its way to power in the world, particularly in Africa. The “America first” approach may boost U.S. stocks. For now, however, it is turning partners away and weakening the United States’ global diplomatic power. “Make America Great Again” may as well be a strategy to Make China Great and exploit Africa. If you care about Africans even slightly, you cannot cast your vote for Donald J. Trump. Africa is watching and so is the rest of the world.