On September 20, 2017, President Trump announced that he was sending UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to Africa. Two countries were a particular concern for Trump. At a lunch with African leaders during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, Trump told them that the US Government was “closely monitoring and deeply disturbed by the ongoing violence in South Sudan and the (Democratic Republic of) Congo.” The solutions according to Trump had to be ‘African-led,’ and to support this, Trump said, “I’m sending Ambassador Nikki Haley to Africa to discuss avenues of conflict and resolution, and, most importantly, prevention.”
But this is only part of Trump’s full intentions. A month later, Haley published an Op Ed on CNN’s under the headline “This is why the President is sending me to Africa.” Haley laid out three American interests in Africa: humanitarian, economic and strategic. Haley focused on the first, which Trump alluded to above. But rather than setting out a blueprint for US assistance, Haley proffered a threat to African leaders – and (maybe more importantly) a reassurance to the American public: unless African politicians cleaned up their act, Trump will withdraw American support for UN humanitarian missions in South Sudan and the DRC. Underlying this threat is the American assumption that the crises in South Sudan and the DRC are entirely due to a lack of political will on the part of African political leaders. In South Sudan, the hope of independence on July 9, 2011, was shattered within two years as civil conflict upended any chances of a smooth and peaceful transition to independence. Meanwhile, Haley said, the DRC has been in chaos since the 1990s and there is little hope of solving the crisis. The end result has been a steady flow of refugees out of both countries, creating a huge problem and potentially threatening to bring “dangerous results.”
Haley did not explain what she meant by “dangerous results” but we’re relatively safe in assuming she is referring to security threats – probably including threats within the United States. Given Trump’s travel bans and protectionist (and nativist) policies, could Haley’s unnamed dangers reflect American strategic interests in Africa revolving around international and domestic security? It’s not implausible. On the security issue, it is also interesting that the US government has ended the Temporary Protected Status for Sudanese citizens, and (after several extensions) plans to end it for South Sudanese citizens in May, 2019 (TPS allows foreign nationals to stay and work in the USA in cases of civil conflict or natural disasters in their home countries).
Haley did not address American economic interests in her Op Ed. But Trump reportedly did, in his characteristic style, when he met with the African leaders in New York. “Africa has tremendous business potential,” he told them, “I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich.” Well, that’s honest I guess. “I congratulate you,” he continued, “they’re spending a lot of money. But it does, it has tremendous business potential, and representing huge amounts of different markets, and for American firms it’s really become a place they have to go, that they want to go.” Interesting.
If we put these pieces together, the Trump’s administration’s African policy appears to relate mainly to (1) domestic security in the US; (2) being able to send African refugees back home (3) providing opportunities for American capitalists to exploit the continent’s growing markets; and (4) reducing the US’s funding to the United Nations for humanitarian assistance to South Sudan and the DRC. Putting the blame for conflict solely on the shoulders of African political elites seems like a convenient strategy for achieving these goals.