The writer says Donald Trump’s Africa strategy is consistent with his domestic policy. It seeks a narrow nationalist, “America First” focus, strictly serving its national interest at the expense of universal liberal internationalism in its engagement with Africa (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
In a surprise move, the US National Security Adviser John Bolton delivered a new Africa strategy last Thursday at Heritage Foundation, the most conservative think tank in Washington DC.

The strategy principally doesn't differ much from the disastrous previous ones of Obama, Bush and Clinton. In theory, they all advocated; (a) strengthen democratic institutions, (b) spur economic growth, trade, and investment, (c) advance peace and security; and (d) work closely with Africans through the AU, UN, World Bank and IMF.

Africa’s importance in the broader US foreign policy has been drastically declining under these American presidents before Trump. Washington engaged Africa through conflict, poverty and disease lenses. No wonder then, the language and approach in these plans, were littered with foreign aid and humanitarian nuances to aid “helpless” Africans.

Much of the peace, security and economic development Africa has registered in the past 20 years cannot be attributed to US strategy.

Africa’s own success stories seen in the booming economic development in Ethiopia, Kenya and relative peace in the Great Lakes Region DRC and Burundi, is underwritten by Africans with a few international strategic partners.

Washington’s economic approach in Africa also failed dismally and in most cases resulting in massive poverty, simply due to the lack of market forces in Africa to advance economic development. In most countries in Africa, there is a lack of a strong private sector, ready to collaborate with and constructively challenge Americans to uplift millions from poverty. Washington has vigorously pursued the neo-liberal economic policy even though Africa needs developmental states.

Trump’s Africa strategy is consistent with his domestic policy. It seeks a narrow nationalist, “America First” focus, strictly serving its national interest at the expense of universal liberal internationalism in its engagement with Africa. Trump will abandon multilateral institutions such as the UN as a vehicle to advance peace and security.

The strategy has also taken an archaic Cold War approach. It has identified China and Russia as its enemies. It purports they must denied access to a continent it portrays as its own backyard.

Africans appear in the strategy as mere children lacking agency, will, strategic vision and plans to develop. It ignores the AU’s strategic partnership document, which invites all interested parties to work with Africans in their pursuit for peace, security and development. As it stands, the UN estimates that Africa requires $93billion (R1.3trillion) a year to close the infrastructure gap- higher than Washington or Beijing can singly afford.

Trump’s sheer obsession with China’s unstoppable economic development and global influence is a major driver of the new African strategy. Rhetorically, it appears to be painting a false picture of the US desire to increase its involvement in Africa. This comes at a time that Washington is reducing its military personnel in Africa. As the US reduces its dependence on African oil with massive discovery of gas at home, Africa’s importance in US foreign policy will decline further under Trump.

What should worry Africans is the increasing desire to disrupt Africa’s strategic partnership with China. As John Bolton declares, America will use all tools at its disposal to fight China and Russia in Africa. This is part of a broad US global strategy to stop these two countries, perceived to be challenging its global hegemonic designs. Trump’s new Africa strategy aims to claim African territory as its own, denying China and Russia room to manoeuvre. African heads of state and governments will do well to openly condemn Trump’s Africa strategy when they meet next month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Monyae is the director of the Centre for Africa - China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.