A Work in Progress: Trump’s Africa initiative to be unveiled in June

Posted on November 27, 2019, 4:34 pm
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When Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton unveiled the long-awaited Africa Strategy of the Trump Administration on 13 December, 2018 to an over-capacity crowd at the Heritage Foundation, the reception — including mine — was pretty grim.

In dark and foreboding tones, Bolton warned, “Great power competitors, namely China and Russia, are rapidly expanding their financial and political influence across Africa. They are deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States.”

Others have advised the same, just articulated it differently. French President Emmanuel Macron said “the future of the world will largely be played out in Africa.”

Bolton referred to the predatory practices of China through its state-directed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which links China and some 65 other countries that account collectively for more than 30 percent of global GDP, 62 percent of population, and 75 percent of known energy reserves. Bolton blamed the BRI for saddling countries with unsustainable debt.

But in Washington, DC it’s important to look past the political theatrics for hints of a policy that lies beneath. Half-way through the adverb-laden text, Bolton said, “we are developing a new initiative called ‘Prosper Africa’ which will support U.S. investment across the continent, grow Africa’s middle class, and improve the overall business climate in the region.”

When I asked a U.S. government official at the event’s close if he was disappointed with the lack of specificity behind Prosper Africa, he said, “No, we got exactly what we needed from the NSA (National Security Advisor), a White House Africa policy, formally announced. The rest will come.”

And six months later it has.

On 18 June, in Maputo Mozambique, the content of Prosper Africa will be disclosed by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on the margins of the annual summit of the U.S. Corporate Council on Africa (CCA).

This will be Ross’ second trip to Africa; the first was in July of last year, where he led a mission of the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa (PAC-DBIA), and signed a MOU with Ghana’s Minister of Finance to connect U.S. businesses with priority Ghana investment opportunities.

In remarks to business leaders in Accra, foreshadowing the policy to come, Ross cited statistics that showed a decline in U.S. exports to Africa, and a reduction in overall U.S.-Africa trade and called it an “an embarrassment” for both the U.S. government and its private sector. “The US needs to step of its game in Africa,” he told the group.

Indeed, the lost opportunity cost is enormous for American industry when one looks to the future of a continent which is projected to exceed $5.6 trillion in market opportunities and a population of over 1.52 billion consumers by 2025.

According to a one-page fact sheet, in PDF format, from the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) entitled, “PROSPER AFRICA – A US Presidential Initiative,” Prosper Africa is a whole-of-government economic initiative with the intent to double two-way trade and investment between the United States and Africa.

A working group, co-led by USAID and the Department of Commerce, coordinates the 15 U.S. government agencies involved in the execution of the initiative. This will change when the White House names a permanent coordinator for the program. Read more…