Trump’s focus on Africa might be about China but that could be a good thing

US President Donald Trump. Net photo.

It’s hard not to have seen the early coverage of the United States’ new “Africa Prosper” policy without quickly coming to the conclusion it’s the same or a facet of the White House’s China policy.

This is particularly true if you watched or read the combative comments by US national security advisor Ambassador John Bolton during a press conference announcing the policy shift in Washington DC. And yet, there’s a chance most of us might have jumped to the same conclusion too quickly.

The one thing we’ve learned in the media, and the general public, is the rhetoric and posturing of the Trump administration can often be a distraction and at times misleading. This is especially so when it comes to matters such as foreign affairs or immigration where there’s a strong desire to emphasize the “America First” world view.

How else to explain all the headlines with Bolton belligerently calling out China and Russia’s exploitative roles in Africa, while the White House’s actual fact sheet on the new policy is a relatively moderate document which mentions China only once and makes no mention of Russia.

“The goal of Ambassador Bolton’s rhetoric may have been to persuade the American public to the relevance of adopting an African policy while at the same time trying to persuade Africans that the US is a be better trade and investment partner,” says Brookings Fellow Landry Signé.

Despite all the talk (at times unpleasant), this White House, supported by a US Congress which is almost always bipartisan on Africa issues, has been nothing if not consistent in its push for the US to focus on trade and investment in dealing with African nations, says Signé.

“This strategy is probably one of the most business-friendly US-Africa policies in recent times – at least in principle.”

Typically, he says, recent US presidents only really focused on Africa in their second terms. Trump has started relatively early.

Of course, taking on China has a key role with the United States’ Africa outlook, but there seems a real push to promise support for US corporates and organizations to take on the excessively perceived risk when it comes to doing business in Africa.

It’s also worth noting that again, despite the rhetoric, the Trump White House is also making a commitment to foreign aid.

The problem, notes Signé, is it’s more likely to “condition foreign aid to the alignment with, and/or support to the US”.

That may end up giving the edge to the very players the US hopes to usurp including China and Russia.

However, more information is needed than the one-page fact sheet the White House provided in support of what is supposed to be a major Africa policy shift, if this is meant to be Trump’s Power Africa, AGOA or even an aid program like Pepfar, there are few details as of yet to really help understand how this could work.

It’s also going to need African leadership to be fully engaged to really take advantage of the situation they find themselves.

Africa’s governments could choose to be the grass in the old saying, getting trampled while two elephants battle it out or they could be strategic and work together to exploit this moment for the long-term benefit of their countries.