Africa had been largely absent from the debates and speeches of the two US presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Also among their advisers on foreign policy, Donald Trump definitely has no political knowledge on the continent. This raises some concerns about the uncertainty of his policy on the North African region and the African continent.
Over the past two decades, United States Africa policy has enjoyed strong two-party congressional support from both Democrats and Republicans working side by side. But without a strong assurance to Africa in the White House or Executive Branch (Bureau of African Affairs – US Department of State) under Trump, the major political and economic programmes that have well-defined US policy in Africa for the past two decades will probably struggle to sustain the previous funding levels, state support and war on terrorism. Trump traditionally has shown no interest in Africa since he has no investments or business partnerships in the African continent.
North Africa certainly will not be a priority for Trump’s administration. The only occasion where he mentioned a North African country during his presidential campaign was Libya, and only with reference to the fight against the Islamic State. However, there is obviously no doubt that the new administration’s policies will somehow have an effect on the North African countries. Trump’s hard-line foreign policy is considered to be “non-interventionist”, except when US national security interests are under risk and fight against Islamic extremism like he vowed before. Trump’s administration prefers to deal with strong and authoritarian leaders in the region and worldwide. The chances of a change in policy towards Africa and North Africa practically are very slim.
Trump’s administration will most likely strengthen relations with Morocco despite the fact it has an Islamist party ruling the country. Morocco remains one of America’s oldest and closest allies in North Africa, a status confirmed by Morocco’s zero-tolerance policy towards al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups. Morocco is currently the US’ 69th largest goods trading partner with $1.5 billion in total goods traded during 2016.
When it comes to Algeria, Trump’s administration will also continue to strengthen the relations with Algiers. Algeria plays a crucial role in maintaining the security and conducting counter-terrorism operations in the region of North Africa, which means we might witness more support and cooperation in the fight against terrorism. The US and Algeria consult closely on key international and regional issues. On the economic level, American companies are active in the banking and finance, services, pharmaceuticals, medical facilities, telecommunications, aviation, seawater desalination, energy production, and information technology sectors. Algeria is the US’ largest market in the North African region. US exports to Algeria totalled $2 billion in 2016. Algeria’s number one main export partner is also the United States.
Tunisia – which is suffering both economically and security wise – might also get some assistance from the Trump administration. If Tunisia receives the assistance, it will be given mainly to support Tunisia’s armed forces and security units. They might also receive aid to improve Tunisia’s poor economy, but that’s very much uncertain. This approach will not carry an immediate repercussion on Tunisia’s foreign policy, which relies heavily on Western support – especially since the terrorist attacks which hit Tunisia in 2015. Tunisian government will move towards an empowering relation with the United States.
Libya will be an important topic for Trump’s administration because of Islamic State, which has the strongest present there in the entire North African region. Trump has promised to defeat the Islamic State during his presidential campaign. The United States currently backs the internationally recognised Tripoli government in the east of the country in its fight against ISIS. Many experts believe that Trump’s administration might also look at Tripoli’s rival government in the west and support General Khalifa Hafter because they both share a common hate against Islamism. General Khalifa Hafter is heavily backed by Egypt and some European powers and currently fighting against jihadist and Islamist groups in east Libya. Donald Trump and his National Security Advisor Michael T Flynn have both praised the authoritarian president of Egypt Abdel Fatah el-Sisi for his role in the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood. The strong ties between Trump’s administration and el-Sisi could both end up throwing their support behind General Hafter and his fight against Islamist factions.
The US could also abandon the UN-backed government in Tripoli which will mark the end of unity government process and weaken Libya’s possible political stability. This approach will have serious consequences on the situation in Libya, and it could result in a shift in the position of the international community, led by the United States, which is to enable and encourage General Hafter to extend his authority and influence throughout Libya. This could lead to the division of the country into different spheres of influences, or worst, it could lead to a full-scale war between the Libyan National Army led by Hafter, and security forces and militias led by UN-backed Tripoli government in the west of the country. This will have a serious impact on the Libyan civilians who are suffering from a poor economy and ongoing security unrest.
Trump is known for his opposition to nation-building and large overseas assistance programs. He looks suspiciously at trade agreements. He has rallied against Muslims and other foreigners while publicly praising dictators and tyrants. Trump’s foreign policy will have an impact on North Africa depending on each country: the ones who are going to suffer the most are the civil society activists, human rights activists, and supporters of democratic reforms because they will view Trump as the president who will support authoritarian governments in the region. On the other side, the political elite and wealthy businessmen will welcome Trump’s foreign policy because it will concentrate on increasing trade, combating terrorism; most importantly, to keep their power safe and stable.
*Mohanad Mezghiche is a university student and activist following and analysing the political developments and military conflicts in Middle East and North Africa. The column was published in PT on Wed. Feb. 15, 2017.