Trump: Kenyans have reason to worry

US President-elect Donald Trump speaks to the press with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (right) following a meeting at the Capitol in Washington, DC, on November 10, 2016. PHOTO | NICHOLAS KAMM | AFP
US President-elect Donald Trump speaks to the press with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (right) following a meeting at the Capitol in Washington, DC, on November 10, 2016. PHOTO | NICHOLAS KAMM | AFP

Donald Trump’s unlikely election victory has triggered debate on the implications of his presidency on Kenya.

Throughout his campaigns, Mr Trump rarely mentioned Africa, let alone Kenya. And his foreign policy was all about making America safe by annihilating terrorists especially the Islamic State, terminating a nuclear agreement with Iran, cancelling trade deals and the climate pact as well as ending what he considered President Barack Obama’s weak actions in dealing with America’s enemies abroad.

So should Kenya be worried about a new turn in its relationship with the US?

Mr Ochieng’ Adala, Kenya’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations, says it is too early to gauge whether the campaign promises will be turned into policy.

“We have to wait and see but it is a tricky situation and I will not be surprised to see him undo many of the policies started by President Barack Obama,” he said.

In the past decade, Africa has benefitted from America’s favourable development support policy, humanitarian assistance and counter-terrorism measures. The programmes, both during the tenure of President George W Bush and Mr Obama, have seen an improvement in the health sector — particularly targeting HIV/Aids patients, security, governance, agriculture, electricity connection and education, among others.

Since the Bush years, the US has spent about Sh7 trillion ($70 billion) to support anti-HIV programmes under the President Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), a project launched in 2004 to provide anti-retroviral treatment, prevent new infections and support families affected by the Aids scourge in sub-Saharan Africa.

In Kenya, the Obama Administration has over the eight years given about $3.5 billion (Sh350 billion) in health programmes, $393 million (Sh3.93 billion) for governance and $86.3 million (Sh8.63 billion) towards education, according to data from the USAID.

“I do worry about falling support for HIV/Aids. This is still a major challenge for the continent and a cut in funding would be difficult for others other donors to fill,” says Dr Nic Cheeseman, an associate professor of African politics at the University of Oxford.


He adds that budgets of other Western donors are under financial pressure and new powers such as China may not be interested in development, security and governance programmes — making US support crucial.

“My sense is that given that Kenya supports US anti-terrorism efforts (in the region), the changes here are likely to be less significant, although in many ways it is of course too early to tell,” said Dr Cheeseman.

Mr Trump’s unpredictability given his lack of political experience makes experts analyse his threats with caution: He may actually not do everything he threatened to do. Yet he appears opposed to these assistance programmes for two reasons: That there is rampant corruption in Africa. And that American people are not benefiting enough.

In 2013, just a year after Mr Obama assumed office for the second term, he announced a massive Sh700 billion Power Africa programme meant to connect 60 million homes to clean energy. Mr Trump criticised this and other policies.

“Every penny of the $7 billion going to Africa as per Obama will be stolen – corruption is rampant!” he wrote in January 2013. And when he declared his candidacy last year, he continued with the criticism.

“Obama is in Africa pledging one billion dollars to help them. How about that money to help America? Trump for Potus (President of the United States),” he tweeted again as President Obama visited Kenya.

This week, an editorial in the Conversation, an online news portal, argued that America’s foreign policy towards Africa has often been influenced partly by the African diaspora in the US.

And because this community hardly helped the Trump campaign, the priority for Africa could slide even further down the list.

“Trump coming on board is an opportunity to re-evaluate our diplomatic approaches because it definitely requires a shift in our foreign policy,” Mr Stephen Tarus, Kenya’s former High Commissioner to Australia told the Nation.

“Trump has appeared to downgrade African countries. That in effect will affect trade with us. It will also affect the support we have received traditionally,” he added.

The former envoy argues it would be wrong for Trump to impose his way of doing things on Africa’s governments especially since the countries here have nascent systems to fight graft.

Trump’s argument, however, may resonate with Americans. In 2015, the US announced $100 million (Sh10 billion) support towards counter-terrorism and border patrol services for Kenya.


It also pumped $367 million (Sh3.67 billion) in health and population services programmes, $68 million (Sh6.8 billion) in agriculture, $70 million (Sh7 billion) towards humanitarian relief, $20 million (Sh2 billion) in governance, and $18 million (Sh1.8 billion) more towards education.

This year, the US has pumped in $158 million towards health and population services and $3.1million for agriculture. Last week, US ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec announced Sh2.5 billion funding towards strengthening the embattled Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), support for women to contest in elections and fund peace programmes during the electioneering period.

In fact, the US has been the hidden hand behind resolving disputes surrounding the changes in the IEBC, argues Irungu Houghton, the Associate Director for the Kenya Dialogue Project at the Society for International Development, a local non-governmental organisation.

From street protests to forming dialogue teams and the acceptance of the commissioners to resign, the US, the UK and the European Union mission have been pushing buttons.

“The US government has played a discreet role in helping resolve tensions over the IEBC and the NGO sector as well as funding countering violent extremism. It is unclear whether this will continue in this form or at all. US government assistance could become increasingly based on American economic self-interest,” Mr Irungu said.

“We can expect it (Trump’s foreign policy) to be more self-interested, isolationist and disinterested in global democratic governance and development. Progress on climate change, women’s rights, agriculture and trade subsidies and HIV/Aids may stall or reverse altogether,” Mr Irungu told theNation.

Mr Trump could terminate all that, including the five-year visa programme given to Kenyans last year. The long pending push for direct flights to the US from Nairobi could also be affected. But experts think his advisers will first weigh the consequences of those decisions.

“I don’t think Trump will implement all the things he has said but there is a real possibility that development assistance for Africa will be impacted especially if pegged on his stand against corruption and misrule,” said Mr George Mucee, immigration consultant and project leader at Fragomen Kenya.

“On counter terrorism I believe he will continue supporting Africa and Kenya because terrorism is the number one problem facing USA and failure to stand with us on that would boomerang on them.”

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1 Comment
  1. LWK says

    Dear Diaspora,
    Please consider some additional points in all the hyper-speculation being spewed forth for the sake of scaring Kenyans and Africans before the new Presidency has even begun. The points are offered for consideration and may skew over-sensationalized assumptions and speculation (which granted anyone has a right to, but which in the free market of ideas others also have a right to contribute and debate(hopefully in a civil manner unlike most of the posts you find on American media).
    1. Trump the millionaire most likely will behave very differently than Trump the POTUS and Commander in Chief. The following points somewhat illustrate why I say this.
    2. If Trump will be tough on terrorism and fund counter-terrorism activities, this will be good for Kenya and East Africa and other parts of Africa because the U.S. has an interest in keeping the world a safe place to do business and live.
    3. Trump (or at least his advisors) will want to keep good ties with Kenya as a long-term ally in the region. President Uhuru suggested this when he congratulated President-Elect Trump. Both are capitalists and both are commanders-in-chief. And both have similar goals for their countries and they can find mutual benefit to trade and regional security. Also, China has now established a Navy base in Djibouti, so I’m sure Trump’s foreign advisors are not going to let that go unnoticed. Do Africans trust China (a Communist country) more than the U.S.? As long as Africa is getting low-interest loans they will, but what about when new-colonizers begin to elicit control on the economies in the same wy eventually that other colonizers did by extracting the best and leaving African countries with the loans–low-interest or not they will still be owed and Chinese businesses will begin to replace your own countries’ businesses. The U.S. under President Obama has been trying to reestablish trade in East Africa and what most don’t understand is that this would be beneficial to continue and even increase under a Republican Presidency (remember Trump does not and cannot act alone as a POTUS–we have checks and balances).
    4. Trump will not get his way with everything in the US and especially in US foreign policy. If Kenyan’s want to be influential they can. The U.S. doesn’t do ‘Big Man’ politics like African countries are used to and assume America would do–but American will not be subjected to a one-man show. The President-Elect will be reminded often that he is a member of a political party and that the political party has agendas that he must comply with or he won’t get anything done since the U.S. Congress has the power of the purse. The would be the same if the U.S. House and Senate were majority Democrats.
    5. Trump will have advisors and he knows he will need them to guide policy. Those are the people who will decide foreign policy, not Trump. Also, George W. was a Republican and under his Republican Presidency more dollars were given to Kenya and other African countries in terms of aid than in any other presidency, including the current one. So, don’t think that Republicans are isolationist. Yes, Trump behaves and speaks like an isolationist and I totally believe that some of the things he has said are not based on receiving any advice but are just his own gut feelings. Things like NATO for instance. Europe needs NATO, but so does the United States. Mr. Trump will have to realize that we live in a global economy and that NATO is important to protecting that global economy (and keep Russian aggression at bay in Europe). Yes, he wants to bring jobs back to America, but Kenyans in America will benefit from that as much as any other American–Diaspora stop being so isolationist that you can’t see yourselves as part of America when you live and work there. Now are there any jobs that Mr. Trump will be bringing back from Kenya or any other East African or African country? The answer is ‘Hapana’, ‘Oya’, and again I say ‘No’. What Mr. Trump is talking about is bringing jobs back from places like China, India, and he also mentions Japan, although that is a tough stretch given that Japan is an island and a U.S. ally to which we owe much, including most of the cars that we all drive. Let Mr. Trump help automakers in America compete in significant ways with other companies. That would be the right way to deal with competition in a global market. Also, Mr. Trump should be good for oil in Africa to get out of the ground and into the economies.

    I hope and pray that Kenyans and other members of the African Diaspora will have a little more faith and a lot less fear. Stop running, hiding, and acting out of panic just because some people tell you to. Act with confidence, honesty, and without hubris and malice and you will go far and Africa and Africans, wherever they are, will thrive.


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