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 the Nation.
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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