Africa has 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 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 about 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 hardline foreign policy is considered to be “non-interventionist”, except when US national security interests is 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 changing policy towards Africa and North Africa practically are very slim.
Trump’s administrations will most likely strength relations with Morocco despite it has an Islamist party ruling. 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 United States 69th largest goods trading partner with $1.5 billion in total goods trade during 2016.
Regarding 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 United States and Algeria consult closely on key international and regional issues. On the economic level, American companies also are active in the banking and finance, services, pharmaceuticals, medical facilities, telecommunications, aviation, seawater desalination, energy production, and information technology sectors. Algeria is the United States’ largest market in the North African region. US exports to Algeria totaled $2 billion in 2016. Also Algeria’s number one main export partner is the United States.
Tunisia which is suffering on economically and on security level might get assistance from the Trump’s administration. If Tunisia receives the assistance it will be mainly to support Tunisia’s armed forces and security units. They might also receive aid to improve Tunisia’s poor economy but that’s 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, 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. United States currently backs the internationally recognized -Tripoli government in the west 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 east 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 on cracking down against the Islamists [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 Islamists factions.
Also United States could 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 more, or the worst case scenario, it will 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 poor economy and ongoing security unrest.
Trump is known for his opposition to nation-building and large overseas assistance programmes. He looks suspiciously at trade agreements. And he has railed against Muslims and other foreigners, while he has publically praised dictators and tyrants. Trump’s foreign policy will have an impact on North Africa depending on each country, the most who are going to suffer are the civil society activists, human rights activists, and supporters of democratic reforms, because they will view Trump as president who will support authoritarian governments in the region. In the other side the political elites and wealthy businessmen will welcome Trump’s foreign policy because it will concentrate in increasing trade, combating terrorism and most importantly to keep their power safe and stable.