Trump Team’s Queries About Africa Point to Skepticism About Aid
By HELENE COOPER
Jan 13 2017
WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald J. Trump’s views of Africa have, until now, been a mystery. But a series of questions from the Trump transition team to the State Department indicate an overall skepticism about the value of foreign aid, and even about American security interests, on the world’s second-largest continent.
A four-page list of Africa-related questions from the transition staff has been making the rounds at the State Department and Pentagon, alarming longtime Africa specialists who say the framing and the tone of the questions suggest an American retreat from development and humanitarian goals, while at the same time trying to push forward business opportunities across the continent.
“How does U.S. business compete with other nations in Africa? Are we losing out to the Chinese?” asks one of the first questions in the unclassified document provided to The New York Times.
That is quickly followed with queries about humanitarian assistance money. “With so much corruption in Africa, how much of our funding is stolen? Why should we spend these funds on Africa when we are suffering here in the U.S.?”
Some of the questions are those that should be asked by a new administration seeking to come to grips with the hows and whys behind longstanding American national security and foreign assistance policies. But it is difficult to know whether the probing, critical tone of other questions indicates that significant policy changes should be expected.
On terrorism, the document asks why the United States is even bothering to fight the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, why all of the schoolgirls kidnapped by the group have not been rescued and whether Qaeda operatives from Africa are living in the United States. And it questions the effectiveness of one of the more significant counterterrorism efforts on the continent.
“We’ve been fighting al-Shabaab for a decade, why haven’t we won?” poses one question, referring to the terrorist group based in Somalia that was behind the Westgate mall attacks in Kenya in 2013.
Although the document represents a first look at how the new administration might approach policy toward Africa, a subject that was rarely touched on during the campaign, officials with the Trump transition team did not respond to queries about the list.
“Many of the questions that they are asking are the right questions that any incoming administration should ask,” said Monde Muyangwa, the director of the Africa program at the Woodrow Wilson Institute.
But she also noted that “the framing of some of their questions suggests a narrower definition of U.S. interests in Africa, and a more transactional and short-term approach to policy and engagement with African countries.”
Ms. Muyangwa said the queries could signal “a dramatic turn in how the United States will engage with the continent.”
J. Peter Pham, who has been mentioned for the job of assistant secretary of state for African affairs in a Trump administration, said he does not expect Mr. Trump to do a complete U-turn in relations with Africa.
Mr. Pham, director of the Africa program at the Atlantic Council, said he expects Mr. Trump will emphasize fighting extremism on the continent, while also looking to enhance opportunities for American businesses.