In Summary

  • Africa seems not to have a strategic champion of its interests in the new Washington.

  • The US is the world’s strongest economy and a key player in geopolitics.

  • Engaging it is not subordinating the interests of Africa; it is just being smart.

I have returned from a rather illuminating visit to the United States Capitol. The visit involved interactive meetings with senior Republican legislators in both the Senate and the Congress, State Department employees, the business community and the donor community. I also attended the 65th US National Prayer Breakfast addressed by President Donald Trump.

The palpating sense of uncertainty has engulfed everyone in Washington, DC, from lifelong Republicans, who should be celebrating total control of the Senate, Congress and the White House to a common liberal citizen, who seems really scared at what this change portends. The Trump incursion caught the American political establishment unaware.

The US seems to be on a journey of self-rediscovery, keen to figure out what the next four years will be like. Discussing this with Mr Richard McCormack, a former ambassador, I got a sense of how transitions are generally messy. He served as an executive vice-chairman of the Bank of America and in President George W. Bush’s administration, as Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs. He has played a key role in four transitions and was instrumental in championing Aids relief under Pepfar and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, which helped Africa. On the upheavals that have rocked the Trump Administration’s first weeks in office, he said there was nothing out of the ordinary. This view seemed to corroborate earlier opinions that even President Barack Obama’s transition had its own share of mistakes. Whereas Mr Obama had many former Bill Clinton staffers, the bulk of Mr Trump’s transition staff are new with little experience of government. As the administration settles, a more certain pattern will emerge, perhaps with the offloading and reassigning of some staff away from the centre of power. There is already talk of hiring a new press secretary and issues with the Security Adviser position.

NEW WASHINGTON

Africa seems not to have a strategic champion of its interests in the new Washington.

Mr Trump’s views on Africa have largely been nonexistent. After his surprise victory, the only African leader he spoke with within the first few days is President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt. This has to do more with the strategic nature of the country in the Israel-Arab world equation than as a key African ally. Without a conscious effort by Africa to champion its interests with the new administration, many decisions may be undertaken that will hurt the continent. Three out of seven countries whose citizens were barred from entering in the United States are from Africa.

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