Expert on Sub-Saharan Africa sees opportunity for Trump administration



When we last visited with Dr. Balla Keita, Professor of Comparative Politics at George Washington University, it was to discuss concerns that the “rule of civil law” and constitutional powers were under siege in his native Ivory Coast.


Granted, concerns continue over institutional and political evolution there, but Dr. Keita is also a director at the Institute of Economic & Social Development for Sub-Saharan Africa. In that capacity, he sees opportunity for the new Trump administration in Sub-Saharan Africa. I sat down with the professor at the National Press Club in Washington, with some email follow up, to explore those views.


Question: President Trump is certainly off and running for his “first 100 days,” so any immediate thoughts for him on economic development areas for the Sub-Saharan Africa region?


Answer: Focus areas for U.S. foreign assistance that can help Sub-Saharan African countries move from “chronic underdevelopment” to “emerging nations” status and include agriculture and food security; economic growth and trade; democracy, human rights and governance; health; education; crises prevention and conflict resolution; and public-private partnerships.


Question: That’s quite a list, so what federal agencies and other partners are directly involved in addressing economic issues in Sub-Saharan Africa?


Answer: Several. The following U.S. federal departments and agencies, as well as other partners, are actively working in collaboration with their African counterparts in seeking solutions to Africa’s seemingly intractable economic and political problems: US Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), Department of Defense-Africom, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. universities and non-governmental organizations. Frankly, they are to be commended for their dedication and commitment to their respective assignments.


Question: You mentioned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How has it impacted Sub-Saharan Africa?


Answer: Recent success stories in the health sector include the CDC’s remarkable efforts in containing the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa and finding an effective vaccine… and stemming of the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the fight against malaria. But, clearly, sustained efforts are still required to improve Sub-Saharan Africa health systems and build on those successes.


Question: How about agriculture and food security?


Answer: In the area of agriculture and food security, progress has been made under the USAID. Programs like “Feed the Future” (FTF) involve USAID and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) jointly engaging and encouraging African governments to carry out appropriate macro- and micro-economic policy reforms that are conducive to sustainable economic growth. The MCC provides invaluable help in building farm-to-market roads and small scale irrigation infrastructure in rural areas with great agricultural potential. Recent successful examples include the MCC Compact I Program in the River Senegal Basin which funded the building of farm-to-market roads and small irrigation works which will substantially boost rice and vegetable production. Similar FTF initiatives have been successfully carried out in nine other African countries including Mali and Ghana in West Africa, Rwanda and Uganda in Central Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, and Malawi in Southern Africa, and Ethiopia and Kenya in East Africa.


Question: So what role can the Trump administration play to reduce extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa?


Answer: In the fight to end extreme poverty, the U.S. can play a lead role in promoting entrepreneurship among the marginalized and vulnerable groups of African societies, particularly women. An effective and accessible tool is mobile banking which has been successfully tested in Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi. Recent research conducted by William Jack of Georgetown University and Tavneet Suri of MIT Sloan has shown that mobile banking is lifting thousands of Africans out of poverty. In Kenya alone, 194,000 families or 2% of Kenyan households were lifted out of poverty between 2008 and 2014. A key advantage of mobile banking is that it makes it easier to weather financial or health crises, both by increasing savings rates and allowing users to tap wider support networks. It also has a strong empowering effect on women and female-headed households. The U.S. can create a seed fund to be managed by philanthropic organizations such as the Gates Foundation, with a proven track record in mobile banking in Asia, to replicate and scale up mobile banking operations in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Question: How can the Trump administration support democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa?


Answer: It is important for the incoming Trump administration to continue supporting efforts to promote democracy, human rights and governance to help African governments and civil society fight corruption, promote accountability and the rule of law, and strengthen the current trend toward democratization in SSA countries. In recent years in Senegal, for example, a vibrant civil society galvanized citizens who prevented the former president from changing the constitution and voted him out of office. Burkina Faso, a highly organized and determined civil society, drove ex-president Blaise Campaoré out of power, and, after a short transition, a democratically elected government is in place. Several Sub-Saharan African countries have had recurring peaceful transitions from one democratically elected government to another. Good examples include Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Kenya in Southern and East Africa, and Benin, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal. This hopeful trend should be encouraged and supported.


Question: I know you talk about crisis prevention and conflict resolution in Sub-Saharan Africa, what is the U.S. role there?


Answer: In the sphere of Crises Prevention and Conflict Resolution, U.S. diplomats in collaboration with the Department of Defense-Africa Command (Africom) teams are diligently working to prevent conflicts and combat violent extremism. Africom specialized units are actively training the armed forces of Sahel countries in ongoing efforts to neutralize and eliminate extremist groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, and Al Qaida in the Sahel affiliates in Northern Mali, Niger, Chad and Northern Côte d’Ivoire. A critical element of this military assistance includes intelligence gathering and sharing in real time with host governments, as well as coordination of cross border military operations by West African armies in Nigeria, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Chad, Niger and Mali.


Question: That’s a lot of ground to cover. What are other priorities?


Answer: Sub-Saharan Africa’s positive trends require sustained support and nurturing within the framework of mutually beneficial relations. As the U.S. continues to support Africa’s economic growth, the latter can create new export markets for American goods and services. Africans ardently hope that the Trump administration will expand and deepen existing U.S. relations and partnerships with African governments, businesses, civil society, universities, new generation of African leaders, thinkers, entrepreneurs, and innovators. Moreover, he’s a deal-maker and it would be advisable to encourage more U.S. investments in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially to counter the influence of the Chinese who already have a head start in terms of investing in infrastructure.


Sara Corcoran Warner is publisher of the National Courts Monitor website, “Your Daily Ration of Civil Justice Rationing,” and a frequent commentator on national legal policy and civil courts issues.



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