The following interview was conducted by veteran Coast based Journalist and PR practitioner George Sungu
Mr. Melvin Foote serves as an Advisor to the African Union’s Ambassador to Washington and as a Consultant to the World Bank on African Diaspora issues. He is a Pioneer in the field of African Affairs. He has over 35 years of experience and has worked in over 30 African countries. He is recognized as a leading expert on issues related to African policies and programs. He founded the Constituency for Africa (CFA) in 1990, in order to establish a network of organizations, groups and individuals committed to the progress and empowerment of Africa and African people worldwide.
Below are excerpts of my interview with him regarding President Donald Trump’s recent New Africa Strategy.
I started by seeking his views on what he made of the President Trumps's New Africa Strategy?
Melvin: I was privy to much of what was discussed in the strategy in advance, so I was not all that surprised. The policy was actually going to be released a few weeks earlier, but the National Security Advisor, Ambassador John Bolton wanted to be the Administration Official who released it. Having said that, there was nothing really shocking in the what the policy outlines. Many of us who follow Africa, are at least pleased that a policy has been released. Someone asked me afterwards, what was the Africa Policy of the previous administration — and I honestly can’t recall if there even was one! They seemed to have made it up as they went along. The Trump policy as outlined by Ambassador Bolton, was heavy on U.S. - Africa trade and on issues of security. Clearly the bad guys from the perspective of the US Administration are China, Russia (to a lessor extent), and the United Nations. China and Russia are seen as predatory in Africa, and the U.N. is viewed as inefficient and overly bureaucratic. I was informed by the Senior Director for Africa at the National Security Council on Friday, that what was missing in the roll-out of the strategy on Thursday is that the Trump Administration increasing support for PEPFAR, Power Africa and YALI, which were created in the Bush and Obama administrations! The Millenium Challenge Compact is also being expanded with new compacts issued recently with Ethiopia and Senegal! The Trump[ Administration plans to expand the roll of the Trade and Development Agency, the USTR going forward.
The main point here is that there is nothing very radical about the new policy. Whether is will go far enough to ensure that the United States is a player in Africa, along side of China, Russia and other partners, remains to be seen. For sure the rise of China in the past twenty years, was not countered by the U.S., and now China enjoys favorite nation status amongst many African countries, regardless of issues of debt and sovereignty, which we all agree may come back to haunt the continent at some point.
Question: As CFA President, are you happy with the New Strategy?
Melvin: From the perspective of CFA, I don’t think any Africa policy would be 100% satisfactory to us! Nevertheless, the Administration has reached out to us, and I was among the very select group invited to the roll-out. In January CFA will lead a cross-section delegation of stakeholders from the Diaspora, over to the White House to meet with senior officials on the new Africa policy. The meeting will not be an endorsement at all, but moreover an opportunity to ask questions and to make suggestions and recommendations for strengthening the Policy and to focus on delivery. CFA is a non-partisan organization which works with whoever is in the White House, to ensure that Africa gets a fair consideration in US relations with the continent.
Question: How does the Trump administration’s New Africa Strategy differ from that of former Presidents Barack Obama and George Bush?
Melvin: I don’t recall either the Bush Administration or the Obama Administration, as having a stated policy towards Africa! I provided substantial input to both administrations, and both did some incredible work as it relates to Africa. PEPFAR, MCC, Power Africa, YALI, and more. However, it was not really couched in terms of the Africa Policy, moreover, "as good things to do". I recall some of the discussions around the emergence of China back then, and clearly there was limited understanding about the depth and breath of China’s plan, and what it would mean for US engagement in 2019!
Question: What in your view has prompted this change of attitude considering President Trump's initial dismissive attitude which led the President recent derogatory reference to Africa as ' a collection of shithole countries'?
Melvin: For sure President Trump was not ready for any policy engagement with Africa or anywhere else when he came to the White House in 2016. His S…hole comments actually played to his racist base here in the U.S., who think that the rest of the world is taking from the U.S., and thus there is a lack of jobs and assistance for poor whites in this country. None of the people who were around him in his first two years knew much about Africa or the world for that matter. Issues of climate change, migration, etc., were not to be addressed by this Administration. It took almost 18 months before an Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (Ambassador Tibor Nagy), to be appointed. Much more needs to be done, but I can honestly say that there are some good people, including Ambassador Nagy, Ambassador Mark Green of USAID, Cyril Sartor at NSC, and elsewhere now working to shape the US policy towards Africa. We also have some strong leadership in the U.S. Congress with Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), taking over the House of Representative’s Africa Sub-Committee.
Question: Which US President, in your view has had a more favourable Africa strategy?
I think George W. Bush was by far the most successful! $15 billion for PEPFAR, $5 billion for MCC, good on AGOA, and more. He also had the more highly qualified African-Americans working on Africa in his administration, than any other President. General Colin Powell, Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice, National Security Advisor, Ambassador Jendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield her Deputy, Ambassador Ruth Davis, the Africa Bureau Chief of Staff, Dr. Sarah Moten in charge of education programs, Ambassadors in Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Benin, Liberia, and other countries…… Hands down it is George W. Bush. Ironically, he had a very limited background on Africa coming into the job, but turned it over to some highly qualified people to implement a strong Africa program. There needs to be statues across Africa built in honor of President George W. Bush!
Question: Finally how can Africa, best exploit this New Strategy?
Melvin: This is perhaps the most important of all the questions!
The United States has much to offer Africa. It is by far the largest economy in the world; has access to the best technological advancements; and has an African Diaspora of about 50 million or more! What is lacking in Africa’s efforts in the United States is a good working strategy! Africans tend to approach the US as tiny individual states that were formed during the colonial period! There is talk of a continental free trade area and market, but that will surely take a long time. The Diaspora in the U.S. and globally, is fragmented and spend an inordinate amount of time promoting disunity among us.
I am very much encouraged about the young people coming up, especially those who participated in the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). I am pleased to say that I wrote the paper for President Obama providing the seeds for YALI, which has actually brought the best and the brightest from the continent to the US for training and capacity-building. Most importantly those who participated in YALI also met counterparts from other countries and from other parts of the continent. These young people are now moving up into all aspects of leadership in Africa. The new Minister of Trade for Botswana is a YALI alumni! I think these young people really do get it, and will have a transformational role in Africa going forward.
I also think we are now seeing the last vestiges of corrupt and inefficient leadership in Africa. Social media is actually connecting people like never before on the continent and the deeds and misdeeds of useless African leaders (and I won’t name the countries here) are increasing becoming exposed to the masses.
Africa must also come to realize that they need to support organizations like the Constituency for Africa (CFA), that advocate for Africa in the United States. There are many quarters in the U.S. that don’t want democracy to move forward in Africa; that don’t want to end corruption; that welcome wars; that welcome dictators to stay on; that don’t want Americans to have good knowledge about Africa and African issues! Africa must come to see support for CFA and other support groups, in their own interest to marshall the needed support for the continent. Many of us here are going to fight the good fight for Africa no matter what, or with whatever limited resources we might have! However, “strategically", Africa needs to come to understand that it needs to have a good working strategy in the United States if progress is to be made.