By Dapo Fafowora | on 25 March 2017
Within two weeks of being sworn as President of the US, Donald Trump has, through Executive Orders, begun implementing some of the weird policies many thought were impossible. He is brave, brash, unconventional, hugely controversial and unpredictable. It is early days yet, and no one knows how far he will go in seeking to make America ‘great’ again by breaking the existing international system and order. His narrow, limited and illiberal world view has serious global consequences. He says it is ‘America First’. This is a negation of the principles and liberal philosophy that have made the US such a great and admirable nation. Under him the US will become increasingly isolationist as it turns its back on the rest of the world including its allies. It is a misguided approach, and one that will not make America a great nation again.
In the case of Nigeria and Africa, it is safe to say that Donald Trump is not really interested in Africa. He does not know Africa, has no direct business investments there, and has probably never visited the continent, at least sub-Saharan Africa, before. Africa is really low in his world view and agenda. During his election campaign he hardly ever mentioned Africa. On the few occasions he did it was to denigrate and condemn her, particularly Nigeria and Kenya, for corruption. From that perspective, he is not likely to show much interest in African affairs. That will be good for Africa as he is unlikely to pursue any interventionist policy or strategy there. A blundering American president will not do Africa any good. China’s growing influence and economic relations with African countries may spur him to seek to engage Africa to counter Chinese influence there. But US trade and economic ties with Africa are insignificant when compared to its dominant share of world trade. Africa accounts for less than 5 per cent of world trade and most of the meagre US investments in Africa are in oil and gas and the extractive industries. America has little or no investment in the development of infrastructure in Africa. In fact, China and India now trade more with Africa than the US. So, Africa will not lose much by a possible Trump policy of benign neglect towards it. It has strategic interests in Africa (in Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa) that it will seek to maintain and protect. But the period of the cold war and competition for political influence in Africa by the great powers is over. That accounts for the relative political stability in Africa in recent years. Foreign meddling in African affairs has diminished. For now, China is in Africa largely to seek new markets for its bludgeoning exports.
How will Donald Trump’s foreign policy affect Nigeria? On November 27, 2016, the Vanguard published excerpts of an interview with the new permanent secretary in the Foreign Ministry in which he assured the nation that the election of Donald Trump as the US president will not disrupt, or have any negative effect on Nigeria’s long standing cordial relations with the US, under successive US presidents, Republican and Democrat. That view is broadly correct. Though there have occasionally been strains in our relations with the US (Angola and Africom), particularly during the process of decolonization in Southern Africa in the1980s, our bilateral relations at all levels with the US have remained mature and cordial. Both sides recognize the strategic need to maintain the amity between them carefully developed over five decades, since Nigeria’s independence in 1960. In fact, the US was one of the countries that sponsored Nigeria’s admission into the UN soon after its independence in 1960
However, the new permanent secretary in the Foreign Ministry was careful enough to add that, though there was really little or nothing to worry about in Nigeria over a Donald Trump presidency, the Foreign Ministry was holding a retreat for its top diplomats in Abuja on Monday, November 28, 2016, to brainstorm and deliberate on what Donald Trump’s presidency of the US could mean for Nigeria’s relations with the US. Although such retreats are not unusual and are held when occasion demands, the retreat on the possible repercussions for Nigeria of a Trump presidency indicate some uneasiness in the Foreign Ministry about the possible effects of a Trump presidency on our bilateral relations. He said this retreat was being held to consider all the possible scenarios, options and eventualities that could have some effect on Nigeria’s relations with the US.
Broadly, there are three issues, immigration, security cooperation, and economic co-operation that underpin Nigeria-US bilateral relations. These have to be handled by Nigeria deftly and professionally. The first is immigration which could lead to tensions with the US.. Until recently the emigration of a large number of Nigerians to the US in search of new economic opportunities to escape poverty at home was not a major issue in bilateral relations between the two countries. Now it could become one. It is estimated that there are over 1 million Nigerians now living and working in the US. Most of them are there legally and have made an immense contribution to the US in the health, education, transportation, housing, IT, and cultural sectors. Some of them are making waves in medicine, computer, engineering and computer science. There are hundreds of Nigerians teaching in American Universities as well as a preponderant number of Nigerian doctors and nurses making an outstanding contribution to the US health delivery system. Donald Trump has been reported as complaining that Nigerians were taking away jobs from white Americans. He was reported as even threatening to build a transatlantic wall to stop Nigerians going to the US. But this is totally unjustified and reprehensible. We are very proud of the immense contribution some of our people are making to the US. Nigeria’s loss in this regard is America’s gain. It is the duty and responsibility of our government and diplomats to ensure that these Nigerians are treated fairly all across the US; that their rights are protected by the US government as legal US residents. Some of them have dual nationalities. As I write this there is as yet no Nigerian Ambassador in Washington who can begin to engage the new Trump US administration expeditiously. This is regrettable as early contacts with the new administration are vital to Nigeria’s interests in the US. It is important for Nigeria to let the new US administration understand at the highest levels how we feel about President Trump’s hostility to African-Americans in the US. For many would-be immigrants the American dream is now a nightmare.
There are some Nigerians, possibly in their thousands, who are in the US illegally in breach of US immigration laws. But Nigeria is not one of the seven Moslem dominated countries on which the Trump government has imposed a ban or restriction on entry into the US. This is in recognition of the fact that Nigeria does not sponsor Islamic jihadist terrorism in the US. It is a multi religious secular country. It is itself a victim of the Boko Haram terrorists that claim association with ISIS, Trump’s bogey. We have a common interest in this regard. Nevertheless, these illegal Nigerian immigrants will face a hard time under these new restrictions or travel bans introduced by the Trump administration. The travel ban order is being challenged in federal circuit courts in the US and could go as far as the US Supreme Court for final determination. Until this matter is judicially resolved Nigerians living illegally in the US may lose their jobs and possible deportation. A few, including those who have valid US entry visas, are already being denied entry into the US. The US is a nation of immigrants of diverse race and culture. But it is largely white and racist. Its loss of global power and influence will make it increasingly racist and isolationist. It will be less tolerant of new non-white immigrants. As under Trump America turns inwards one should expect that it will seek to shut its doors on Africans, including Nigerians, which constitute the largest number of African immigrant communities in the US.
At the economic level, Nigeria cannot expect new US investments from the US. Trump has made it clear he wants American companies to invest more in the US and bring back jobs allegedly lost to foreign companies. US oil companies are doing good business in Nigeria but there are little or no US investments in other sectors of the Nigerian economy. Total US trade with Africa in 2015 was only $35 billion; its investment was a paltry $6billion, in both cases far lower than Chinese trade and investments in Africa. The African Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) under which America seeks to promote trade with Africa by lowering American tariffs for African exports has not worked out because of poor African response and trans shipment by Asian countries of their manufactured exports for African exports. In addition African economies face an uphill task developing local industries that can compete effectively with Asian economies in the US market. Globalization of world trade has not worked very well for African economies. It has led to loss of industrial production and capacity, worsened by the global recession that has hit African economies very badly. The Joint US-Nigeria Commissions intended to promote economic cooperation between the two countries have remained largely moribund. The US is not seriously interested in these commissions. Under Trump the US may abandon them completely.
It is in the area of security that both countries have been cooperating in recent years. ISIS threatens US security while Boko Haram presents a serious threat to Nigeria’s internal security. The US has been assisting Nigeria with non-lethal American military supplies. It has also been sharing military and security intelligence with Nigeria. The US takes the stability and security of Nigeria very seriously. Nigeria’s peace keeping role in Africa is recognized as vital to American security interests in Africa. Nigeria is still a fragile country threatened from within by ethnic, tribal, and religious divisions. America’s continued support for the stability and viability of Nigeria as a strong, democratic, peaceful and stable country is vital to Nigeria. But ultimately, it is up to Nigeria and its leadership to move Nigeria in a more positive direction that will create new jobs, reduce mass poverty and make Nigeria an economic success story. The US or any other foreign country cannot do that for us. And if Nigeria implodes you can be sure that under Trump the US will feel obliged to intervene massively to stop further emigration of Nigerians to the US.
This article was first posted on http://thenationonlineng.net/will-trump-us-presidency-hurt-nigeria-us-relations/