A new U.S. Africa policy?

After four years of Donald Trump in the White House, it is time to take stock: What policies did the Republican government pursue in African regions? And what will change? Here is an evaluation.

 

c) Christoph Püschner/Zeitenspiegel
Republic of Niger, Kollo: the billboard of an NGO should help that the topic of family planning becomes popular in Nigerian society.

Jan Rübel

Jan Rübel is author at Zeitenspiegel Reportagen, a columnist at Yahoo and writes for national newspapers and magazines. He studied History and Middle Eastern Studies.

In January 2017, on his first Monday morning in office as the President of the United States, Donald Trump made a decision that would have far-reaching effects for African countries: He reinstated the so-called Mexico City Policy, which his predecessor Barack Obama had rescinded. The policy referred to by critics as the Global Gag Rule blocks U.S. development funding to organisations that provide abortions, including related services such as counselling. One year later, the President caused a stir when he made some rather derogatory comments about African countries. The Washington Post received insider intel that during talks about immigration reform, Trump allegedly said: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here? The United States should instead bring more people from countries such as Norway.”

 

This caused an uproar, but isolated quotes do not reveal much about policy and strategies; what’s even more tragic was cancelling government travel to African countries. But it is not easy to make sweeping statements about U.S. Africa policies of recent years. On the one hand, programmes for trade or fighting terrorism were left in place by the current President. “In terms of agroecology policy, there was no difference between the Trump and the Obama administration”, says Bernhard Walter, speaker for food security at “Bread for the World”. However, he sees weaker international commitment from the USA. “The fact that the new FAO director is from China shows Washington’s lack of interest in this UN Institution”, he says with regard to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations.

 

On the other hand, Trump’s unilateralist policies with “America First” as the main slogan also had consequences for African countries; the withdrawal of funds for the World Health Organisation (WHO) was quite a blow. “The U.S. has made itself somewhat invisible in Africa”, says Renate Bähr, Deputy Director of the Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW, German Foundation for World Population). “China has used this lack of commitment by increasing construction projects, economic development as well as imports and exports.”

 

c) Christoph Püschner/Zeitenspiegel
Republic of Niger, Niamey: Illustrative material for the educational event on contraception by the NGO Animas-Sutura.

The organisation headquartered in Hanover also felt the effects of Trump reinstating the Mexico City Policy. In the months after January 2017, it became apparent that this policy had been expanded, covering all public health projects and not only reproductive health projects, as was previously the case. This means that no NGOs will receive U.S. government funding if they offer any abortion-related services—even if the funds are specifically to support projects such as sanitation facilities, clean water or HIV/Aids prevention. “We immediately looked at all our binding project documents that included funding by USAID”, says Bähr.

 

(c) Christoph Püschner/Brot für die Welt
Chad, Pont-Carol health station: display boards explain the basics of hygiene to families to prevent worm infections.

The foundation specialises in improving access to family planning and sex education, “information on safe abortions is a part of sexual and reproductive health and well as the related rights.” While the foundation does not provide these services, it offers information, including about the risks, and refers people to adult health services. A red light for U.S. funding from the White House: The stricter Mexico City Policy also affects subcontractors abroad, such as DSW Kenya. This means that the Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung had to step back from a project in Kenya. “The project was about HIV prevention in orphans and at-risk boys and girls”, says Bähr. Since the Foundation did not sign the conditions of the policy, but the project was supported by USAID funding, it had no choice but to withdraw. “Other subcontractors in Kenya were found so that the project could be continued”, says Bähr.

 

The U.S. government expanded the policy requirements to cover all development aid expenditure of all ministries, which affects seven to eight billion dollars that are now missing. According to reports, the policy has led to an increase in the number of illegal abortions in African countries, and therefore the risks to the mothers. As reported by the Guardian, “Girls have been losing lives just because of lack of access to services”, says Melvine Ouyo, a former clinic manager at “Family Health Option” in Kenya, an organisation that had to close five clinics after declining to accept the new U.S. aid conditions. The Federal Government in Berlin responded to a question in parliament: “The Federal Government regrets the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy.” And went on to say: “The Federal Government will continue to call for the strengthening of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) particularly on an international level in relevant forums.”

 

(c) Christoph Püschner/Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe
Republic of Liberia, Foya: Disinfection points have been set up in front of public facilities, stores and meeting places in the city center of Foya.

Many organisations are hoping that things will change with the new government under Democrat Joe Biden. His appointed Vice President Kamala Harris certainly welcomed a legislative proposal last year that would permanently repeal the Mexico City Policy; up to now, this 1984 policy has simply been rescinded and then reinstated by the different governments. However, it is not yet clear whether the new U.S. government will have the majority required to make such legislative changes—a key election for two senators in Georgia is still to be held.

 

(c) Christoph Püschner/Brot für die Welt
Cameroon, Boh Primary Health Care Center: in the health center, the malaria rapid test is carried out in the outpatient department.

Some aspects of U.S. African policy over the past years have also been consistent. Presidents from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump have worked to intensify the economic relationship between the U.S. and African countries. Under Clinton, the programme was called “African Growth and Opportunity Act”, under George W. Bush “Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief”, under Barack Obama “Power Africa” and under Trump “Prosper Africa”—they all supported trade, health and infrastructure in African countries. Like Trump, President-elect Biden sees China as a particular challenge—however, he will approach this more with multilateral politics. “The Biden administration also needs to integrate the continent into more of its global priorities—not just regarding the competition with China”, writes the Foreign Policy magazine. “Notably, these include climate change and the fight against extremism.”

 

There is the general expectation that a new wind will blow with Biden. As a senator in the 80s, he made a name for himself as an opponent of the Apartheid regime in South Africa and successfully campaigned for sanctions. “This was an important step against Apartheid”, said Moeletsi Mbeki, Deputy Chairperson of the South African think tank Institute for International Affairs in an interview with the “Welt”. “As a black South African, I hoped that the Democrats would win the U.S. election. Biden is a friend of democracy in South Africa and hopefully all of Africa.”

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