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Trump President: what does it mean for Africa?

media Donald Trump is seen in this photo taken on November 9, 2016. Reuters/Carlo Allegri

Since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States earlier this week, analysts have been scrambling to figure out what that might mean in terms of American foreign policy.

As Trump has never before held public office, no one is able to consider previous foreign policy stances. Many of his campaign statements have been inconsistent. In terms of policy towards Africa, they have been almost non-existent.

Trump has championed an isolationist idea of putting the United States and its interests first. But to what extent will that affect the African continent?

The US allocates less than one percent of its budget to foreign aid. However, it is still the world’s largest donor. That might change quickly under Trump, says Zachary Donnenfeld, a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa.

"There’s a broad misunderstanding within the American electorate about how much of the US budget goes towards aid or humanitarian assistance," Donnenfeld told RFI. "There’s also broad public support for reducing that figure, no matter what it is".

He says that Congress is likely to approve a popular domestic measure like cutting foreign aid.

"Given that one third of all US foreign aid goes to health programs, many of them in Africa, this could have real implications," Donnenfeld said, citing the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a scheme launched by George W. Bush, and the President’s Malaria Initiative, launched by Barack Obama. He says up until this point, both programs have been very successful.

Trump has also pledged to cancel billions in climate change spending through the UN and said he would cut support to UN peacekeeping missions. Donnenfeld points out it could be a problem, especially for health programmes.

"Many countries in Europe are also seeing a rise in the same populist, isolationist narrative," Donnenfeld said. "Asian donors have traditionally been focused on more direct investments in infrastructure and the energy sector. While some countries might be able to establish transitional programs, others would be hard hit."

As for security, Trump has repeatedly pledged to be tough on terrorism. However, Nic Cheeseman, a professor in African politics at Jesus College in Oxford, says this might not actually change much in Africa.

"We’ve seen the United States have quite a strong policy on terrorist organisations and most of the countries in the region are cooperating," he told RFI. "For example, many East African countries have contributed troops to the AMISOM mission to try and defeat Al Shebab."

He says that is likely to continue under Trump.

However, Trump has openly indicated that he is willing to sacrifice human rights in what he perceives as the fight against terrorism. In March, Trump said on CNN that he’d like to "change the law" on waterboarding, a torture technique that was used by US interrogators on detainees in the early 2000s before it was banned.

Donnenfeld says that this indicates Trump is likely to support security over promotion of human rights in Africa as well.

"I think you’ll see Trump ignore Africa’s remaining strongmen," he said. "This is kind of a continuation of foreign policy from the post-9/11 Bush administration. The US has a tendency to support authoritarian leaders in the name of stability."

There are many other questions-- for example, will Trump scrap the trade deal, the African Growth and Opportunity Act? But for the time being, it is hard to project what foreign policy measures Trump will undertake.

"I think many African leaders are wise enough to wait and see what comes next," Cheeseman of Oxford said. "I think they also know that many American leaders, including Barack Obama, didn’t seek to engage too much on Africa themselves. I don’t think anybody wants to burn a bridge with the United States before we see what Trump plans to do".

More will become clearer as Trump chooses his cabinet. But for now, Africans - and the world - are waiting and watching.

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