By: Angela Okune and Abena Kyere
From lauding praise on the non-existent country of “Nambia” to congratulating African leaders for their countries’ business potential, U.S. President Trump caused quite a stir during his first participation at the latest meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in late September.
In off-the-cuff remarks at a lunch gathering with African leaders, Trump remarked:
“Africa has tremendous business potential, I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich. I congratulate you, they’re spending a lot of money. It has tremendous business potential, representing huge amounts of different markets. … It’s really become a place they have to go, that they want to go.”
Social media commentators and news agencies picked this up immediately and criticized it as reminiscent of colonialism, whose motivations were largely economic exploitation of the continent’s resources. However, others have praised his comments. An NPR article talked to three African entrepreneurs for their views. The article highlighted how for some, this is a refreshing approach out of the pervasive narrative of “Africa as Hopeless Poverty” which provides justification for Western help (aka development aid). One respondent discussed how she is used to hearing comments from development agencies about bringing more foreign aid to Africa for health, education and other needs: “They’ve concentrated on the alleviation of poverty at the expense of creating prosperity,” says Brown. “For a lot of African countries, it’s produced a lot of dependency to aid.”
If the President of the US is stating that America depends on Africa to “get rich,” then could we view this as shifting the power of negotiation towards the African continent? Or is it simply around round in the overt exploitation of the continent by the “West”? (How) will African leaders and Africans, more generally, leverage such an acknowledgement that the West needs Africa to change the terms of development to suit their own needs? While posited by postcolonial thinkers for decades (e.g. Walter Rodney (1972) book on “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”), the president of the US has never openly admitted the direct reliance of the West on the African continent. Rather than a side-comment by Trump that indicates his utter ignorance about the history of colonialism on the continent, if the administration were to openly admit their direct reliance historically and today on the natural resources, people and ideas from Africa, this might be considered a more explicit “positive” development.
Nonetheless, we are already seeing African leaders like Tanzania’s Magufuli pushing back against foreign companies to ensure that greater benefits are ensured for Tanzanians. For example, a recent crackdown has resulted in $300 million USD being received in back taxes from foreign mining companies in Tanzania.
The big question now is what Africa should make of Trump’s statements and how to shift the negotiations from a position of power rather than a position of dependency on aid.
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