As a businessman and president, Trump should encourage investment in Africa.
It is no secret that President Donald Trump prides himself on being a dealmaker. It is a point he used time and time again during his presidential campaign to demonstrate why the United States should withdraw from Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, rework the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and compete against perceived currency manipulation in East Asia. Trump suggested he would put “America first” and negotiate better deals.
Although it may sound counterintuitive at first, the president’s nationalist vision for the US can be brought together with international engagement and development through investing in Africa. Greater private sector investment in Africa will spur long-term development while bringing jobs, profits and influence to the United States in a way that is compatible with Trump’s conservative values.
BEIJING MOVES TO AFRICA
Many in the international development community feel that Trump’s turn inward is a sign that America’s development initiatives might fall by the wayside. The refugee ban and “global gag rule” enacted by executive orders in Trump’s first week as president suggest he is not a fan of the traditional development infrastructure. Conversely, the reported resignations of more than half of his Global Development Council suggests that the traditional development infrastructure is not a fan of him either. But this does not mean opportunities do not exist, and the Trump administration could learn a lot from one of the president’s greatest rivals, China.
China serves as an example of successful investment in Africa. China’s direct foreign investment flow to the continent steadily increased from $2.2 billion in 2012 to $3.1 billion in 2014. Chinese companies are encouraged by the government, which also fully or partially owns companies across every major industry, to “go out” into the world. China has been investing heavily in infrastructure projects across Africa—from roads to dams to power plants.
The recent opening of the multibillion-dollar, Chinese-funded Ethiopia-Djibouti railway is an example of how investments lead to improved transportation and economic cooperation. These investments in turn lead to more capital generated, which is better for the economies of everyone involved in the long run.
The US should no longer let China take the lead on these initiatives. On the whole, Africans see China as a greater external influence over their continent than the United States, and 63% of them see Beijing as a “somewhat” or “very” positive.
The top contributing factor to this positive image is unequivocally investments in infrastructure and business development. Thus, if President Trump is serious about improving America’s standing in the world, this is an area in which the US should compete.
The United States can increase its standing with Africans by deploying official envoys, as well as using business as a source of soft power. Simply put, investments will build relations and goodwill across the continent. Increasing business relations is not only good for America’s image, but investment on the continent has also proven to provide high rates of return and a bright, long-term outlook for the continent.
This positive effect also adds to profits, jobs and new markets for the US. Investing in Africa is not as risky a bet as many Americans assume, and a healthy dose of competition between the world’s two largest economies will spur progress.
As president, there are numerous US government agencies that Trump can tap to start working toward this goal, including the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Import-Export Bank, and the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA). Each of these agencies are mandated to assist US companies to invest overseas, and the USTDA has a focus on developing large-scale energy, transportation and telecommunications projects. Since its founding in 1992, the USTDA “generated over $56 billion in US exports, supporting an estimated 300,000 US jobs.”
GET TO WORK
Since President Trump also sees himself as a Washington outsider, he can push these initiatives in the same way he did as a developer and construction mogul: leverage his network, name and now official standing to encourage private businesses to invest in this part of the world. Encouraging businesses to make long-term investments in Africa will bring money back to US shores, spur the American and African economies, and expand Washington’s influence in the world.
Donald Trump is a developer, and he should do just that: develop. Trump can utilize his strengths as both a businessman and president to encourage American companies to invest on the African continent. He should encourage companies to go, bring the capital and know-how, drive a hard bargain, ensure the United States benefits and get to work.
*[Young Professionals in Foreign Policy is a partner institution of Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: CourtneyK