Stakes are high for Africa in US presidential election

By Patrick Smith

Posted on October 26, 2020 14:25

Election 2020 Trump
President Donald Trump acknowledges supporters as he leaves a campaign rally at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Londonderry, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)010251955

In a week’s time, Americans will see their votes counted in an election seen universally as the most consequential for half a century. Consequential for the direction and stability of the country for decades, and for the international system it has dominated.

The collision between authoritarian populism and a global public health emergency has unleashed the direst predictions about the United States. A crop of dramatic political tomes such as Frank Buckley’s American Succession: the looming threat of a national breakup are flying off the shelves.

Given the US’s political and economic reach, even with China coming up fast on the inside, everyone has a reason to watch the political ructions in Washington DC, and in the 50 states.

Africa has not figured in any of the presidential and vice-presidential debates,

The futures of the myriad UN agencies, the World Health Organisation, the World Trade Organisation and the international financial institutions, the IMF and World Bank – which are meant to be steering economies out of pandemic-induced recessions –  are all in play.

READ MORE Coronavirus: ‘People’s vaccine’ campaigners claim victory at WHO summit

Then there is the US stance on climate change, its withdrawal from the Paris treaty.

Africa has not figured in any of the presidential and vice-presidential debates, or in much of the campaigning. Yet it has a serious stake in the outcome as shown by a clutch of Trump administration actions in the last few months.

Fight over the Nile

The most egregious is President Trump’s attempt to strong-arm Ethiopia into accepting a deal with Egypt in the long running dispute over a hydro-power dam on the Nile.

Earlier this year, talks in Washington DC were brokered by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, on instructions from Trump, in a move designed to show that the White House could handle international diplomacy. On this occasion it couldn’t.

Affronted by what they saw as an ultimatum from Mnuchin to sign a lop-sided agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the team sent by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed withdrew from the talks.

Last month, the Trump administration suspended US aid to Ethiopia, attempting to ratchet up the pressure. Hell hath no fury like a President seeking re-election and diplomatic validation.

READ MORE US decision to halt aid to Ethiopia over GERD risks complicating talks

For comparison:

  • US aid to Ethiopia (110 million people) is around $800m a year.
  • US aid to Egypt (103 million people) is over $1.7bn.
  • US direct aid to Israel (8.6 million people) is over $3bn a year.

Yet the aid ploy failed. The African Union with its chairman Cyril Ramaphosa is trying to mediate a tripartite agreement between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, on the pace at which the dam could be filled. Insiders say there has been progress on the technical issues but matters of geo-politics and national pride in Cairo and Addis Ababa have complicated the latest round of talks.

On 23 October, Trump threw a spanner in the works at a press conference in Washington DC when asked about an agreement on the dam: “[…] it’s a dangerous situation because Egypt is not going to be able to live that way and they’ll end up blowing up the dam.”