What’s a three-word foreign policy agenda President-elect Donald Trump can pursue that will create American jobs, reduce terrorism, challenge China and set him apart from the failings of his predecessor? Promote African development.
On the one hand, the world’s poorest continent is rife with socioeconomic problems that have paved the way for some lands to become hubs of international terrorism, posing a threat to their own populations as well as to distant countries, including the United States. Of the eighteen ISIS branches deemed fully operational by the National Counterterrorism Center, eight are in Africa. According to the latest edition of the Global Terrorism Index, the world’s deadliest terrorist group by sheer volume of lethality is not ISIS but the Nigerian Boko Haram.
These clear and present threats were built on a continent’s suffering — from example, drought in Somalia and throughout East Africa, and totalitarianism and corruption across the continent — breeding weak, failing and failed states that prove commodious to jihadist operations. Dictators in the mold of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe continue to terrorize their own populations. And the Democratic Republic of Congo risks deteriorating into civil war should the head of state, Joseph Kabila, continue on his path to authoritarian rule. In a country rich in natural resources, the population remains destitute. These diverse factors help explain why the campaign to roll back terror on the continent is inseparable from African development needs.
On the other hand, some parts of Africa are among the world’s bright spots: According to the World Bank, six of the thirteen countries with the highest compound growth annually are on the continent. Among them, Rwanda provides an example of a country that has overcome one of the continent’s bloodiest conflicts in recent memory to empower women, fight corruption and attract international investment. Similar positive trends are visible in the democracies of Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and even terror-plagued Nigeria — all of which are part of a larger pro-American bloc, stretching up to Morocco in the north, that stand with the United States in its struggle against terrorism. For Moroccan King Mohammed VI, the struggle against terrorism is inextricable from the challenge of developing the African continent. He has devised a holistic strategy to pursue both goals in tandem. And multinational bodies on the continent such as the African Union, after decades in a Cold War deep-freeze, are newly invigorated, as these like-minded African nations assert a greater leadership role within them.
One U.S. president in particular made a meaningful contribution to mitigating some of these problems: George W. Bush. He is widely viewed on the continent as a hero: His signature Africa initiative, “the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief” (PEPFAR), saved millions of lives, and also drew praise on both sides of the American partisan divide. He launched the single greatest initiative to fight malaria on the continent to date, and, as a private citizen together with his wife Laura, has since been committed to the struggle against cancer in Africa.
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