Trump’s Presidency is Fostering Anxiety in Africa

Meghan Clark writes:

Unpredictability is perhaps the linchpin of President Trump’s negotiating style and social media plan. He brags about it, and his base appreciates it as a mark of authenticity. Yet as I traveled around East Africa, I found that his unpredictability and crass belittling of others is fostering an existential anxiety among those working with the poor.

This anxiety is pervasive. For example, all across the continent, many HIV/AIDS programs depend upon funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Thus far, the Trump administration has not targeted Pepfar for budget cuts, but as I visited programs in East Africa, many asked whether the program is safe. When reports from a White House meeting on immigration reported that the president referred to Africa as a collection of “shithole countries,” it is easy to understand why HIV/AIDS clinic staff members are anxious. In addition, the budget plan released this week by the Trump administration does propose deep cuts to the budget of the international development agency USAID. The anxiety in Africa is not based in partisanship (Pepfar, after all, was started by Republican President George W. Bush); it is about a growing fear that the current president’s lack of understanding about Africa will destabilize their work.

Another contributor to the anxiety is the growing belief that the United States is abdicating its moral leadership on important global issues. The symbolism of Mr. Trump withdrawing from the Paris accord on climate change and questioning its fairness to the United States has made an impact in East Africa, where growing seasons are shrinking due to climate change. As I interviewed people worried about growing enough food, Mr. Trump declared the United States “open for business” at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This caused justifiable eye rolls from women religious in Ethiopia, who asked me, “Does he really think the United States is underdeveloped?”