(Being Remarks by Prof. Tunji Olaopa, Executive Vice-Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy – ISGPP, at the Intellectual Fiesta on ‘Emerging Development in Europe and North America: Implications for Africa’ Organised by the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) in Abeokuta on September 16, 2019)
This question would appeal to so many people at so many levels. For Americans of all hues, it is a fundamental question that goes to the very heart of what it means to be American in the 21st century. When the erstwhile President Barack Obama won his first time, the entire world marveled at what miracle of democratic and liberal aspirations America’s political culture could make possible. That a black man could overcome all historical and racial odds to become the president of the United States was just too good to be true for almost everyone across the world. And then Obama completed his two terms, and, again, against all odds, Donald Trump succeeded Obama. And his first term has been filled with all manner of sensational occurrences and political and diplomatic anomalies. Trump, in his very essence, defines a nationalist sentiment that seems to cancel out the supposed political miracle of electing a black man into the White House.
So, what if Trump undermines all odds to win a second term? For many European states, from the United Kingdom to Switzerland, and from Greece to France, such a possibility spells a lot for the economy and for national politics. The emergence of Trump has turned out to be a wildcard that swings international politics in multiple directions. On the one hand, his arrival on the scene has provided a nationalist stamp of legitimacy for many right-wing parties and figure—from Victor Orb an in Hungary to Marie Le Pen in France. “Making America Great Again” has become a rallying cry for nationalist parties all across Europe. On the other hand, Trump has also served a fundamental notice against the age-long America-Europe alliance, formed at the end of the Second World War, against the emergence of a single power like Nazi Germany and its imperialist designs against the whole world. This vision of a new world order was grounded on the idea of an expanded NATO since 1999. All this has been thrown asunder when Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States.
In the aftermath of a deteriorating world order, we cannot but ask what Trump second term will portend for the African continent. This question is not out of place. The foreign policy of one state has always had deep implications for other states. The United States is a global political power whose foreign policy dictates reverberate across the globe, and have unquantifiable influence on Africa’s existence. For instance, when Barack Obama became the president, Africanists wonder what impact a black president, with a filial connection to Kenya, would have on the diplomatic relationship between the United States and Africa. This question is much more significant in the face of the significant global security and economic issues that a Trump second term would unleash on the world, and on Africa.
The global world order which world leaders have taken effort and time to fashion since the end of the second World War seems to be gradually going up in flames. Two fundamental incidences foreground this conclusion. First, the growing but steady visibility of China in global geopolitics has become a major feature of today’s world order. And this, second, has been simultaneous with the receding visibility, and even docility, of Europe in international affairs. Thus, with the emergence of Donald Trump, several global issues are thrown into disequilibrium. Trump has consistently taken decisions that have questioned the need for a transatlantic alliance between North America and Europe. Despite being a party to the Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, Trump has continued to undermine the capability of NATO to face global military threats. Beyond this, Trump has also consistently undermined Europe’s confidence as a global power by the intrusive politics he had played against individual European states. He has, for instance, attempted undermining the Brexit negotiations by playing it out against a possible future US-UK relationship. Europe’s military capacity as well as its openness to refugees has also come under Trump’s right-wing attack. Unfortunately, his Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin has also left a lot of geopolitical dynamics hanging. And Trump queries the fact around the dangers of climate change!
In the final analysis, there now seems to have been lost, the united front that could be very significant in the face of the eroding balance of power in Asia, instigated by Putin’s power play; the unraveling power tussle in the Middle East around Iran’s hegemonic ambition; and most frightening of all, there is an uncoordinated response to the spreading threat of global terrorism, with Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and ISIS gradually spreading their tentacles across the world. Donald Trump’s possible second term portends the hardening of a nationalist and isolationist politics that shut America and Europe into themselves, and critically undermine the multilateralism that defines the old world order which Trump has assiduously been trying to undermine. Multilateralism as a global network builds an alliance, under the auspice of the United Nations that becomes the hub of strategic actions against global threats and challenges like terrorism and climate change. For instance, it does not seem obvious yet that Donald Trump and the damaged multilateral global dynamics have yet understood the global implications of the rise of China as a global economic power. Presently, the US is engaged in a trade war rather than engaging in a fruitful dialogue with Beijing. A downward spiral in the US-China bilateral relations will not only hurt the two states, but it has the capacity to further damage the comatose world order, while the consequences—intended or otherwise—will boomerang against “innocent bystanders” across the world.
This is where Africa comes into the picture. What does what we can call the Trump Factor imply for the security and economic prospects of the continent? A response to this question must necessarily be multidimensional in its attempt at following through on the multiple implications of a Trump second term in the White House. First, the world has to contend with the possibility of a rising prominence of racism as a foreign policy dynamic. As his first term keep winding down, Trump’s profile as a racist president whose right-wing nationalist rhetoric is grounded on a racist ideology of hatred of non-Americans. Trump’s populist triumph in the 2016 election has been interpreted as a racist reaction to the election of Barack Obama. This populist reactions, with variants in Europe, has been analyzed by sociologists like Seymour Lipset, as an authoritarian reaction that taps into the innermost fear of the underbelly of the society—the vulnerable, uneducated, homeless, destitute, poor and the disgruntled. Unfortunately, populism also raises the fundamental issue of inequality which Thomas Piketty has explained clearly. With real income of the people stagnating or declining against economic growth that redirect the gains to the top 10% of the population, the social order is undermined with the masses of those affected seeking the intervention of authoritarian leaders to protect them from what are perceived as dangerous outsiders—refugees, asylum seekers, racial or ethnic minorities, and immigrants of all kinds—seen as threatening jobs and benefits.
In his February 2019 State of the Union address, Trump made a very critical observation that has been a fact in global statistics for a while now: The United State is the leading producer of oil and gas in the world, as well as being a net exporter of energy. The US energy export now has the capacity to consolidate her global competitive edge vis-à-vis other states, especially those in Africa. Thus, Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Middle Eastern countries have all commenced the urgent task of modifying their foreign and trade policies with the awareness of the dwindling influence of OPEC in the global crude oil production. It takes little reflection to see what policy direction Nigeria needs to take not only as the largest producer of crude oil in Africa, but also as the most strategic state in Africa.
This is a policy direction that has become obvious for a long time, especially with the dwindling fortune of Nigeria’s crude oil on the global market. When the United States ceased to be Nigeria’s number one importer of oil, the handwriting was already on the wall. It seems inevitable that the world will soon witness a global oil glut founded on America’s growing exportation of oil and the world’s receding demand for it. The pressure on OPEC for lower prices will eventually translate into a weaker revenue streams for Nigeria. On the other hand, it is almost certain that with the ongoing trade war between the US and China, and with Nigeria as beneficiary of China infrastructure loans and other Chinese investments, Chinese exporters will sure exploit Nigeria’s domestic economy to dump their cheap products to consolidate what it has lost in the US market.
The way forward is for Nigeria to become strategic in her foreign and international trade policy by actively pursuing an economic diversification policy that will redirect its attention away from oil to other significant national products. This will have to go hand in hand with a focus on the stimulation of the agricultural and manufacturing sectors in ways that will facilitate Nigeria’s growing visibility in trade, especially with the US. By a stroke of luck, the increased tariff of Chinese products entering the United States leaves the way open for Nigeria, under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) of the United States, to consolidate its exports into the US market. This simply demands a concerted effort that will rethink Nigeria’s mono-economy as a necessary part of rethinking Nigeria’s foreign policy. A pragmatic reassessment would consider the agricultural and solid mineral sectors, for instance, as two of the most formidable and potential areas by which Nigeria can regain the initiative in its productive base and in foreign relations.
We all seem to know this already. What is lacking is the political will to see it through. However, while we wait and ponder our options, Donald Trump might win a second term in the White House, and the international world order founded on multilateralism might just get the last nail hammered into its coffin. We do not want to be left floundering while the wise states who have anticipated these incidences keep moving forward unscathed.