Team's queries to State Dept point to scepticism over aid to Africa

WASHINGTON • US President- elect Donald Trump's views of Africa have, until now, been a mystery.

But a series of questions from the Trump transition team to the State Department indicate an overall scepticism about the value of foreign aid, and even about the United States' security interests, on the world's second-largest continent.

A four-page list of Africa-related questions from the transition staff has been making the rounds at the State Department and Pentagon, alarming long-time Africa specialists, who say the framing and the tone of the questions suggest a US retreat from development and humanitarian goals, while at the same time trying to push forward business opportunities across the continent.

"How does US business compete with other nations in Africa? Are we losing out to the Chinese?" asks one of the first questions in the unclassified document provided to The New York Times. That is quickly followed with queries about humanitarian assistance money.

"With so much corruption in Africa, how much of our funding is stolen? Why should we spend these funds on Africa when we are suffering here in the US?"

Some of the questions are those that should be asked by a new administration seeking to come to grips with the hows and whys behind longstanding US national security and foreign assistance policies.

But it is difficult to know whether the probing, critical tone of other questions indicates that significant policy changes should be expected.

On terrorism, the document asks why the US is even bothering to fight the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, why all of the schoolgirls kidnapped by the group have not been rescued and whether Al-Qaeda operatives from Africa are living in the US.

And it questions the effectiveness of one of the more significant counter-terrorism efforts on the continent.

"We've been fighting Al-Shabaab for a decade; why haven't we won?" poses one question, referring to the terrorist group based in Somalia that was behind the Westgate mall attacks in Kenya in 2013.

Although the document represents a first look at how the new administration might approach policy towards Africa, a subject that was rarely touched on during the presidential election campaign, officials with the Trump transition team did not respond to queries about the list.

Dr Monde Muyangwa, director of the Africa programme at the Woodrow Wilson Institute, said the queries could signal "a dramatic turn in how the United States will engage with the continent".

Dr J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Centre at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said the questions showed an "overwhelmingly negative and disparaging outlook" on the continent.

"A strange attitude runs through this," he said. "There's a sort of recurrent scepticism that Africa matters to US interests at all. It's entirely negative in orientation."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2017, with the headline 'Team's queries to State Dept point to scepticism over aid to Africa'. Print Edition | Subscribe