Guest editor: Titilope F. Ajayi, gender/women, peace, and security expert and newsroom administrator, The New Humanitarian

Editorial

In the wake of Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’s inauguration as the 46th President and Vice President of the United States of America (US) on January 20, 2021, respectively, there has been a steady flow of opinions and analyses of what US foreign policy will look like in the next four years, and how the new administration will transform the country’s image and credibility as a global leader. The idea of a radical departure from the American unilateralism of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) years has gained global resonance, especially following the invasion of the Capitol building in Washington DC in the twilight of his administration, which birthed the idea that the US had lost its moral compass. Yet, in moving forward, we must look back to past mistakes, learn lessons, and prevent future shortcomings, particularly in relation to the peacebuilding dimensions of Africa-US relations.

The title of this special issue of Kujenga Amani, “Looking Back to Look Forward: Lessons from the Trump Administration and Prospects for Peacebuilding in Africa,” encapsulates the essence of the Ghanaian symbol, Sankofa, which expresses the importance of learning from the past to improve the future. The special issue is based on several premises. First, that the past holds important lessons. Second, that although Trump prioritized economic diplomacy under the Prosper Africa initiative1“Remarks by National Security Advisor Ambassador John R. Bolton on The Trump Administration’s New Africa Strategy,” 2018, https://td.usembassy.gov/remarks-by-national-security-advisor-ambassador-john-r-bolton-on-the-trump-administrations-new-africa-strategy/ – with the primary aim of countering Chinese and Russian influence2Daniel F. Runde, “U.S. Economic Engagement in Africa: Making Prosper Africa a Reality,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, April 26, 2019, https://www.csis.org/analysis/us-economic-engagement-africa-making-prosper-africa-reality/ – peace is so vital to development that it must be re-centered in discussions of US-Africa policy. Thirdly, lessons learnt from that episode of Africa-US relations will go some way in shaping future Africa-US relations in relation to peacebuilding on the continent. It is therefore important to capture diverse perspectives, notably those of African peacebuilding scholars, on Africa-US relations.

In this light, this issue looks back at US-Africa policy during the Trump administration, and the prospects for African peace and security during the Biden-Harris administration. As is well known, Donald Trump never visited Africa,3John Campbell, “U.S. Africa Policy Needs a Reset,” Foreign Affairs, October 12, 2020, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/africa/2020-10-12/us-africa-policy-needs-reset though his wife, Melania,4Abdi Latif Dahir, “Melania Trump will face a hurdle in Africa no other first lady has—her husband,” Quartz Africa, October 2, 2018, https://qz.com/africa/1408683/melania-trump-will-face-a-hurdle-in-africa-no-other-first-lady-has-her-husband/ and eldest daughter, Ivanka,5Yomi Kazeem, “Ivanka Trump tries to be the ‘nice Trump’ in a polite, but skeptical, Africa,” Quartz Africa, April 17, 2019, https://qz.com/africa/1597545/ivanka-trump-visits-ethiopia-cote-divoire-on-womens-empowerment/ made separate trips to different countries on the continent. However, he also did not hide his feelings about the continent, famously making derogatory remarks6Josh Dawsey, “Trump derides protections for immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries,” Washington Post, January 12, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-attacks-protections-for-immigrants-from-shithole-countries-in-oval-office-meeting/2018/01/11/bfc0725c-f711-11e7-91af-31ac729add94_story.html and implementing some policies, notably on immigration, considered hostile to Africa. However, a close examination of his security policies toward Africa reveals mixed approaches and outcomes. Erick Sourna Loumtouang’s article notes that while Trump’s security policies in the Sahel were not fundamentally different from those of his predecessor, Obama’s, under his administration, the US launched more drone strikes in the fight against designated terrorists on their home ground – with adverse impacts on the civilian populace. Noting that US unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) bases across Africa doubled from 2016 to 2019, he calls for a new policy perspective that equally prioritizes the use of “soft power” in advancing a human-centered approach to peace and security in the Sahel region. Ndubuisi Christian Ani’s reflection explains how Trump’s predilection for bilateral partnerships led to funding cuts to multilateral arrangements such as peace and security support to the African Union (AU), with negative repercussions across a continent which hosts half of all UN peacekeeping missions. He also discusses the impact of the US’s rollback on funding multilateral peace operations in Africa and, like Loumtouang, recommends that this approach and the US’s liberal use of UAV’s (drones) be reviewed. Highlighting how US-Mexico immigration overshadowed Trump’s policies’ harmful effects on Africa, Margaret Monyani’s piece expresses optimism that Biden will reverse the harm done to Africa-US migration. Mohammed Dejen’s article analyzes US-Ethiopia collaboration on countering violent extremism in the Horn of Africa in the past and examines the prospects for the alliance in the next four years. Finally, Titilope Ajayi’s contribution considers the gains and losses for women, peace, and security in Africa in the Trump years during which economic “empowerment” predominated his foreign policy on women. She notes the need for more holistic, women-centered approaches that do not treat women’s security as a marginal issue when it is so interspersed with all aspects of their lives.

Taken together, the contributions to this issue offer well-grounded insights into diverse aspects of past and prospective US peacebuilding policy on Africa that could help transform the continent’s conflict and peace landscapes during the Biden-Harris administration.

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