Donald Trump’s speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday made headlines for being bombastic, contradictory and “warmongering” so it appears he decided on a different tack when addressing African leaders yesterday.
The President of the United States told a room full representatives of a continent still dealing with the legacies of colonialism, exploitation and slavery that his “friends” go there “trying to get rich”.
And then he congratulated them on it.
He said: “Africa has tremendous business potential. I’ve so many friends going to your countries, trying to get rich.
“I congratulate you. They’re spending a lot of money.”
At this point Trump paused briefly, apparently expecting a laugh or round of applause but was met with stone-cold silence.
As if that wasn’t enough he then went on to praise health care advancements in the non-existent country of Nambia.
It is unclear if he was referring to Gambia in West Africa, Zambia in southern Africa, or perhaps Namibia in southwest Africa. White House transcripts suggest the latter.
In a section on the African economy titled ‘Why Has Africa Failed To Industrialise?‘, the UN’s own website sums up the West’s - i.e. Trump’s friends’ - approach to the continent, using a book by Ha-Joon Chang to illustrate the perspective.
In the book, “Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism,” Mr. Chang, whom The Financial Times describes as “probably the world’s most effective critic of globalization,” argues that rich countries have historically relied on protectionist approaches in their quests for economic dominance.
In its review of the book, The Publishers Weekly, a US-based news magazine on book publishing, says rich nations that “preach free market and free trade to the poor countries in order to capture larger shares of the latter’s markets and to pre-empt the emergence of possible competitors are Chang’s bad Samaritans.”
So it’s probably not something to brag about, particularly as leader of the world’s capitalist powerhouse.
Gaffes aside, Trump’s underlying point that Africa has great economic potential is valid, although significant obstacles remain.
The African Development Bank’s 2017 outlook report states:
Africa continued to experience regional and global headwinds in 2016, resulting in a further slowdown in growth performance. This notwithstanding, the outlook for the medium term is positive.
In 2017 and 2018, Africa will benefit from commodity prices which started to rise in the latter part of 2016, increasing private demand including in domestic markets, sound macroeconomic policy management now entrenched in many countries, a generally improving and favourable business environment, and a more diversified economic structure, particularly towards the services sector and light manufacturing
Trump was hosting the leaders of Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Guinea, Senegal, Namibia and Uganda for lunch during the annual UN General Assembly session.