Trump’s Second Term: A Boon for China’s Dominance in Africa?

As the U.S. presidential elections loom, Africa finds itself at a critical juncture, potentially shaped by a second term under Donald Trump.

As the U.S. presidential elections loom, Africa finds itself at a critical juncture, potentially shaped by a second term under Donald Trump. Drawing from the Project 2025 report, a re-elected Trump would significantly alter U.S. foreign policy towards Africa, prioritizing military cooperation over humanitarian aid and economic development.

Trump’s envisioned policy centers on a few key principles. Firstly, an increased reliance on French-led counter-terrorism operations in North Africa aims to curtail the influence of both Islamist extremists and Russian paramilitary forces. This alignment underscores a strategic shift towards bolstering security partnerships rather than fostering broad-based development.

The transformation of foreign aid from grants to loans represents another cornerstone of Trump’s proposed policy. By pivoting towards a private-sector-driven model, the U.S. would abandon traditional development assistance, placing the onus on African nations to engage in market-based economic reforms. This approach risks exacerbating inequality and leaving vulnerable populations without essential support.

Moreover, Trump’s Africa policy eschews promoting American social policies, such as human rights and democratic governance, in favor of narrowly defined security and economic interests. This stance, driven by a desire to avoid cultural impositions, could undermine efforts to advance human rights and political freedoms on the continent.

A particularly contentious aspect of Trump’s proposed policy is the recognition of Somaliland’s independence. This move, intended to counterbalance U.S. strategic interests in the Horn of Africa, could ignite regional tensions and potentially trigger conflict involving Somalia, Eritrea, and Egypt. Such a development would destabilize an already volatile region and complicate U.S. relations with key African nations.

The overarching theme of Trump’s policy is a concerted effort to counter China’s influence in Africa. By focusing on supporting American businesses and securing strategic resources, the U.S. seeks to reclaim its competitive edge. However, this zero-sum approach risks alienating African partners and fostering resentment, as it prioritizes American interests over mutually beneficial collaborations.

 Military Emphasis and Security Partnerships

One of the defining characteristics of Trump’s Africa policy is the emphasis on military cooperation and security partnerships. This approach is particularly evident in the administration’s support for French-led counter-terrorism efforts in the Sahel region. By leveraging French military presence and expertise, the U.S. aims to address the growing threat posed by Islamist militant groups and Russian paramilitary forces. This strategy reflects a broader geopolitical contest, where the U.S. seeks to curb the influence of Russia and other adversarial powers in Africa.

However, the focus on military solutions to complex security challenges can be problematic. While counter-terrorism operations are essential, they often fail to address the root causes of extremism, such as poverty, political marginalization, and lack of economic opportunities. Without a comprehensive approach that includes development aid and governance support, the risk of prolonged instability and violence remains high.

 Shift from Grants to Loans

Trump’s proposed shift from grants to loans for foreign aid represents a fundamental change in U.S. development policy. By promoting a market-based approach, the administration hopes to encourage African nations to pursue economic reforms and attract private investment. In theory, this model could stimulate economic growth and reduce dependency on foreign aid.

In practice, however, this shift carries significant risks. Many African countries face high levels of debt and limited access to international capital markets. Converting aid into loans could exacerbate their financial burdens, leading to austerity measures that disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable populations. Moreover, the focus on private-sector solutions may overlook critical areas of need, such as healthcare, education, and social services, which are essential for sustainable development.

 Human Rights and Democratic Governance

Another notable aspect of Trump’s Africa policy is the de-emphasis on promoting human rights and democratic governance. The administration’s stance reflects a broader trend of prioritizing short-term strategic interests over long-term values-based engagement. By avoiding what it perceives as cultural impositions, the U.S. aims to foster more pragmatic relationships with African governments.

While this approach may yield immediate benefits in terms of security and economic cooperation, it risks undermining progress in human rights and political freedoms. Many African countries continue to grapple with issues such as corruption, authoritarianism, and social injustices. A U.S. policy that sidelines these concerns could embolden repressive regimes and stifle efforts by civil society organizations to advocate for positive change.

 China’s Expanding Influence

Perhaps the most critical aspect of Trump’s Africa policy is its focus on countering China’s growing influence on the continent. Over the past two decades, China has established itself as a dominant economic player in Africa, investing heavily in infrastructure projects, natural resource extraction, and trade partnerships. This has provided African countries with much-needed capital and development opportunities but has also raised concerns about debt dependency and political leverage.

Trump’s administration views China’s presence in Africa as a strategic threat, and its policy aims to reassert American influence through increased economic engagement and strategic alliances. However, this approach is fraught with challenges. African nations are increasingly wary of being caught in a geopolitical tug-of-war between major powers. A U.S. policy that prioritizes competition over collaboration could alienate potential partners and undermine efforts to build sustainable, mutually beneficial relationships.

A second term for Trump would undoubtedly cause many African nations to switch allegiances from Western alliances to China. China’s substantial investments and infrastructure projects across the continent could lead to a realignment of political and economic partnerships in favor of Beijing. Unlike the United States and Western nations, which have historically seen Africa primarily as a source of raw materials, China is positioning itself as a key investor in Africa’s development.

This shift in dynamics is already evident in West Africa, where several nations are increasingly rejecting their long-standing reliance on the French government. After decades of political and economic dependence on France, these countries are exploring new alliances and opportunities, with China emerging as a significant partner. This trend is perceived as a direct challenge to Western influence in the region, potentially reshaping the geopolitical landscape in Africa. The Trump administration’s stance underscores the need for the U.S. and its allies to rethink their engagement strategies in Africa to counterbalance China’s growing influence.

A second Trump term would herald a significant departure from traditional U.S. foreign policy in Africa. By prioritizing military engagements, economic realignments, and strategic alliances, Trump’s policies risk sidelining crucial humanitarian and developmental initiatives. As China continues to expand its footprint on the continent, the U.S. faces the stark reality of diminishing influence in Africa, potentially ceding ground to a rival superpower with far-reaching implications for global geopolitics.

The complex interplay of military, economic, and geopolitical factors underscores the need for a nuanced and balanced approach to U.S.-Africa relations. Only by addressing the root causes of instability, promoting inclusive development, and respecting the sovereignty and aspirations of African nations can the U.S. hope to build lasting partnerships and maintain its strategic interests in this vital region.

Ismail D. Osman
Ismail D. Osman
Ismail D. Osman: Former Deputy Director of Somalia National Intelligence & Security Agency (NISA) – Writes in Somalia, Horn of Africa Security and Geopolitical focusing on governance and security. You can reach him osmando[at] @osmando