On The Heels Of Phone Call to Leaders Trump Administration Working on African Team
By Ajong Mbapndah L
With little mention of Africa in the course of his campaign, many are still scratching heads on what the African Policy of the Trump Administration will look like. A month into office,clues are few, but sources close to the Administration say slow but steady progress is been made to put in place its African team.
Administration sources familiar with the buildup of the African team say President elect Trump accepted a congratulatory call from Rwandan President Paul Kagame back in December. Reports about a meeting between Trump and Congo’s Sassou Nguesso in December were discredited when a trip to the USA by the Congolese leader ended without any encounter with President elect Trump.
On February 13, Trump had phone conversations with Nigerian President Buhari and Jacob Zuma of South Africa. Though Nigeria and South Africa boast the largest economies in the continent, sources were unclear about the choice of just these two leaders, considering that the US maintains close security ties with other countries like Kenya and Uganda.
Discussions with Zuma were centered on prospects of maintaining and broadening the strongly diplomatic ties between the two countries according to South African government Officials. With about six hundred USA companies operating in South Africa, economic ties obviously came up in the discussion sources from Zuma’s office said.
Although ailing President Buhari was not in Nigeria at the time of the call, a Presidential Spokesperson said, ““President Trump assured the Nigerian president of U.S. willingness to cut a new deal in helping Nigeria in terms of military weapons to combat terrorism.”
Prior to the forced resignation of General Michael Flynn as the National Security Adviser, African policy watchers were perplexed with reports that the CIA denied a security clearance for Robin Townley, appointed to serve as Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council. With the appointment of a new National Security Adviser, it is not yet clear what role will be reserved for Townley one of the officials in Trump world with on the ground experience in Africa where he served in Somalia.
Sworn in as Secretary of State on February 1, Rex Tillerson is still to put in his own team. Given the length of the vetting process, it is unlikely that most of the positions will be fully staffed before June 2017, said the source close to the Trump Administration.
Appointed by President Obama to serve as Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, sources say Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield was as asked to stay on the job until a successor is found. Highly respected within African policy circles, Ambassador Greenfield was actually mandated by the Trump Administration to represent the USA at the official inauguration of Gambian President Adama Barrow on February 18. The race is on for the replacement of Greenfield who is expected to leave office by March 10 for Georgetown University, where she will serve as a visiting Fellow.
Informed sources cite Dr. J. Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council, Colonel Charles Snyder, former special envoy for Sudan; and Dr. Kate Almquist Knopf of the National Defense University as leading contenders to replace Ambassador Greenfield as the leading US government Official on Africa.
Snyder, who currently teaches at the Institute for World Politics in Washington, is also a possible candidate to replace Amanda Dory as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs. The post may also be given to Michael Phelan, currently a top legislative aide to Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
As for Almquist Knopf, sources cite her closeness to former Obama Officials like Susan Rice and Samantha Power (National Security Adviser and UN Ambassador respectively) may play to her disfavor.
A familiar face on Africa affairs in Washington, DC, Peter Pham has used the platform of the Atlantic Council to host debates and discussions with visiting African dignitaries and personalities.
Others in the mix include former Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, Cindy Courville, former U.S. Ambassador to the African Union and former National Security Council and Defense Intelligence Agency official. The merits of the candidates are been considered to facilitate prospects of confirmation said the source who cited open opposition to Trump for some, and Lobbying activities of others as of the tiny details that may come into play.
Those individuals who are being seriously considered for the Assistant Secretary of State position are also in the running for alternative posts, such as on the personal staff of the Secretary of State, in the Policy Planning Bureau, as Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs (“DAS”), or as special envoys to Sudan/South Sudan or to the Great Lakes Region,the sources say.
At the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the likely nominee for Administrator is former Congressman Mark Green (R-Wisconsin), who recently has been president of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and also served as U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania.
Two candidates have emerged to fill USAID’s position of Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa: Gregory Simpkins, a longtime staff director for Chairman Christopher Smith of the Africa subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Lester Munson, former staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who previously held several positions at USAID. Jeffrey Krilla, a former Bush administration State Department official, is likely to replace Amos Hockstein as the Special Envoy in the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources, a position that addresses U.S. relationships with oil-producing countries, including those in Africa.
Krilla may also be appointed to a position in the Office of the United States Trade Representative, or USTR, which may also be where business executive and Africa trade expert Anthony Carroll lands. (Carroll is also been linked for an Ambassadorial post, perhaps South Africa.)
There is also a possibility that former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner, who served in the first term of President George W. Bush, may be brought into the State Department for a high-level position by Secretary Tillerson.
Kansteiner has been in charge of ExxonMobil’s Africa operations and is said to be very close to Tillerson, ExxonMobil’s former chairman and CEO. Tillerson may tap Kansteiner for something higher than the assistant secretary level, such as Undersecretary or deputy secretary, or as a special envoy
On Capitol Hill, the leadership on the committees that deal with Africa will remain the same: Senator Jeff Flake continues as chairman of the Africa and Global Health Policy subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Congressman Chris Smith will again be chairman of the Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The new Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee are Dina Titus (D-Nevada), Norma Torres (D-California), Brad Schneider (D-Illinois), Thomas Suozzi (D-New York), Adriano Espaillat (D-New York), Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), Ann Wagner (R-Missouri), Brian Mast (R-Florida), Francis Rooney (R-Florida), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pennsylvania), and Tom Garrett (R-Virginia).
Freshman Garrett and veteran Sensenbrenner have been assigned to the Africa subcommittee, along with Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and Thomas Suozzi (D-New York). Representatives Ami Bera (D-California) and Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina) return to the subcommittee from the 114th Congress. Representative Ed Royce (R-California) remains chairman of the full committee while Representative Ted Yoho (R-Florida) becomes the committee’s vice chairman. Representative Karen Bass (D-California) remains ranking member of the House Africa subcommittee.
The new Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are Todd Young (R-Indiana), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), and Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon). Booker becomes the new ranking minority member of the subcommittee on Africa and Global Health and Young and Merkley are newly assigned to the subcommittee, as well.
Ties between the US and Africa have witnessed strong growth under the last two Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama and many are anxious to see in what direction things will go under the Trump Administration.