The Trump Administration and U.S. Africa Policy: What has been accomplished and what lies ahead?

Tibor P. NAGY, JR., Assistant Secretary
Bureau of African Affairs
Woodrow Wilson International Center, WASHINGTON, D.C.

March 3, 2020

The Trump Administration and U.S. Africa Policy: What has been accomplished and what lies ahead?

Thank you, Monde, for again inviting me to the Woodrow Wilson Center.

It is truly an honor and a pleasure to be back here.  It was a year and a half ago when I last spoke at this venue.

When I began my role as Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, the Wilson Center afforded me the opportunity to share my vision for Africa policy.

So, it is only appropriate that I return to this venue, review the priorities I set out, and reflect on what has been accomplished.

I will also assess the ongoing problems we need to address in the coming year and beyond.

As I often note, I’ve been an “Afro-Optimist” since my first posting on the continent in 1978.  I am even more so now.

In this job I have visited over 25 countries and held hundreds of meetings with African leaders, businesspeople, young people, and civil society representatives.

And, importantly, Africa is getting the attention it deserves from senior U.S. officials.

Last month Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Senegal, Angola, and Ethiopia.

Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale traveled in February to Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania.

In 2019, he visited Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, and Niger.

These visits are significant.  They signal that Africa matters to the United States.

The last time I spoke here, I set out the following priorities:

  1. To harness the potential of Africa’s youth as a force for ingenuity and prosperity.
  2. To work with African governments to create a level playing field for U.S. companies and encourage U.S. companies to do business in Africa.
  3. To advance peace and security through partnerships with African governments and regional mechanisms.
  4. To counter China’s narrative and make clear that the breadth and depth of the U.S. commitment to Africa is unmatched.

I also promised to reach out to African diaspora communities across the United States.

During a trip to Houston and meetings here in Washington, I have met with representatives of diverse African diasporas.  I am continually reminded how much such groups can help overall U.S.-Africa relations.

They contribute significantly to the economic growth of their countries of origin and to American understanding of Africa.  I plan on more engagements like these in the near future.

Right now, I’d like to review some areas where Africa has seen positive change and progress in U.S.-African relations.


Ethiopia’s reform agenda is breathtaking in its scope and ambition to improve the economic, political, and social life of its citizens.

Since coming to power in 2018, Prime Minister Abiy has released political prisoners and journalists.

He has formalized peace with Ethiopia’s longstanding adversary Eritrea.

He has lifted restrictions on civil society and decriminalized opposition groups.

Abiy views the opposition as competition, not the enemy.

These developments are also having a positive effect on the participation of women in politics.

Women now fill half of Ethiopia’s cabinet and 37 percent of its legislature.  Ethiopia also has its first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde.

These are milestones undreamed of just a short time ago.

We recognize that Ethiopia’s reform agenda will require increased support from the United States and other partners.

One example of our support is the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative.  This initiative invests in projects to improve women’s ability to own, inherit, or use land.

We are also supporting the National Election Board and helping to build the capacity of the Attorney General’s Office.

The U.S. government is also providing eight million dollars to help fight a massive locust outbreak in the region.

To foster greater private sector investment in Ethiopia, we brought together hundreds of potential investors in 2019 for the Ethiopia Partnership Forum at the State Department.

Separately, the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships led an investment delegation to Ethiopia in November 2019.

During the Secretary’s recent visit, he announced that Coca-Cola is making a new 300 million dollar investment that will create thousands of jobs.

Companies like FedEx and Citibank are exploring new opportunities as well.

The Democratic Republic of Congo

For the first time in its history The Democratic Republic of Congo has a chance to live up to its name as both democratic and a republic.

The election of Felix Tshisekedi marked the first peaceful transfer of power from an incumbent President to the opposition since the Congo’s independence in 1960.

After his inauguration, Tshisekedi pardoned scores of political prisoners, including opponents of former President Kabila.  He opened political space and welcomed exiled dissidents back to the DRC.

When Secretary Pompeo and I hosted President Tshisekedi last April, the Congolese leader stated that his priorities were fighting corruption, strengthening governance, advancing human rights, and combatting human trafficking.

Tshisekedi injected a sense of urgency to combating the Ebola outbreak that continues to wreak havoc in the eastern DRC.

The country may finally be turning a corner in terms of containment of the Ebola outbreak.

HHS Secretary Azar, USAID Administrator Green, and other senior U.S. health officials visited eastern DRC to strengthen joint efforts to contain the outbreak.

The United States remains the largest single-country donor to helping the Congolese combat the spread of Ebola.

I remain optimistic that President Tshisekedi is someone we can work with on trade and investment, countering corruption, and promoting peace and stability in the region.

GE just announced a multi-billion dollar investment in DRC hydro and gas power, as well as health care, over the next few years.

We are stepping up our support for anti-corruption efforts and prosecutions and investigations.

We are also backing improved fiscal transparency in the extractive industry.

We are helping increase local governments’ capacity to manage new mining royalties that communities are now receiving for the first time.


In Sudan, former President Bashir’s ouster after 30 years in power was an historic moment.  In a matter of months, Sudan transitioned from an adversarial regime to a potential partner.

The United States played an important role to bringing about a civilian-led transitional government.

Soon after Bashir’s ouster, we dispatched Deputy Assistant Secretary Makila James for an initial round of discussions with all the factions.  We also appointed veteran diplomat Ambassador Don Booth as Special Envoy for Sudan.

Under Secretary Hale visited Sudan days after the Transitional Military Council and Forces for Freedom and Change agreed to form a transitional government.

His visit underscored our interest in seeing a civilian-led government that reflects the will of the people.

And we hosted the first “Friends of Sudan” gathering here in Washington to build international support for the new regime.

In January, I met with the head of the civilian-led government, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, in Khartoum to discuss our shared vision of Sudan’s democratic future.

I also met with Chairman of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan, Al Burhan.  I was impressed with the willingness of both leaders to work together for Sudan’s future.

U.S. Economic Partnership with Africa

Furthermore, the administration has had significant achievements on the economic front.

For one, The BUILD Act establishes the new Development Finance Corporation, or DFC.

This gives the U.S. government new tools and resources to further expand our support for market-based, sustainable investment in Africa.

This includes doubling the investment capital available to 60 billion dollars and giving DFC the ability to make limited equity investments.

These commitments will contribute to job growth and economic opportunities both in the United States and Africa by having our Missions in the field identify “bankable projects.”

In April 2019, DFC joined Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump in Ethiopia to launch the 2X Africa Initiative—a commitment to catalyze one billion dollars of investment that economically empower women.

Prosper Africa is a new U.S. Government-led initiative to substantially increase two-way trade and investment between Africa and the United States.

Finally, for the first time, there will be a “one-stop shop” within the government to support U.S. companies seeking business in Africa.

We have also created “Deal Teams” at our African missions to support U.S. businesses and to work with local governments to strengthen the investment climate.

The Deal Team model, developed in the Africa Bureau, has been replicated for all our Embassies worldwide.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation, or MCC, continues to make major transformative investments in African countries that are committed to reform and good governance.

Around seventy percent of MCC’s investments are in Africa, with three billion dollars in active compacts and another 1.8 billion dollars in the pipeline.

And this year we are celebrating 20 years of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA.

In 2019, 39 countries were eligible for AGOA benefits.  AGOA requires countries to make progress toward developing a stable, attractive environment for investment.  Other criteria include rule of law, a market-based economy, workers’ rights, and combatting corruption.

The Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, or AfCTA, is a promising start to truly promote a seamless Africa for trade and investment.

However, the proof will come in its implementation and the elimination of non-tariff barriers that hinder cross-border trade.

We support AfCTA.  We also made it a priority to negotiate a bilateral free trade agreement with one or more African countries in the coming year.

We are pleased that a free trade agreement with Kenya is now in the works.


As I have stressed in almost every speech, a youth tsunami is hitting Africa.  The continent’s population will double by 2050.  This poses a huge problem for governments that do not create jobs and opportunity.

These young people are as wired, connected, and savvy as their counterparts anywhere in the world.  They want the same things – a good job, a nice house, and a safe and secure future for their families.

At the forefront of our engagement with the continent’s youth is our Young African Leaders Initiative, or YALI.  YALI is now entering its tenth year.

At every stop in my travels, I meet with YALI Alumni.  These engagements have reinforced my belief that YALI participants and Mandela Washington Fellows are some of the most impressive young men and women in the world.

One 2016 YALI alum from Ghana was named the 2017 Daily Trust African of the Year for his work in the de-radicalization and re-integration of would-be extremists.

Others have been recognized by numerous publications, such as Forbes and Time Magazine.

In Sudan, one of the new ministers in the transitional government, Walaa Isam Elbushi, is also a 2016 YALI alumna.

YALI alumni are CEOs and entrepreneurs creating jobs.  They are dedicated civil servants and activists, journalists, doctors, and scientists.  All share a desire to build their countries.

What I do know is that dollar for dollar YALI is one of the best programs we have ever devised to build capacity in Africa.

And the State Department has launched another program to help address Africa’s growing need for educated, employable youth.

The University Partnerships Initiative will strengthen existing ties between U.S. and African higher education institutions.

It will deepen cooperation on student and faculty mobility, joint research, administrative capacity, and public-private partnerships.

Last month I hosted a forum attended by more than 170 guests from over fifty U.S. and African universities and government officials.  Countries such as Ethiopia, South Africa, Rwanda, and Ghana are leading the way in U.S.-Africa higher education partnerships.

There is no shortage of good ideas.  What we need in the next phase of the initiative is to identify the resources to implement them.

China in Africa

With respect to China, we are challenging their narrative and strengthening our own public diplomacy outreach.

We are reminding Africans that no one can match America’s contributions.  We are Africa’s primary partner in areas such as health, empowering women, promoting human rights, supporting free and fair elections, combating child labor, and building the capacity of African peacekeepers.

China continues to assert itself on the continent.  We must encourage African leaders to choose sustainable foreign investments that employ Africans in good jobs and ensure that skills are transferred to African workers.

Now, for the continuing problems and those ahead:

The activities of Violent Extremist Organizations, or VEOs, are spreading from the Sahel, to Burkina Faso.  They are threatening coastal states such as Togo, Guinea, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, and Senegal.

While Somalia has emerged from state failure to begin rebuilding the country, instability and VEO activity remain a persistent threat.

Cameroon and Zimbabwe have demonstrated little willingness to confront domestic problems or to open up political space.

The international community must also remain engaged in CAR and South Sudan to encourage internal peace and stability.

We welcome the South Sudan transitional unity government that was agreed to on February 22 by President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar.

I have appointed a distinguished three-time U.S. Ambassador, Stuart Symington, as Special Envoy for South Sudan.

He will lead our efforts to urge the parties to fulfill the terms of their 2018 peace agreement.

The people of South Sudan must see the real peace and prosperity that they deserve.  The United States will continue to work with regional leaders and international partners to support peace and stability in South Sudan.

Despite these problems, I remain encouraged by Africa’s successes.  During the UN General Assembly last September, my meetings with African leaders underscored that the U.S. is seen as an indispensable and trusted partner for Africa.

I also promise you that as long as I am in this job, I will continue to look for every opportunity to strengthen and expand America’s partnerships with the continent.

As we say in the Africa Bureau, let’s continue to look at Africa through the windshield and NOT the rearview mirror.

Thank you.