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January 21, 2019

Trump turns the volume “up to 11”

US President Donald Trump. /FILE
US President Donald Trump. /FILE

It’s been a “whirlwind’’ first week for President Trump. The volume has been turned “up to 11” and the first week reminded me of a 1984 movie Spinal Tap. The phrase “Up to eleven”, was coined in a scene from the 1984 mockumentary/rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap by the character Nigel Tufnel. In this scene, Nigel gives the rockumentary’s director, Marty DiBergi, a tour of his stage equipment. While Nigel is showing Marty his marshall guitar amplifiers, he points out one in particular whose control knobs all have a highest setting of eleven, unlike standard amplifiers whose volume settings are typically numbered from zero to 10. Believing that this numbering increases the highest volume of the amp, he explains: “It’s one louder, isn’t it?” When Marty asks why the 10 setting is not simply set to be louder, Nigel hesitates before responding blankly again: “These go to eleven.”

What is even more curious is trying to sift the political impetus behind the argument around ‘’fake news’’ and Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway’s ‘’alternative facts’’ (facts which can be established in an instant). The impetus seems to be best explained by Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and counsellor. “I’m a Leninist,” Bannon proudly proclaimed. “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Bannon has been appointed to the National Security Council.

In the first week of President Trump’s administration, he has tightened border security and immigration, and is set to build his cherished wall. The administration has even blocked entry for some with bona fide Green Cards. Trump has withdrawn from TTIP, pivoted to Taiwan, and had his Secretary of State lob a few ‘’verbal’’ (for now) missiles at China. “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.” Egyptian American businessman and Bloomberg columnist Mohamed A El-Erian says Trump’s economic model ‘’is targeting higher growth and greater job creation using what can be called an “import-substitution-plus” approach to policymaking, together with elements of an industrial policy.’’

The above is not an exhaustive list but a snapshot. The question then arises as to how Trump will interact with Africa. President George Bush (much loved by Michelle Obama) pushed the dial big-time for Africa especially with his AGOA and PEPFAR programmes, and many Africans still remark on the irony that Bush actually delivered more for Africa than President Obama. Obama has cranked up “Power Africa” amongst many other initiatives, US trade with Africa clocks about $100 billion, half of China Trade with Africa, and in fact Africa’s biggest trading partner is Europe. You would not know that because the Europeans never mention that fact.

I found it interesting that the incoming US administration saw fit to announce $418 million (about Sh43.47 billion) weapons sale to Kenya earlier in January. Given the early focus of this administration, I think this announcement is a big signal about the shape of the Africa – Trump administration engagement. We are back to a counter-terrorism focus. The recent rehabilitation of Omar-al-Bashir (Sudan) is another clue. President Jacob Zuma of South Africa is out of the loop entirely for now after turning down an invitation to meet with him in New York, when Trump was still campaigning and considered a rank outsider. The US and its US AFRICOM has been advancing rapidly across the continent. We can surely bet the house that this advance will now be turned to 11 as well.

Kenya, like other countries in SSA, receives as much as 50 per cent of its inward remittances from North America. It is estimated that more than half of our people in the US are not properly documented. Scenes that we have witnessed over the weekend at US airports does not bode well.

The Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs is the key Africa appointment in any US administration. Names that spring to mind are the likes of Chester Crocker, Jendayi Frazier and Johnnie Carson. This sot has yet to be filled by Donald J Trump, and will surely set the tone.

 Aly-Khan is a financial analyst


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