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October 19, 2018

Trump’s trade policy will unite the world against the US

U.S. President Donald Trump walks with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 27, 2018. REUTERS
U.S. President Donald Trump walks with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 27, 2018. REUTERS
This week President Uhuru Kenyatta became the second African leader to visit the White House on the invitation of President Donald Trump. For Kenya and Uhuru, this is part of high-profile international engagements that are expected to shape regional politics.

On Thursday, he also met UK Prime Minister Theresa May on her maiden tour of Africa. The President will then head to China to join President Xi Jinping at the China-Africa Forum in Beijing. Commentators in Western media, specifically in America have opined that Kenya and Uhuru will gain more from these engagements than the three more powerful nations of the world. This month marks one year since Uhuru came from a disputed election process, whose results were annulled by the Supreme Court. He has since mollified the doyen of opposition politics, Raila Odinga, through the March 9 handshake. Meeting the three preeminent world leaders is a big boost to Uhuru’s stature in the regional political equation and on the diplomatic stage. People are likely to be wowed by his current position as a darling of the economic and political powerhouses than to remember the baggage of the first term. In East Africa, Kenya has almost reclaimed its first among equals status that Jakaya Kikwete ran away with during the Nusu Mkate government. However, the question on the lips of local analysts is whether Uhuru has managed this feat on account of his deftness, or he is a beneficiary of diplomatic chaos at the global stage.

Many American political bigwigs never took Donald Trump’s candidacy seriously. Even his Republican Party mandarins largely ignored his declaration of interest. Politicians in the establishment in Washington were encumbered by American traditions of clean and gentleman politics. The traditions and culture of the world super power and leader of the free world had no place for chauvinists such as Trump. He belonged to the closed business world not used to public probity and open scrutiny on personal lifestyle. Lost in this mix was growing nationalist movement worldwide and the shock on pure race Americans that a Black person had risen from obscurity to lead them.

That Barack Obama was able to win a presidential election and reelection remained anathema to thoroughbred Americans. It also created fear among racist Caucasians outside American borders. Immigration and border control became a game changer in ensuing campaigns. Jobs for locals was the bestselling manifesto point for inward looking politicians. Leaders with regional and global outlook faced internal challenges and their hold onto power was greatly threatened, if not out rightly eroded.

In the UK, David Cameron lost the Brexit referendum and with it the premiership, while Chancellor Angela Merkel survived by the skin of her teeth. She needed six months of tough and nail-biting negotiations to craft a coalition government. Trump’s arrival as the US president consolidated the nationalists’ movement. He became the destabilizer per excellence. His speeches were unpredictable and his policies became anti-globalisation. 

The world had looked up to America to smoothly guide the transition from small jingoist states to the big global village. However, Trump was able to turn around this foreign policy within two months of assuming office. He was able to demonstrate how the rest of the globe had lived off the sweat of American workers almost like leeches. The economic problems and social hardships facing ordinary Americans were explained as caused by the paternalistic foreign policy of the previous Democratic Party leaderships.

The Republicans who cared to be politically reasonable in pushing for free market economy and protection of the vulnerable were soon subdued in the party and Congress. The immigration laws were dramatically altered to give opportunity for the violent image of America hitherto unknown to the world. Support to the developing countries in strategic areas for global security such as health was halted or significantly reduced. The Big Brother America became insensitive to the less fortunate of the world. In its place, the world began to see a different side of the once invincible superpower. President Trump then took the next awe striking step of hobnobbing with leaders considered to be despots. This culminated in the meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea in Singapore and later Vladamir Putin of Russia in Helsinki, Finland.

Trump succeeded in charting a path that was clearly unfamiliar in international relations. He thereafter cemented his foreign policy of moving America not only from the world but also from the superpower seat. This was to his advantage because he was keenly aware of his strengths and weaknesses. He needed to play his politics where he had comparative advantage. He is looking for reelection and he will win it on his terms. He, therefore, needed to redraft the rules of political engagement at home and abroad. Once he decimated the competitors, he trained his guns on those who previously relied on America’s benevolence in the west. He deranged the Western alliance and portrayed the other powerful states as parasitic in their relationship with the US. At the G7 meeting in Switzerland, he paid no attention to protocol issues and even less regard to collegiality. He then flew to Canada for the NATO meeting, where he pointedly told off the post-World War II military alliance members. He openly treated his erstwhile colleagues with disdain and condescension. The die was cast!

He pushed Germany to the wall on its dealings with Russia, while making more with Putin; had altercations with both host Canadian Premier and French President; and celebrated the almost successful impeachment of British Prime Minister.  He was now cannibalizing the very institutions that have made America the global police. He jettisoned overboard the very allies that America has always relied on to justify her imperialist foreign policy.

As he reeled in the comfort of confusion caused among America’s traditional voting partners, the American President unleashed the final onslaught. He unveiled a number of trade restrictions targeting America’s rivals in the South and East. China became the first flank in this war. Tariffs have been imposed on Chinese running into billions of dollars. He has ordered the renegotiation of NAFTA Agreement and Turkey is the latest to suffer the weight of American trade tariff yoke. China has been prompt and kind in its response to the new tariffs from its largest trading partner. The trade war of words between the two members of the Security Council has escalated and pushed previous US allies to the side of China.

The former US would like to take advantage of this opportunity to demonstrate their individual capacities in global power politics. On the other hand, China has always looked forward to the occasion where it can demonstrate her arrival as the new world superpower. The confluence of these interests has thus found common ground and Trumps trade policies has isolated the Big Brother and helped unite the world against the US. Will Africa join the fray or be aloof bystanders? Uhuru’s foreign policy and global engagements may give a glimpse into the future.


Kanyadudi is a political and public policy analyst

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