HOW AFRICA CAN SCORE BIG IN THE TRUMP ERA – Hon. Manaigo

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Brief Profile:

Mr. Aaron T. Manaigo is currently a partner at the Washington DC-based international business development firm Global Political Solutions, LLC (GPS).  He is the former New York State, Bronx County District Leader {R} 78th Assembly District for two terms from (1995-1998). Mr. Manaigo has over 20 years experience managing projects in the public and private sector.  Mr. Manaigo has served as an advisory board member at the Center for Strategic & International Studies {CSIS} Abshire – Inamori Project and as an advisory board member for the U.S. Institute of Peace. Most recently, Aaron served as the Senior Advisor and Co-Chairman of the Political Action Committee (PAC) for Donald J. Trump.  Mr. Manaigo also served as an advisor (foreign policy/national security) and fundraiser for the Donald Trump Transition Team.  During the 2012 U.S Presidential election cycle, Aaron served as the Sr. Advisor for the Friends of Herman Cain 2012 presidential campaign and he served on the senior staff for U.S. Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign as the National Director of Coalitions. In this capacity, he was responsible for the organization and management of all ethnic, professional, religious, business and Veterans related organizations throughout the country. In 2000, Aaron worked with the George W. Bush presidential campaign to outreach to the minority community and recruit minority Republican delegates to the 2000 convention, this effort led to the greatest number of minority delegates in the history of Republican Party presidential conventions.

 

Over the past twenty years, US -Africa policy has enjoyed strong bipartisan congressional support from both Democrats and Republicans working together. However, analysts are of the view that under the Trump administration, the prospects for bold new development initiatives targeted at Africa remains bleak. Without a strong commitment to Africa in the White House or Executive Branch under the Trump administration, the major programs that have defined US policy in Africa for the past two decades are more likely to struggle to sustain the previous funding levels and state support. In this interview with African Leadership Magazine, Hon. Aaron Manaigo,  a leading expert on U.S.-Africa Relations and Co-chair for the largest political action committee (PAC), which supported the incumbent president Donald Trump; provides an insight into how Africa can benefit from the Trump administration. Excerpts:

 

Tell us about Global Political Solutions?

I think GPS is best described as a problem solver for political and private sector interests. Our clients tend to come to us after they’ve exhausted “traditional methods”—we tend to provide non-traditional outside the box solutions.  We service primarily two types of clients, foreign governments that are emerging/ developing and private sector companies seeking market entry solutions or political risk analysis.  Most often our unique expertise finds us working in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.  Every so often we do service clients in the South Asia region.

Over the past five years, I have primarily known you for your work within Africa for governments and companies.  With the current environment in the U.S., what advice would you give to the African political and private sector looking to engage the Trump Administration?

well, for the sake of full transparency let me state for the record that I was the Co-chair for the largest political action committee (PAC) that supported President Trump and I also temporarily served on the foreign policy and national security advisory committee for the Trump transition.  That said, from what I have been able to observe President Trump views domestic and foreign policy from two prisms—how do we defend and secure the U.S. and how do we create economic opportunities for U.S. citizens.  This in my estimation encompasses his “America First” position.  President Trump is also a door and a man of action.  I’ve heard that many African leaders are taking a wait and see approach to engaging the Trump administration,  this would be a huge mistake.  When dealing with someone like President Trump wait and see means you will be left behind because he’s not going to wait for you.  My advice would be to be as proactive as possible, align interests, and put your agenda front and center sooner rather than later.

Keeping our focus on Africa, you mentioned aligning interests- what do you perceive as the top issues the U.S. and Africa can align on?

Security and economic development.  The people that truly understand the global landscape are clear—crystal clear about the importance of Africa.  From a security standpoint, North Africa has unfortunately become a virtual breeding ground for some terrorists and their sympathizers.   African leaders and people of good will of which there are many, have to put more effort and emphasis on getting this under control and weeding out bad actors in the region.  It is my contention that the Trump administration would lend considerable technical and financial resources to assist in the effort.  As for economic development, there is a saying—“capital is a coward”.  Risk adverse U.S. investors simply will not engage if the perception real or imagined is that Africa as a whole or in key areas is volatile and unstable.  The opportunity for U.S. companies to engage and prosper doing business in Africa in enormous. Moreover, the opportunity for African companies to thrive in the U.S. is also great and relatively untapped on any significant scale.

You and your firm have been working in the Africa region for almost two decades.  What do you see as proactive measures or policies that can be acted upon to help strengthen U.S./African relations?

That’s a great question.  The two immediate things that come to mind would be for the African Union to step up its engagement with Africa Command (AFRICOM).  From a policy standpoint, I would say Sub-Sahara African countries look for more creative ways to make the African Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA) work for them and U.S. companies.  Having a trade agreement in place is only worth the paper it’s written on if commerce that truly uplifts the people is not taking place.  Additionally, U.S. private sector companies need to open their eyes to the sheer beauty and avenues for prosperity that exists on the continent.  It’s imperative that we ramp-up action-oriented dialogue between U.S./African political and private sectors.

From mostly behind the scenes, you have been instrumental in many initiatives that impact U.S./Africa relations—from AGOA to Power Africa to the U.S./Africa presidential summit with President Obama, do you find it more beneficial to be an unseen guiding hand rather than being more visible?

(laughing) Dr. Giami, let me describe my approach this way—one day a minister was in the middle of his church service and the lights went out.  The minister asked if there was an electrician available and immediately several people jumped to their feet and began sharing aloud their professional credentials as an electrician.  Meanwhile, a fellow sitting in the back of the room got up, went down to the basement and quietly returned to his seat.  A few seconds later, the lights came on, now— not to suggest that the others in the room were not, but in your mind who was the real electrician?

You are a veteran of many U.S. presidential elections and a few in Africa too.  Are there any presidential races in Africa you are watching closely or working on?

There are several races taking place this year that have my attention.  In particular, the presidential race in Liberia looks to be shaping into quite a contest. I think the election will be a referendum on how the people view the current president’s progress or lack thereof the past 10 years.  Rwanda’s presidential election is going to be an uphill battle for any challenger to unseat current president Paul Kagame.  In Kenya, there appears to be a great deal of discontent so President Kenyatta is going to have to find a way to convince voters that another term will result in the positive changes they demand.  Angola is always interesting but it’s primarily a one party state.  Even with President Santos stepping down ahead of the election I don’t think there will be any surprises there.  The DRC election is of keen interest, many are still questioning whether President Kabila will actually honor the terms of the recently reached agreement for him to step down and allow the first peaceful transfer of power since the 1960’s to actually take place.  Officially, neither GPS nor I have gotten involved, however, we have been approached by several candidates and have met with them to provide insights during their visits to the U.S.  My colleagues and I don’t tend to take on candidates frivolously.  We weigh the candidate against their history and vision for the country and then measure voter intensity.  This formula has served us well in the past.

What would be your last word for our readers?

I would simply conclude by saying this is a pivotal period for Africa/U.S. relations.  From a U.S. lens, we must focus on Africa as a strategic partner and of vital interest from a national security and economic development angle. Perhaps we need some grand architect to create a plumb-line so we can square our next steps accordingly.  I would hope African leaders will see the importance of forging a stronger relationship with the Trump administration and U.S. private sector.  To the degree my firm and or I can play a positive role in helping this happen, I would feel a sense of great accomplishment.

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