ADDIS ABABA--President Trump has not been thinking about Africa, but it has been thinking about him.
The new President has urgent business there: terrorism, immigration, trade, weak democracies and strong men who refuse to leave power when their constitutions command. This week's meeting of the African Union touches on each of these challenges.
Terror. Boko Haram, who haunts Nigeria and its neighbors, is now a deadlier terrorist band than ISIS, measuring by body count. Other branches of ISIS and al Qaeda operate freely in Libya and Somalia, where they recruit, train, plan and carry out attacks across North and East Africa. While the U.S. military's joint Africa Command (AFRICOM) is drilling counter-terrorism forces and providing arms and equipment, the few hard-won gains on the ground came from the forces of the member-states of the African Union. Still, Africans are too poorly equipped to swiftly deploy troops across vast distances to drive terrorists from their strongholds. They will need American help to vanquish the extremists. Without that, North Africa will become a new Afghanistan--an incubator of terror attacks on the American homeland.
Immigration. Refugees and economic migrants are already a top issue for Trump. Immigration is already a huge issue for African nations. Millions more Africans cross borders to find jobs or flee catastrophe every year than there are soldiers in the U.S. Army. More than 1.3 million Christians and animists have fled South Sudan to their former mother country, Sudan, creating a refugee crisis there. Tens of thousands of Somalis have poured into Kenya and Congo continues to send human waves into neighboring lands.
Trade. This could be a bright spot in U.S.-Africa relations if the White House quickly appoints personnel to engage African leaders. Africa is home to six of the 13 fastest-growing economies in the world for past two years, according to the World Bank. Africa is debating an ambitious regional free-trade pact that could grow to a continent-wide free-trade zone, akin to Europe. So striking trade deals with African nations would be prudent, not charity. And the U.S. is already behind China, the continent's largest trading partner in dollar terms.
Democratic reform. Governance remains a major challenge across Africa. Old age and violent coups remove more African leaders than elections. Even some of the relatively healthy young democracies are riven by corruption, tribalism and arbitrary edicts.
To seize the opportunity in Africa, the Trump Administration should encourage the African Union to more focused on economic growth than political perfectionism. Europe's mistake (and Brexit's lesson) is that bringing down economic barriers is popular and promotes prosperity while weakening national sovereignty through international lawmaking soon stirs resentment and hostility. Putting economic growth first gives African nations an exciting goal that they can enthusiastically share. Over time, as the experience of Asian and South American nations shows, success produces a middle class that demands better governance. Change from the middle up is more likely and more lasting than change from the outside in.
Which brings us to what could be Trump's key to unlocking Africa's potential--Morocco. The kingdom, one of America's oldest allies, is stable, growing and has just undergone 15 years of successful democratic reforms. Morocco's youthful, reformist king is Africa's first constitutional monarch, the first to cede his powers to a freely elected parliament that decides all economic and domestic issues, except for national security and diplomacy. Under the king's guidance, Morocco has successfully signed free-trade agreements with African and European nations as well as the United States. The king has led a multi-national effort to promote and train imams and preachers to spread a peaceful, quietist form of Islam--striking a major blow against terrorists. Even on migration, Morocco has a solution to offer while many others only have problems to document; the kingdom has resettled hundreds of thousands of Sahrawi in its southern lands and welcomed more than 1 million refugees into its northern cities.
The timing couldn't be better for a partnership between Morocco and the U.S. to reinvigorate Africa. The kingdom has just re-joined the African Union, after leaving its predecessor 34 years ago. This is, in itself, a major political event. It also presents the possibility of nudging the African Union into scrutinizing Morocco's example and adopting its economic, and eventually, political reforms. Morocco's membership offers a bridge to U.S. diplomats, where now they face a wall. Africa, despite its potential, attracts only a small share of the globe's foreign-direct investment. Europeans and Americans continue to see it as an insecure, unstable place where corruption and chaos rule. Africa should, therefore, count first on itself. Opening borders to trade and easing regulations that prevent Africans from selling to or working in other African lands is a vital first step. Migrants will cease to a burden when they can work or invest, rather than parade their misery in the hope of alms. Importing U.S. technology would speed this hopeful development process--creating jobs in the U.S. while providing Africans with the means to create jobs at home. Let's not forget the fight against terrorism. The return of Morocco to the African Union allows it to share intelligence and direct experiences combatting militants. The eradication of cross-border terrorism requires all-out cooperation. Morocco's record in fighting terror, especially since the 2003 Casablanca bombing, holds important lessons in finding, tracking and stopping militants. If the U.S. could achieve the same level of counter-terrorism cooperation with the African Union that it currently enjoys with Morocco, ISIS would be on its back, not at our throats. Strangely, America's first African president turned a blind eye to the continent of his father's birth. Trump has an opportunity here to partner with Morocco and the African Union and promote peace, prosperity and development while calming waves of immigration and violence. Making America great again, as Trump's campaign slogan goes, means helping Africa rise and stabilize. Mr. President, Africa is listening. Don't miss our call.