US travel ban: Africans denounce Donald Trump′s new visa restrictions | Africa | DW | 03.02.2020

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US travel ban: Africans denounce Donald Trump's new visa restrictions

The new travel ban will restrict citizens of Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan and Tanzania from obtaining certain visas. Those affected say the US is overstepping its bounds, while analysts are worried it will damage relations.

The fallout over the Trump administration's decision on Friday to restrict immigration from four additional African countries has continued, with officials and citizens from the nations affected openly criticizing the US's new policy.

Under the new rules, which are due to take effect on February 22, six new countries — including Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania, as well as Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar — will face various visa restrictions. Unlike President Donald Trump's 2017 travel ban, which sparked outrage around the world for primarily targeting Muslims, it is not a total travel ban. Nationals from Sudan and Tanzania will be banned from participating in the diversity visa lottery scheme, while visas which can lead to permanent residency will no longer be issued to Nigerians and Eritreans.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, on Monday, said he wanted the country to have "productive relations" with the US. He also set up a committee to "study and address" the new visa requirements.

However, opposition leader Atiku Abubakar was more forthcoming in his response, saying the US should instead "consider adopting measures that individually target those in government who have failed in their duties, rather than target the entire Nigerian population."

The government of Eritrea also denounced the measures as an "unfriendly act," with the Ministry of Information branding the ban a political move that ignores Eritrea's own attempts to stop what it called "automatic asylum" and "systematic depopulation" of the country. 

Citizens concerned about the impact of ban

On the streets of Dar es Salaam, Tanzanians told DW of their uncertainty for the future following the announcement of the ban.

"I am surprised and disappointed by what the US has done," Tom Juma, a businessman who sells second-hand clothes, said. "Some of us would like to go to the US to do business with other people. If the [leaders]are having problems they should sort them out, don't bring it here where it will affect normal citizens."

Local resident Emmanuel Eliazary said while the decision won't impact him, other Tanzanians were likely to bear the brunt.

"My activities are based here, and I have no projects in the US, only in East Africa," he said, "I think I can't be affected by the US's decision but those who do their business there [will be.]"

Meanwhile, in Nigeria's capital Abuja, security risk management expert Kibir Adamou, thinks the US government has a valid point when it comes to concerns over data security.

"It will force the Nigerian government to improve its data management processes," he told DW. "A lot of what the US government is asking us to do it for the good of Nigeria. The only part I am not comfortable with is the master-servant relationship [when it comes to] diplomacy. It's all about reciprocity. If the US is asking us to share information with them, they should also be able to share information with us."

Business development professional Mohammed thinks the US will ultimately pay the price for the travel ban. "America is built and sustained by foreigners, by people who have talents and who go there to help their economy," he told DW. "If you cut that, it's going to affect you adversely. It's not something you will see immediately, but in the long run, it's going to change the US, whether it likes it or not.

USA Muhammadu Buhari, Präsident Nigeria & Donald Trump

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari meets with US President Donald Trump in Washington in 2018. Experts say Trump's new travel ban risks alienating Nigeria

Read more: US African policy's lost 'dynamics'

A racially-motivated policy?

US officials have remained ambiguous as to the reasoning behind adding the countries to the list, claiming they failed to meet US intelligence-sharing standards or lacked updated passport systems.

Matthew T. Page, an analyst with the Africa program at Chatham House, thinks the only logical explanation for the ban has little to do with security issues, or even an anti-Islamic policy. 

"The reasoning has to do with policies we've seen over the past few years of tightening US immigration standards, especially towards countries from Africa and the Middle East," he told DW. "I think these fit into the administration's racially motivated immigration policy rather than for pressing security reasons."

According to US Census Bureau data, Africa has the fastest-growing number of immigrants in the US, with Nigerians making up the largest group within this population. 

"[Nigerian Americans] are a very successful class of immigrants," says Page. "Over 29% of Nigerian Americans over the age of 25 hold a graduate degree, which is significantly higher than the rest of the US population, where only 11% of Americans hold a graduate degree. So, [the ban] is not because they don't already have a presence in the US and aren't already making a contribution to society…That really only leaves one explanation."

A US Air Force plane lands at a Senegal airport

The US also maintains a military presence in a number of West African countries, including Nigeria

Read more: What is the US up to in Africa?

A blow to diplomatic and trade relations with Nigeria

While the Trump administration has not presented a particularly nuanced policy towards Africa, there has been a renewed emphasis on business and trade in recent years, predominately with Nigeria which boasts Africa's largest growing economy. Page says this business-like relationship is likely to be damaged as a result of the new travel ban.

"This could have a significant impact if the Nigerian government chooses to reciprocate in terms of intensifying restrictions on US companies or US persons doing business in Nigeria," he says. The Nigerian economy may also take a hit from the inside: "The Buhari government has shown a willingness to put nationalist pride priorities ahead of economic common sense. So that maybe the route this may take if this dispute drags on overtime."

However, Nigeria is also emerging as a key strategic partner on the continent. It is also on track to become the third-most-populous country in the world by 2050, overtaking the US along the way. While the Nigerian government has remained relatively restrained in its response so far, Page warns their patience with the US is wearing thin.

"[Nigeria will] be looking for ways to essentially placate the US and make whatever changes are being spelled out so that they can put this ugly episode behind them," he says.

"I don't think US-Africa policymakers were necessarily consulted or their views taken into account when this policy was rolled out. They're left to clean up the mess in terms of the damage that it's done to the US's relationship with one of the most strategically important countries in Africa."

Fredrick Nwaka and Uwaisu Idris contributed to this article.

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