He started off as a joke and now he is here, as the president-elect of the United States of America, one of the world’s most powerful countries. As the election campaign unfolded, laughter begot intrigue, which then begot despair. And now most of the world is living in suspense, waiting to see what a Donald Trump presidency will look like.
Largely seen as an inexperienced, weak and deplorable candidate, Trump was never supposed to stand a chance against the much-endorsed, experienced and preferred Hillary Clinton. So, what happened?
“Largely seen as an inexperienced, weak and deplorable candidate, Trump was never supposed to stand a chance against the much-endorsed, experienced and preferred Hillary Clinton. So, what happened?”
In short, Trump went beyond the standardised limits on who can become a leading presidential candidate in a US election and cast himself as an outsider fighting the proverbial Establishment – unaccountable corporate power whose excesses are defended by politicians, media and civil society. In truth, Trump is very much a part of this Establishment for no person of his wealth and influence can be an outsider.
It was, in fact, racism and bigotry that sustained Trump’s campaign and eventually confirmed him as the next US president. Yes, you cant discount that, but his railings at the export of American jobs to china and other places found a ready ear in the manufacturing belts… For many people, this was a surprise. Yet, to many others, this was seen as normal order in that part of the world. This election has brought to the fore, if not legitimised, the racism and bigotry that has always been part of American existence. Hence, whichever way the pendulum swings going forward, the reality is that there has been a radical shift in the US political culture and if you believe that when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold, then this shift is likely to have ramification beyond its borders.
“Whichever way the pendulum swings going forward, the reality is that there has been a radical shift in the US political culture and if you believe that when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold, then this shift is likely to have ramification beyond its borders.
The totality of such ramifications remains to be seen. However, if Trump’s victory celebration speech is anything to go by, then the US has elected a president who will choose to focus more on domestic affairs than foreign policy. This is a good development.
“The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” Trump said in his speech, insisting that his government will direct energies towards the renewal of the American dream and ensuring that the US economy leads as the strongest in the world.
“At the same time,” he added, “we will get along with other nations willing to get along with us. We will have great relationships [and] we expect to have great relationships…I want to tell the world community that while we will always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone. We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict.”
The latter will be a very welcome relief to the various parts of the world that have suffered at the hands of US imperialism and domination. And that is a lot of countries! Spared the US aggression and interference, a Trump presidency will offer significant opportunities for peace, stability and development.
While most African countries are not at war, they have not escaped US interest and domination. Various pacts have been entered into and many an African country still relies on US aid to support various domestic interventions in health, education, democracy and governance, among others. These pacts are usually negotiated for lengthy periods of time and are unlikely to come under immediate threat.
However, as Trump mobilises resources to support his domestic priorities, he may not hesitate to significantly cut aid to Africa and redirect those funds for the benefit of American citizens. This will have a negative impact on the programmes currently being run across Africa via various US donor agencies but ultimately, it is one of the most positive things that could happen for the continent under a Trump presidency.
The US and other western countries have consistently used aid as a tool to keep Africa indebted to them. More insidiously, aid is also used as an avenue to infiltrate significant and strategic spaces key to the exercise of autonomy and sovereignty by most African countries. As I have written elsewhere, external “assistance” – such as that received from the US and other western countries – has proved limited in effect, and has created debilitating forms of aid dependency while suppressing the assertion of hopes, dreams and aspirations of Africans.
To quote Thomas Sankara, Burkina Faso’s former president, “debt is another form of neo-colonialism, one in which the colonialists have transformed themselves into technical assistants. Actually, it would be more accurate to say technical assassins…debt, in its present form is a cleverly organised reconquest of Africa under which our growth and development are regulated by stages and norms totally alien to us.”
Sankara delivered this speech to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which has since become the African Union (AU). The speech was delivered at the end of July 1987 and Sankara was assassinated less than three months later, on 15 October. Such is the price to pay for resisting aid and debt traps from countries like the US.
But, as the connection is being made that Trump’s victory mirrors what was seen earlier this year in Britain’s exit (Brexit) from the European Union (EU), most Africans are asking themselves what impact latest US elections will have on their countries. Well, the short answer – as was the case with Brexit – is that not much is going to change, especially in the way of diplomatic and trade relations.
However, it is clear that two of the world’s oldest imperial powers are going through massive cultural crises and will emerge from these experiences severely weakened. Such weaknesses – to be fair – can only be visible [tangible?] if Africa, for example, is able to take advantage of this period of convulsions by changing its attitude towards both powers and begin to assert its own strength as a united front.
For centuries, Africa has unjustifiably occupied a subservient role in the global political economy, betraying the lie of Africa Rising that was once trumpeted. Therefore, the symbolic import of Brexit and Trump victories should not only be a source of marvel to Africans, but also be seen as fierce indicators of seismic shifts in the global order. The world really is changing and the countries alert to this fact are adapting, however chaotic the process might be.
Unless this continent – and her over one billion people – takes the opportunity to reconfigure itself and aspire to emerge as a strong voice once this shift is over, we risk emerging from these changes worse off than we were going in. There is, simply, no middle ground to occupy; either we gain strength or we become weaker and more vulnerable.
Of course, Africa’s chances of success depend on unity of purpose as a people; effective and accountable leadership in our various countries; and, perhaps more importantly, strong democratic institutions that can inspire active and productive citizenship both in individual countries and as an entire continent. Therefore, executive arrogance, public and private sector corruption, lack of vision and inferiority complexes, among other devices, will have to be done away with, to be replaced with by pride, courage and determination.
But then if, Africa – in 2016 – is waiting for people like Donald Trump and his ilk in Europe to look after Her, then we probably deserve our place in global hierarchy.