The American election is a global event.
Nearly 100 million votes have been cast across the United States but when Tuesday comes, the attention of the world will be commandeered by the glitzy color-coded maps on our TVs as well as by Wolf Blitzer’s inordinately excellent poker face.
Everyone is interested in who emerges the victor in one of the most highly-anticipated election matchups in recent history. This is an election that has framed itself rather competently by the words and deeds of President Donald Trump over the last few years.
“Mindlessness vs mindfulness”, a former colleague put it to me. But she was not so certain that good ultimately displaces evil in this Manichean cosmic interplay. Like many Africans, she wants to see Trump voted out and Joe Biden in but she does not want to lean on the insight of Americans, the infamous electorate from 2016.
Perennially, academics and media writers ask the question which is the subject of this piece. But we are also aware that this time, the question is animated by the enigma of the incumbency like none we have seen before. Africans remember that President Trump called their homes “shithole countries” and in dealing with the delicate issues of race, this president has bared his teeth at the distant relatives.
I am moved towards this election out of purely academic and professional concerns. Incidentally, the period that marked the meteoric political rise of Trump into today’s colossus was the days I was an impressionable postgraduate student looking to understand how American leftism and European leftism were two discernibly different schools of thought.
And then Trump became president and we wondered how he would interact with Africa. Apart from the insult in 2017 and not mentioning Namibia correctly, Trump has not looked any different than his predecessor Barack Obama. Permanent American interests such as AFRICOM, forcing Kenya or any other country to swallow needless American plastic for the sake of Big Oil and wielding sanctions like altar boys cling to their rosaries, remain.
Some read Obama’s visits to Africa as well as his tendency to berate the lack of institutional steel that safeguards democratic culture on the continent as a sign that his administration was more interested in Africa than Trump’s. But that is not necessarily true or even a good indicator of intensity in interest.
Still, Jerome Kuseh, an economic and financial analyst based in Accra, Ghana, notes that the American election is an inescapable cold lay Africans must catch.
“Africans should be interested in the elections because the US has lots of influence over the continent,” Kuseh told me. “This manifests in their control over institutions such as the IMF and even the African Development Bank, as we recently saw in the case brought against its president, Akinwumi Adesina. It also manifests in aid through USAID, military cooperation and visa requirements.”
Kuseh’s point was an innocuous summary of the apron strings Africans have been tied to. Yet, it attempted to spell in very concrete terms how everyone in any place on the continent was a sufferer of the votes Michiganders and Wisconsinites cast. A bit like the Butterfly effect in chaos theory.
But if there are permanent American interests, why should this particular election be different to Africans? If you asked Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, head of the Loveworld Inc. a Nigeria-headquartered Africa-wide church, this election was an invitation for African Christians to stand with the good.
“They are angry at Trump for supporting Christians, you better know it. So the real ones that they hate are you who are Christians,” Oyakhilome told a congregation in June.
He added: “Pray for him [Trump] because when God places any of his children in a position, hell sometimes would do everything to destroy that individual.”
Trump would welcome a characterization of his candidacy as the fight for Christianity and the good. A chunk of the support he enjoys on the continent comes from conservative evangelical Christians. and that much is an open secret. Over the years too, the cooperation between Trump-supporting evangelical pastors and Christian organizations on one hand, and African governments and churches on the other, has been invigorated by shared admiration for the man in the White House.
For instance, a fundraising ceremony for a proposed National Cathedral in Ghana that took place in Washington D.C. in February of 2019, featured Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo who invited powerhouse evangelical preacher and special adviser to Trump, Paula White. To the trained mind, very little was left to guesswork with that invitation.
However, in the fashion of supporting our favorites without due recourse to a religious value system, much like we cheer on sports teams, the Trump fever in Africa exists outside the church too. There are certainly those who wonder why their politicians cannot put their country first, much in the manner that Trump promised to put America first.
Franklin Cudjoe, CEO of African think tank IMANI Center for Policy and Education, is an avowed Trump supporter who believes there is a lot about governance African leaders can learn from the US president.
“There is only ONE President right now in the world, fulfilling his political Promises – Trump. The others, especially on this continent are masters of NCC- Nepotism, Collusion and Corruption. May God Make Africa Great Again,” Cudjoe recently tweeted.
There are yet others who adore Trump because he is a loose cannon playing according to his rules only. But Kuseh warns that “Trump is a favorite of several white nationalist groups for a reason”.
“His divisive rhetoric and embrace of fascist tactics is a threat to US democracy and global stability. Biden is very far from perfect but in a two horse race you’ve got to pick the least bad option,” Kuseh explained.
Perhaps, his sentiments embody the discordance between the kind of Africans who support the American president and the ones who do not. Kuseh sees a future of global cooperation that should not be shirked on the altars of ethnonationalism or religion. It is the duty of Africans to see that Trumpism would hurt the continent.
Nana Kofi Quakyi, an adjunct professor of public health at New York University echoes this.
“Many African nations are staring into the economic abyss as a result of COVID-19 and there must necessarily be a global effort to mitigate the devastation if we are to avoid further impoverishing ourselves with unsustainable and unproductive debt. That is as likely under Joe Biden as it is unlikely under Trump,” Quakyi said, via email.
Quakyi favors Biden and he connects this to the visions the two leading candidates have for Africa.
“Biden for one is offering fairly radical proposals to curb climate change, whereas Trump’s deregulation spree continues to undermine the gains made so far…[W]hile there may not be explicitly stated views on a vision for Africa, it seems evident from the [expected] outcomes of their respective proposals that Biden bodes better for Africa.”
Indeed, if he does lose after Tuesday, the chroniclers and thinkers would continue to wonder how Trump, a reality TV star and hapless businessman who did not exhibit much in the way of political acumen, came to occupy the famous house on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, District of Columbia.
Quakyi thinks a potential post-mortem on Trump’s presidency, and the American system that put him in power, hold lessons Africans do not need to learn.
“The American process, in my view, teaches a lot more about what to avoid than what to do. The Electoral College is a relic of a bygone era and a fundamentally undemocratic institution. It is effectively a loophole for subverting the popular will in favor of the preference of the small, disproportionately white, rural states,” the professor wrote.
He added: “[I]n my view, the American lesson is in the dangers of fully normalizing those undemocratic practices, and a caution to us about the need for constant vigilance to keep the influence of “dark money” at bay.”
It is intriguing to hear someone say America does not necessarily possess the best democratic lessons for Africa. The opinion in itself could be validated by so much but for most Africans, nothing can undo the shock of learning that America is not the most optimal democracy. The captivation with American culture is indefatigably intravenous.
Africans do not get to have a say in an election that will undoubtedly affect them. But that is not stopping folks from Addis Ababa to KwaZulu Natal from dedicating Tuesday, November 3, 2020, to another American election.
I am in the minority with those who hope more Africans come to see it as we do – it is just another American election. They say the stakes are high but the stakes have always been high in the previous ones, remember?
Who Trump is has not been lost on us. But everybody can appreciate that hope does not count in the electoral college.