President Trump and Africa: we won’t matter very much

Barack Obama is out of the White House after eight years occupancy. Donald Trump is the new occupant for the next four years.

Barack Obama is out of the White House after eight years occupancy. Donald Trump is the new occupant for the next four years.

The two men could not be more apart and their coming to the White House could not have been more different.

 

Obama arrived on a wave of euphoria and unbounded optimism built on hope and the promise to change America and the world. He was not going to be the chief exporter of democracy overseas. He was going to scale back on wars abroad. He was the man to repair old alliances and build new ones.

 

He was the smart guy who could move a crowd like no other. He could speak with the passion of a born-again preacher or the conviction of a campaigner for a cause, but also with the reflective detachment of the academic.

 

The man even got a Nobel Peace Prize before he even started work.

Then he made a tour of the world, making his trade mark speeches. Two of these were in Africa. In Cairo, he reached out to Islam. In Accra, he gave the famous prescription: Africa does not need strong men but strong institutions.

Soon he settled into office. Change did not come, certainly not at the pace and in quantities that had been expected. Promises were not kept. Of course some things were done. And now he is out of office.

Donald Trump has come on clouds of controversy. For him, no euphoria, but rather, anxiety and uncertainty. He campaigned on the fear and insecurity of white working class Americans. He broke nearly every convention but still got elected. He might even be indebted to Russia, America’s number one enemy, for his victory. And the man glories in causing offence.

Where Obama was reflective, Trump is impulsive. Where Obama was calm even under fire and responded in measured ways, Trump is angry and swings wildly at his attackers, real and perceived.

The only resemblance between the two men is their professed desire to change America. But then that has been the promise of every American president.

When Obama became president of the United States, most people in Africa were jubilant. Here was one of our own governing the most powerful country on earth. Expectations were high that Africa would get a good deal from their son. Of course, it was a projection of tribal solidarity that we see often when a son of the soil becomes president. There is so much jubilation as if the whole tribe would benefit from his being in that office.

In office, Obama kept Africa at arm’s length. Africa did not feature very much in his policies. There was, of course, the usual lecture about democracy and human rights, but little else. He was content to let activists in the State Department and their media and NGO accomplices shape the policy.

In this he wasn’t different from ‘tribal’ presidents. The tribe that was euphoric at the victory of their son get very little from his occupancy of the top job. Their lives don’t change; they may actually get worse. Sometimes they are even forgotten altogether until the next election. Meanwhile, the son of the soil, now in power, shares the table with fellow big chiefs from ‘enemy’ tribes.

There are no such illusions with Donald Trump. After all, he is not one of us and so there are almost no expectations. With his ‘America first’ we know where we stand and what things he is likely to do.

We know, for instance, that he will drive a hard bargain for anything we may want from America. He has not said much about AGOA, but with his protectionist stance, that may be in danger. It might only be saved by the fact that it does not threaten American industry or jobs.

He will also probably ignore Africa, cut back on aid, but generally not interfere. Which may not be a bad thing. We can go about our business without having to justify our actions to some overseer. We may also have to learn to expect little from outside and depend more on ourselves. That might make us more creative and innovative.

President Trump is unlikely to preach democracy with the same missionary zeal as some of his predecessors and so will not force the US brand or values on the rest of us. He is probably not a true believer himself.

In four years’ time, we will be looking back on the reigns of the two men and decide which of the two will have been more beneficial to Africa. The results might be surprising.

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