Talk of impeachment is continuing relentlessly in America as President Trump continues to ward off his opponents. Proceedings are now underway to start the process from Democrat Al Green (though, as a Democrat it is unlikely that particular process will go far).
But, from Korea to Brazil there are similar rumblings this year.
There was a lot of anticipation prior to the former FBI director Comey testifying Thursday, though the results were largely anti-climactic. However, the amount of expectancy was dramatic in itself.
News commentaries are explaining that the rest of the world is watching with a sense of horrified fascination and fear as the more preoccupied that the top level of the American regime is, the greater that there is a power vacuum that is left in the world.
US Secretary of state Rex Tillerson recently articulated (correctly) that the rest of the world does not have time to watch the American domestic situation. Internationally people and governments want to know what their relationship is with the United States. And, uncertainty affects how seriously the American president is being taken, as seen in his most recent foreign trip.
The president may or may not have committed one or more of several crimes: most notably obstruction of justice, but it may include or not disclosing relationships from Russia before taking office. In addition, there is mounting reasons to level charges, and his closest advisors-including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner- are now also implicated.
Impeachment is a centuries old term to means ‘a formal statement of charges’, for the powerful of a country. It is a term used for those in the top office and the difference is that the average person is charged with a crime, then brought to court where there is a decision of guilt or innocence.
The fact that the person has been charged doesn’t mean that they are automatically guilty. In America, the charges are filed in the House of Representatives, then the impeachment trial takes place in the Senate-a 2/3rds vote is required to convict. If there is a conviction, then options range from censure to removal.
It comes as a surprise to many that President Nixon was never impeached, he resigned before it could take place (and, his charges were dropped by a presidential pardon from Ford). There were just two US presidents impeached, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnston (just after the Civil War) –and neither were convicted.
The biggest issue for the government leadership with impeachment and trial are the distractions that reverberate throughout. And, that affects the rest of the world because there is no getting away from the omnipotent hegemony of the United States (self-appointed purveyor and champion of its values and interests on the world).
The strength of American military is twice as strong as the rest of the world combined, making it the strongest in human history: so, what it does affects every region. America is the only country that divides the world into separate military sectors (a total of 6) to monitor and to patrol, with AFRICOM for this continent.
This division is under the guise of worldwide security, but essentially means the American interests are the first concern. Therefore, when the post 9/11 crises ensued Africa became of great interest (again) with the huge untapped resources of oil and cobalt amongst numerous others.
Post WWII traditional European colonial powers in Africa (such as the French and British) had increased competition from America. And, recently China as the strategic interests grow and it continues to exert its influence.
Change, including withdrawals and shifting policy by global powers after exerting influence can have potentially tragic consequences and no country knows this better than Rwanda.
For affected powers, internal leadership distractions can have profound effects on both the domestic and international arenas as power vacuums are created and competing interests take advantage. This was recently exemplified as the South Korean president Park was impeached and removed from office on March 10th. During the run-up to the impeachment and the fallout afterwards the North Koreans consistently pushed forward with their agenda of missile testing and heated rhetoric against the South, leading many to believe that the world was closer to nuclear conflict than any time in recent decades.
With the most recent US example of Clinton, even though he was exonerated, the use of the word ‘impeached’ in the past tense implies to many people that he was found guilty. With the term being akin to ‘charged’ it is of course quite different and depends upon being ‘found guilty’ or ‘found not guilty’, though difficult to distinguish for many voters and the general public.
As explained in a syndicated column in this paper a month ago by Sean Wilentz, President Trump is still a long way from actual impeachment. However if it comes about, whether absolved or not, the process will severely distract the oval office, weaken the presidency and damage any legacy.
What this uncertainty and weakening of US hegemony means for East Africa is a likely continued increase in contacts with China, along with growing Russian interest.
However, there should be opportunities for greater strength in the EAC as a decision making body in the region, including the EAC. This should not be dismissed, especially in South Sudan, and the chance to encourage a peaceful election on August 8th in Kenya.
The writer is a Canadian scholar currently working as an associate professor at a university in Japan. He has conducted regular visits to Rwanda and has given talks at the University of Rwanda and at the Kigali Independent University.