On November 3, 2020, the world came nearly to a standstill when all our attention shifted from our daily motions, to something else, the United States of America Presidential Elections.
In the days before the elections, our social media was abuzz with reality television celebrities, musicians, performers, actresses and actors, and even corporates urging Americans to go to the polling stations and vote.
Everyone was talking about it. On whatsapp stories, there were speculations about who would come out successful and who wouldn’t and why.
The historical voter apathy, especially amongst Democrats was a topic so widely discussed. Another huge concern was the increase in gun sales, which suggested that if the elections go a certain direction, there may be civil war looming in the United States. Also discussed was the consistency of the Republicans- how they are committed to their money and their interests, and their surgical precision in focusing on the achievement of their policies, as opposed to being one issue focused or, what has been observed about Democrats, nit-picking at their own candidates and compromising them for ideals no human can live up to.
It was a conspiracy theorist’s heaven, if one could believe it, with Trump fuelling the conspiracies about mailed votes and the ways votes are being counted to the length of time being taken, being orchestrated. Now, of course every action taken by any government is deliberate, but to go as far as saying the international pandemic was invented to stall the counting of votes so that Biden wins, was the most interesting theory I had heard. It also makes one stop and think about how the decisions being made by Americans actually do have an impact on the rest of the world, and specifically on Africa, in so many ways. Of course, the theatrical dimensions of the American presidential elections galvanise the world’s interest, every four years. The conventions and campaigns as well as the televised presidential debates, unrivalled in popularity are anxiety inducing, and showcase a democracy in ways Africans are often denied, because of the structure of our own elections, this definitely excites us. But this is not all.
The question lies in whether the winner of the elections will produce fundamental and substantive changes in US foreign policy towards the continent. Whenever American election are held, there is usually hope, by the African region that the relations between the regions would change – which hope is often soon dispersed with each American president. Significantly, the relationship between America and Africa transcends the elections, and creates an important need to set real expectations about the future of the relations.
Thinking Africa has the luxury of ignoring American elections the ways we can often comfortably turn a blind eye to the elections of those within our own
The trend has been that Democratic presidents have been more responsive to African interests and aspirations than Republicans. Their sympathies for African concerns have won them support by most Africans. The internationalisation of the American movement, Black Lives Matter (BLM) has also been a factor which has deepened Africa’s support for the Democrats, with Republicans claimed to marginalise Africans.
There is great disagreement to this with both George H. W. Bush (1989-1993) and George W. Bush (2001-2009) outperforming the humanitarian efforts towards Africa of hailed Barack Obama and even William Clinton. Initial humanitarian interventions of America into Somalia happened under the elder of the Bushes, and the launch of the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program which is still heavily depended on for health funding in African countries, including Botswana, happened under the younger Bush. On the other hand, the Rwandan genocide, largely ignored by the world over, including America, who vacated its citizens from Rwanda during the genocide, happened under Clinton, and Obama has been criticised for deepening the militarisation of US-Africa policy.
This is not to say a Republican president would be better for the Africa-US relations. It is simply a snapshot, illustrating that we need to disabuse ourselves of the idea that a Democratic president will result in more positive shifts in the relationship.
As far as Africa is concerned, the reality is that whichever president wins, at the end of the day, it is the system which prevails.
Since the early 90s, there have been four major pivotal concerns in the US-Africa relationship: the integration of Africa into the global economy, capacitating African countries and their institutions to meet growing security threats, the promotion of democratic governance in the African region, and finally health engagement.
We have, through the Obama administration as well as that of the comical Trump, seen the amplification of China’s threat to Africa, where the US was unable to meet Africa’s infrastructural needs.
For as long as Africa’s decoloniality remains a non-priority for our leadership, American elections will continue to matter more to us than they should. It is a systematic manner of control that the country has over our region, no matter who its current president is. This piece was just a contextualisation of the realities of the relationship, to dissuade ideas that we presently have the option of ignoring our realities.