There is a seeming temptation for people to assume that what is going on in American politics is a far-flung concern for Americans and Americans only. Wrong. As we painfully watch Donald Trump taking the butcher’s knife to the entrails of what passes for American democracy, the rippling effects has and will have dire consequences for the world and Africa in particular. What is happening in the American elections looks familiar to many African settings; a replay of the political playbook that we have come to accept in African politics. In short, Trump has become the proverbial African dictator with a light pigmentation.
Can you believe that Trump is dishing out lunch boxes with notes with his signature emblazoned to voters at polling stations? Where is Mugabe or Idi Amin when you want one? It is no secret that Trump has done his best to discredit the American political system. He has already cast doubts on the veracity, legitimacy and moral essence of the whole American voting process and its democratic credentials. No one should be surprised if Trump does a Cellou Diallo on November 4th; by declaring himself a winner even before the first ballots are counted. Trumps desperation to hold on to power by any means possible is not only glaring but scary. Every day reveals the darker side of his personality.
To all intents and purposes, Trump has already signalled his intention to contest the outcome of the elections. His hasty decision to appoint Amy Coney Barrett as replacement for late Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the supreme court so close to the election, and even before the deceased’s body has cooled off, does not only spell out desperation but also his intention to throw the whole process into legal minefields. And this is coming hot on the heels of his refusal to commit to a peaceful acceptance and transition of power, should he lose the election. But again, many outside America may mistakenly see this as an American problem and one of those “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) issues. Think again.
The damage done to the democratic process in America is being felt from afar. In Hong Kong, America was deafeningly silent and struggled to condemn the heavy handedness of the police forces against peaceful protesters, who were clamouring for democratic rights from China. How could America comment on Hong Kong while Trump was deploying federal forces against “Black Lives Matter” protesters in Portland? We have seen how silent America has remained on the ongoing Belarusian protests. One of the defining denominations among these countries and the Trumpian ideology is dictatorship or authoritarian rule. But how does Trump’s behaviour affect other countries?
Take for instance the recently concluded presidential elections in Guinea. No need to remind readers about the constitutional surgeries that took place in Guinea, Togo and Cote D’Ivoire. The leaders of these countries circumvented their respective national constitutions, against all democratic norms to keep themselves in power. That is not new by African standards. What is new, is the loud silence that is coming from international organisations and countries. These countries received little or no condemnation for the constitutional arsons committed. The EU did not even send Election Observers to the recently concluded elections in Guinea. It is this seeming lack of interest in the sanctity or the appetite to hold and protect democratic institutions and norms that is becoming alarming. With the abnormal insidiously becoming the normal, what does that bode for countries; especially on the African continent? So, while Trump has continued to attack every democratic fabric of the American society with voter suppression, attacking the courts, spraying all kinds of controversies and conspiracies about the electoral system, Zimbabwe has been learning fast. A legislation is now being considered to criminalise protests in Zimbabwe as you read this piece. Emboldened?
We all know the European Union has been a vital partner, if you can call it that, to the African continent, especially in economic and political terms; thanks to foster parenthood. We also know that most democratic reforms in Africa have been driven by external pressure, with threats of sanctions and other carrot and stick approach from the big guys. In recent years, these giants had adopted a policy of encouraging Africans to solve African problems. We saw how problems ranging from Darfur to the Independence of South Sudan being handled by Africans. Most of the West have stopped putting boots on the ground to solve African conflicts. Instead, the will to deal with these conflicts have been sublet to the African Union; and to a large extent, the latter has stepped up to the plate. With the exception of a few instances like in Mali where French troops have been fighting side by side with African soldiers against Islamic extremists, much has been left in the hands of the African Union.
However, when you take into consideration that events leading up to the recent election in Guinea was categorised as a potential powder keg, you start to wonder why the EU did not send any election observers this time. Is it apathy? Is it fatigue? Or is it a normalisation of the abnormal? Does anyone care how democracy or politics is run in Africa now? The AU and ECOWAS remained silent as the three musketeers in West Africa doctored their constitutions with relative ease. No one heard of the usual sanctions or otherwise. Is this a trend that will become normal and accepting; in the absence of foreign referees? Is this the residual effects of the breakdown of democratic tenets from one of the chief priests of democracy, called America? Are we being desensitised to the acceptable standards of democracy?
Now that Conde and the fourteen others have or seem to get away with prolonging their hold on power with minimal fuss; save for the loss of lives of the electorate, are we about to witness a new wave of or return to political autocracy in Africa? If Octogenarians like Conde can get away with staying in power by any means possible, will that trigger such thoughts among younger Heads of States? Ar nor call name o. In the meantime, it has already been muted that President George Weah of Liberia is considering a third term in office. Factor that against the fact that he took over from one of the few leaders, Sir Johnson who stuck to their two-term time limits. Looking at what happened in Guinea and elsewhere, do you think Korthor Ernest would be wondering why he didn’t pursue a third term more vigorously? The majority of Sierra Leoneans remain grateful for his judgement, I believe, and hope that Ngor Bio will remain true to this, no doubt.
There is no doubt that whether Trump wins or not, the damage done would cast long shadows on America for years to come. Perhaps, Americans may want to consider renaming their country as the Disunited States of America. As the world continues to hold its breath on the outcome of the elections, who would have thought that the world’s most preferable adoptable home would come to this? It is now becoming abundantly clear that this is one of, if not the most important elections in America for many lifetimes. Many people see it as an election that has put the very concepts and tenets of DEMOCRACY at risk. Should Trump triumph over Democracy, what hope will be there for lesser states?
Trump and his supporters refer to the 2016 election upset as reason to be hopeful. But unlike 2016 when, Trump was seen as a “new kid on the block”, there was voter apathy against the establishment, be it Democrats or Republicans. The façade of Trump being a self-made millionaire rang true then. If you take away the allegations of sexual gymnastics made against him, mix that with his appeal and dog whistles about immigration, white supremacy and the James Comey Moment, you can see how he won the elections.
This time, Trump has a record to defend. It is the first time in recent elections where the economy has taken a back seat. This has been Trump’s forte, which was built on Obama’s recovery model; after George Bush plunged the country into recession; thanks to fighting two wars on a credit card. In 2020, Trump has to defend his handling of the pandemic, which has rippled into mass unemployment and near recession. His failure to condemn white supremacy, the side B of anti-Semitism, the protests from police brutality, his failed promises to replace Obamacare and build the wall with Mexican Pesos, may just help to define the outcome.
With his direct appeal to the instincts of his, has he succeeded in enlarging it? Has he pulled in those same independents that threw caution to the wind and voted for him in 2016? Will “I can’t breathe”, breathe some enthusiasm into the usually passive non white groups? He promised to “drain the swamp”. Let’s have a roll call of all his associates who have been convicted, jailed or otherwise since his presidency. Even when he admitted catching Covid, many now see it as untrue; they see it as a ploy to boost a sense of his invincibility, to show that Covid is not as deadly and to fit into his anti -mask agenda.
Many see this election as a referendum on Trump. Others see it as a referendum on the American society. There are some who see it as American Democracy at risk. The irony is that American elections have never been democratic. What passes for democracy is that the PEOPLE VOTE, and a FEW GOOD MEN CHOOSE who becomes President.
Don’t forget to turn the lights out after voting.