As November 3, 2020 draws nigh, the rest of the world is on tenterhooks, waiting to see who will emerge victorious between the incumbent president Donald Trump and Joe Biden, his opponent. The outcome of the election will ineluctably have an impact on Africa. A Trump victory might sustain what has been the status quo for the last four years, while a Biden victory might engender some change in America’s posture and responsibilities. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 was not the beginning of what could be termed a post-truth international zeitgeist in which the truth is either relative or unimportant. Trump was not the genesis of xenophobia and Islamophobia that have been shaping Western politics. He exploited and benefited from an international system that is already divided along many lines. Unfortunately for the United States, the last four years have really diminished the moral standing of that country in world politics. To be frank, American hypocrisy on pontificating on matters of democracy and human rights the world over, is well noted; however, because of leadership and internationalist zeal after World War 2, America was accepted, albeit grudgingly, as an undisputed leader with a moral voice on platforms such as the United Nations.
However, Trump’s barely concealed racism and chauvinism, combined with his mendacity, have sullied America’s internal politics. Externally, Trump’s nationalism and his seeming admiration for despots have had a negative impact on players that want to champion democracy and globalisation. His nationalist inclinations have unavoidably led him to have a dismissive and patronising attitude towards Africa. It is telling that in his first term, he did not visit Africa even once, despite a paucity of African leaders that visited him. His victory at the oncoming elections will perpetuate much the same of what he has been doing. He is more likely to start pandering to the Manichaean ethos that was the basis of close cooperation between America and players that were not close to the Soviet Union. This time around, China has taken over the place of the Soviet Union but, unlike the Soviet Union, China is deeply integrated with Africa, not only ideologically but economically too. Chinese technologies have deeply penetrated the African markets at the behest of African countries. Predictably, America takes umbrage at Africa’s tacit preference of China. Trump will inflame anti-Chinese sensibilities, as he has done even with the origin of the coronavirus. In fact, Trump’s New Africa Strategy, noted that “great power competitors, namely China and Russia, are rapidly expanding their financial and political influence across Africa. They are deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States.”
Another scenario for next Tuesday is a Biden victory. Biden will undoubtedly seek to restore America’s greatness, no pun intended, which entails commitment to, and leadership of, institutions such as the World Health Organisation, the Human Rights Council, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In addition, he will reshape America’s stance on climate change. Having Kamala Harris as vice president will also be a boon for progressives the world over, Africa included. However, to convince American voters to vote for Harris, her credentials and legislative experience should be emphasised, rather than her race and sex, which might be difficult for some American voters to accept. In Africa, a victory by the democrats might be a boost for countries that seek to entrench democracy. In Trump’s transactional worldview, an African despot who fawns over him can get away with authoritarianism. As Michael Cohen, Trump’s erstwhile lawyer, wrote in his memoir, Disloyal, to Trump flattery can get you anything. Biden’s temperament seems to be different from this. On China, however, Biden is also likely to take a stance that will favour the United States while discrediting China, though he will look more at the economic, political and security dimensions of China’s inroads in Africa and the world over; he is not likely to use xenophobic and racist undertones in order to wean Africa from China.
In conclusion, the most important player on African affairs should be Africa itself, irrespective of who the occupant of the White House will be. The African Union should enjoin its members to adhere to set list of tenets such as the promotion of democracy, human rights and environmental protection. Yes, the character of the president of the United States will have an impact on Africa, but the continent must be steadfast on certain, non-negotiable matters that the continent needs for its development. The word ‘agency’ will have to be used and demonstrated fulsomely for the continent to assert its sovereignty.
Emmanuel Matambo is a Senior Researcher at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS)