-Nigeria’s fierce divide between the two candidates explained
-How decisions in America will affect us in Nigeria
By Chikezie Ogbonna
Given the United States’ status as a global power, it goes without saying that its elections are consequential to the rest of the world. First, one must acknowledge that it is the theatrical dimension of it that galvanizes the worlds and particularly Africa’s attention every four years.
From the conversations, the campaigns and the presidential debates to the nail-biting anxiety around the results, the elections present a global civic moment for African audience, many of whom are largely denied such experience under authoritarian regimes or tyrannical governments disguised as democracy.
Televised presidential debate, which are unrivalled in popularity, are the main draw card for African viewers. These debates showcase democracy at work and public contestation over ideas and policies.
In many African countries, US presidential debates have had a socialization effect, leading popular demand to initiate same during their elections. Since 2007, Nigeria has been inundated with televised presidential debates, which have somewhat gained popularity among Nigerians and many other African nations especially in West and East Africa. In Nigeria, the incumbent Buhari has vehemently resisted such debate platform in both 2015 and 2019 Presidential elections. According to critics, his handlers block him from appearing on those televised debate platforms to avoid embarrassment, while his supporters has always tagged it his personal style.
However, the demand for presidential debates is growing across many African countries as competitive elections become the norm and pressure mounts on leaders to display political acumen and maturity.
While expanding the many reasons African interest is drawn to what happens in American politics, in 14th September African Portal report by Gilbert Khadiagala, A South African professor and expert on African politics, stated that the other more significant reason for Africa’s interest in US elections stems from tremendous expectations of the man in the White House, encapsulated in questions such as: ‘Will Africa obtain more resources from the new occupant?’ Will we see more presidential visits to Africa?’
These questions are consistent with many studies that claim that democratic presidents are more responsive to African aspirations and interests than Republican ones. The broad view of democratic sympathies for African concerns is also attributes to the support by various Republican administrations for minority regimes in Southern Africa during the Cold War.
Equally vital, because the majority of African Americans support the Democratic Party in US elections, Africans have tended to sympathize and support presidential candidates. The internationalization of Black Lives Matter (BLM) has certainly deepened Africa’s sympathies towards the Democratic Party. However, this position could be highly contested in a country like Nigeria and perhaps, Kenya where Trump enjoys vibrant support, especially amongst the Christian community.
Gilbert Khadiagala claims about supposed Republican marginalization of Africa and Democratic championing of African causes has, for the most part, turned out to be inaccurate. According to him, since the end of the Ronald Reagan administration, subsequent Republican administrations under George H.W. Bush (1989-1993) and Geroge W. Bush (2001-2009) matched, and in some cases, outperformed the democratic administrations of Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama.
The initial humanitarian interventions into Somalia in 1990 under the elder Bush and launch of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program in 2003 under the younger Bush were among the landmark Republican decisions.
By contrast, the Rwandan genocide occurred under the watch of President Clinton and some have criticized the Obama administration for deepening the militarization of US-African policy.
Substantively, therefore, Africa’s popular preferences for Democratic presidents are always oversold. And this according to Gilbert Khadiagala is why we need to disabuse ourselves of the prevailing assumption that a Democratic Party win will result in US-Africa relations.
The place of US in the scheme of things as far as Africa is concerned
Since the Clinton administration in the early 1990s, US policy towards Africa has pivoted around four major concerns: integration of Africa into the global economy; building the capacity of African countries and institutions to meet growing security threats; promotion of democratic governance; and health engagement, focused largely on HIV/AIDS, malaria and, more recently, COVID-19. Under the Obama administration, two new concerns arose policy-wise: engaging African youth and meeting the challenges occasioned by Chinese economic expansion in Africa.
The US contribution to African economic integration has entailed the promotion of trade and investment through major US institutions such as the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), and the recently established US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). Most US presidents have accompanied these programs with signature initiatives such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), PEPFAR, Prosper Africa and Power Africa.
With respect to capacity-building for African security, the Clinton administration inaugurated the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) which led to other initiatives by subsequent administrations. Both bilateral and multilateral assistance for African security have also entailed the growth of the US military in most African conflict zones such as the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. Despite widespread African opposition to locating the United States African Command (Africom) on African soil, African countries, including South Africa, have readily embraced security and military assistance. The war on terror that began with the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania was a new iteration of an old theme in America’s security engagement with Africa.
According to the United State’s state house website, www.state.gov, the US government prides herself on couple of things but with cardinal focus on promoting the course of democracy as far as Africa is concerned.
On democracy promotion, the US has taken advantage of the gradual liberalization and pluralism in Africa by providing electoral assistance and capacity-building for a broad range of institutions particularly civil society organizations that have been at the forefront of promoting democratic governance. While there have been some variations and inconsistencies in support for democratic institutions and actors by various administrations, overall, major US leaders have emphasized the significance of open and transparent institutions to Africa’s stability.
President George W. Bush launched the PEPFAR initiative in 2003 at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This catalyzed US engagement with Africa on health issues and many observers have lauded it for helping to manage the crisis in Africa. US First Lady Melania Trump focused on maternal and child healthcare during her visit to Africa in 2018. As the COVID-19 crisis hit Africa early this year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged $270 million to a select group of African countries, which included a donation of 1000 ventilators to South Africa. Most of the COVID-19 mitigation funding, estimated to be $3 billion, has come through US private sector donations.
The US focus on youth engagement stems from the realities of Africa’s demographic shifts and the potential it offers. Recognizing that Africa’s youth population will double in 2050, the Obama administration championed youth leadership in its engagement with the continent. The Young Africa Leadership Initiative (YALI) is a product of Obama’s efforts and may remain as a key platform in US-Africa policy. The Trump administration followed up on this through the establishment of the University Partnership Initiative (UPI) to help strengthen existing ties between US and African universities.
Like the Obama administration, President Donald Trump has amplified the China threat in Africa in large part because the US has lost the opportunity to respond to some of Africa’s needs, particularly in the infrastructure sector. On her visit to Africa as US Secretary of State in August 2012, Hilary Clinton raised the spectre of the Chinese threat, citing Beijing’s support for undemocratic regimes and wanton exploitation of Africa’s resources. Subsequently, the US has tried to use its public diplomacy and other resources to challenge the narrative of China’s dominance in Africa. This rivalry is unlikely to subside anytime soon, and as the case of the US withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO) this year reveals, China may assume more leadership roles on key African issues while the US appears to disengage from them.
Why American election is important to Africans and Nigeria
For a fact, whoever occupies the White House becomes the leader of the free world and indeed the policies espoused by such a person significantly affect the human populace globally with Nigeria and Africa not being an exception.
The perceptions in Nigeria about Trump and Biden
In a January 9, 2020 CNN report, while reporting a data on the level of susceptibility of Trump reported that Most Kenyans and Nigerians have confidence in President Donald Trump, according to data released by the Pew Research Center.
While international confidence in Trump’s handling of world affairs has flagged across Europe and most of the rest of the world, opinions of the US President remained mostly positive in two of Africa’s most populous countries, the research finds.
According to the report, Sixty-five percent of Kenyans and 58% of Nigerians believe Trump “will do the right thing regarding world affairs,” it finds.
By contrast, trust in Trump dips in the other two African countries polled, with just 12% of those in Tunisia — in the continent’s north — and 42% of South Africans confident of his global decisions, polls show.
Kenyans, Nigerians and South Africans also favored Trump over German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the 32 nations of the world surveyed, Merkel’s approval ratings surpassed those of Trump, Marcron, Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
More than half of Nigerians have expressed confidence in Trump’s leadership since he took office, despite accusations that the President in mid-2017 made vulgar remarks about immigrants from the West African nation. The White House has denied the allegations.
Majorly, many Nigerians, especially amongst the Christian community perceive Trump as a defender of Christians who speaks up against injustice and attacks on Christians in the country and beyond. There mammoth support for Trump can also be linked with his conservative stands against the backdrop of Obama’s liberal posture in many issues and considering that Biden served 8 years as his Vice President and has maintained those liberal positions in the course of his campaign to become the next US President.
What to expect in a possible Biden presidency
“Rebuilding ties with Africa will be a top priority for Joe Biden if he wins the U.S. Presidential election in November”, senior Democrats said during an online fundraiser focused on U.S.-Africa policy back in July 2020. Speakers representing the campaign on the call included two women under consideration by Biden as his vice-presidential nominee – national security and international diplomacy expert Susan Rice and House of Representatives member Karen Bass, who has focused on Africa policy in the U.S. Congress, along with Senator Chris Coons, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee and formerly chaired the Africa Subcommittee..
What to be weary of and how to make the best use of an American initiative for Africa
Over the years, every successive American president has always well articulated African friendly policies, but, it has been quite pertinent that most times, those policies are seldom backed with decisive actions to achieve optimal success at the end.
African can only benefit from either of them if the impacts of the implementation of these well articulate African friendly policies are tailored towards promoting the agenda of promotion of security of the continent, expansion of respect for the dignity of their human person of the Africans and for the democratic systems and processes to comply with global best practices.
During the Barack Obama and Joe Biden presidency for eight years, much of Africa was destabilized with efforts made by Britain and France to oust Muammar Gaddafi from power in Libya and America providing air support through her air power superiority.
The destruction of Libya through the connivance of the Democrats in the White House then escalated the effects of terrorism in Nigeria and the rest of Sahel. The current administration of Donald Trump in the White House on the other hand in the last four years played a passive role on the issue of stability and security of Africa and Nigeria in particular.
Therefore, according to Emmanuel Onwubiko, a Human Rights Writer, “it is better to conclude that whether it is the Republicans to remain in the Whitehouse or the Democrats, Africa and Nigeria may still remain in a state of organized confusion and this quagmire which is self made by Africans can only be resolved by the collective determination of the African people to reclaim their lands from the dictators that have held much of it down in gross underdevelopment”.