US President Donald Trump has a significant fanbase here in Africa. This is due in part to his populist rhetoric, as African voters are similarly disillusioned with neoliberalism and “politics as usual”. During last year’s election, Trump’s outsider image was a serious advantage against Hillary Clinton, who was arguably the most establishment-friendly presidential candidate in US history.
And while Clinton’s “Stronger Together” slogan failed miserably to connect to disaffected voters, Trump’s “Make America Great Again” trope was a simple and straightforward bit of political theatre that works just as well in Africa as it did in Smalltown, USA.
But let’s be clear: President Trump is no friend to the African continent. Africans may support his presidency, particularly his attacks on gays and abortion rights, but the reality is that Trump’s administration represents a serious threat to the economic and social well being of millions of Africans, let alone the world. Here’s why…
1. Trump is a well-known bigot whose attacks on immigrant and minorities will encourage xenophobia and hatred in America, particularly against Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans, and Jews. Given the globalization of everything from food to fashion, Africans will be watching what happens in Trump’s White House―especially those political classes willing to use populist rhetoric against immigrants and minorities in their own countries. We already have a growing crisis of xenophobia and tribalism in Africa, the last thing we need is encouragement and confirmation bias coming from Washington, DC.
2. Donald Trump’s racism has re-energized the so-called “alt-fight” neo-Nazi movement in the US and worldwide. It cannot be overstated that fascism is a clear and present danger to Africans, whether they live on the continent or in the diaspora. The overwhelming numbers of global refugees and economic migrants are African in origin, and while there may be popular support for refugees in the West, that compassion is officially undermined by the bigotry of the Trump administration and violently attacked by the neo-Nazis emboldened by Trump.
The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 30, 2017
3. Trump and his administration are proud anti-science climate change deniers, as evidenced by his appointments to positions of authority within many science-based federal agencies. Trump’s science and technology advisor is an “anti-intellectual” climate change denier (who is rumoured to believe the moon landings were faked) while his pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency is a “climate skeptic”.
This abandonment of science and reason is a direct threat to Africa―which will experience some of the worst effects of climate change―while also undermining any constructive role that science could play in developing treatments or cures for the various diseases that plague our continent, some of which will only get worse with climate change.
4. Trump appears to be a kind of dictator-in-waiting. He urged the Department of Homeland Security to enforce his ban on travelers from Muslim-majority countries, despite the Acting US Attorney General calling the ban “illegal” (Trump immediately fired the Acting AG for speaking out against his ban).
Should President Trump succeed in his desire for unchallenged power, he will no doubt inspire a new generation of would-be African dictators.
Trump has also drastically reorganized his National Security Council, removing the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and replacing them with members of his own inner-circle. Besides personal power, Trump appears eager to profit from his presidency. Unlike former presidents, Trump has refused to place his businesses in blind trust, and has maneuvered his son-in-law into a position of influence which may allow untold fortunes to flow into Trump coffers.
Some American pundits have claimed that Trump suffers from “malignant narcissism”, a mental illness characterized by a lack of conscience, pathological grandiosity, questing for power, and sadistic joy in cruelty. If this malignant narcissism does not apply to every African dictator in history, nothing does. Should President Trump succeed in his desire for unchallenged power, he will no doubt inspire a new generation of would-be African dictators.
5. Trump has proposed a budget cut of 28% to US spending on diplomacy, including foreign development aid and assistance, while increasing military spending by $54 billion. This means more weapons and wars and less compassion and charity.
Foreign assistance spending makes up just 1% of the total US federal budget (against defense at 17% of total budget) yet the Trump administrations seems intent on massive cuts to agencies and programmes that promote health and development here in Africa.
African countries such as Zambia rely heavily on USAID and programmes such as PEPFAR. So far Trump has agreed to continue funding PEPFAR with sufficient resources to continue its critically important work. Considering that PEPFAR directly funds the daily ARV treatments of more than 11.5 million people globally, the majority of them in Africa, we cannot afford to lose such funding. For the moment, it seems that PEPFAR may be safe, but clearly nothing should be taken for granted under the Trump Administration.
Meanwhile, Trump’s apparent xenophobic tendencies will likely have a negative effect on trade and travel between America and Africa. For example, the recent African Global Economic and Development Summit at the University of Southern California had zero guests from Africa because all African citizens who were invited and sought entry were denied visas by the US State Department.
6. Trump is not a “God-fearing” and moral man, as many of his African supporters claim. The Trump administration’s vocal opposition to sexual reproductive rights and gay rights have given him crucial support among the Christian right-wing in America and worldwide. The stark truth, however, is that Trump and his allies are no “men of God”.
Trump himself is charged with raping a 13-year-old girl, not to mention his vile boast of grabbing women by the genitals. In fact, allegations of sexual misconduct by Trump have been made since the 1970s.
African Christians may believe Trump is an ally in the moral crusade, but even a cursory glance at his business acumen shows the President’s rather un-Christian nature. As a property tycoon, Donald Trump is infamous for refusing to pay for services rendered, not just by construction companies and contractors but also plumbers, waiters, and dishwashers.
In the 1980s, Trump was accused of intimidating tenants in one of his New York City apartment buildings, cutting off heat and hot water in order to force them out. His notorious “Trump University” was such an obvious scam that it was shut down in 2010, just five years after it opened, and Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle a series of lawsuits related to the school.
Meanwhile, Trump’s Vice-President Mike Pence may be a celebrated anti-abortion and anti-gay crusader, but a closer look at his tenure as Indiana state governor reveals he is also virulently anti-poor. As governor, Pence refused $80 million in federal funding for pre-kindergarten education, issued an executive order banning Syrian refugees (the order was overturned by a federal court), and failed to act on outbreaks of HIV infection, heroin addiction, and lead contamination in poor communities. Unsurprisingly, Pence finished his term with one of the lowest approval ratings for any state governor.
Africans, especially those who share the American-style evangelical worldview, may cheer when the Trump administration removes protections for gays and lesbians, or undermines abortion rights for women. But when it comes to the real agenda of the Trump presidency, and his encouragement of hate, ignorance, greed, nepotism, and fear, the African continent needs to wake up to the cold hard reality that President Donald J Trump and his administration are definitely not our friends.