As the world recovers from post-election America and adjusts to president-elect Donald J. Trump, analysts have turned to what a Trump presidency means in the future of African nations. Yet there is a lot less conversation about how Americans might need the wisdom of Africans in their future too.
How the United States under Trump moves on trade, immigration policy, national security or foreign aid is getting close scrutiny from those rightly concerned about America’s needed help – whether in brokering a deal to hold elections in Democratic Republic of Congo, investing in Nigeria’s battered economy, or assuring a student visa to a hopeful scholar in Mali.
“The election of an avowed isolationist like Trump might be just the wake-up call Africa needs to understand that it is not a good idea to depend too much on the largesse of others,” writes Daniel Akinbo, a Nigerian blogger and tech entrepreneur who sees opportunity for trade among African nations to boost development.
Peter Vale, at the University of Johannesburg, sees Trump as unconcerned with African affairs and asks nations to carefully consider ambassadors who will keep their priorities from disappearing.
While these are important conversations about what Africans might expect from the U.S. – and the West in general, given a shift to the right in Britain, France, Hungary and elsewhere – there’s a less obvious question that no one’s really asking: How are Africans uniquely poised to help Americans?
It’s a pretty wide continuum to consider. On the one hand is outgoing Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose 10-year term ends next year. The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who shared the honor with fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee for bridging ethnic and religious divides among women to end a civil war (a prize also shared by Tawakkul Karman of Yemen), had higher hopes for America’s outcome.
“We are extremely saddened by this missed opportunity on the part of the people of the United States to join smaller democracies in ending the marginalization of women,” Sirleaf said in a BBC interview.
On the other hand is Steyn von Ronge, leader of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement in South Africa. The white supremacist leader sent his congratulations to Trump, according to media accounts, and pledged the support of thousands of members – leading to South Africa’s own hopes that history won’t rear its head in a country where the group’s resistance to ending apartheid a quarter century ago still lingers.
Americans waking up to the Divided States
These opposites reflect the polarity gripping the United States itself. Every night since Tuesday has seen protesters in streets across the country, with massive rallies in dozens of major cities and smaller communities alike. Most have been peaceful and seek to emphasize an inclusion and protection of U.S. residents who feel vulnerable, including many Muslims, Latinos, LGBTQ populations and women.
A few, including protests in Oakland and Portland, led to vandalism, violent clashes and protest-related arrests. With one candidate winning the popular vote and still losing, while the other legitimately wins under America’s electoral college system, the Trump victory is disputed and many angry voters want it overturned.
This is bitter.
The truth, though, is that most Americans – by far – aren’t in the streets. They’re staying safe, connected to like-minded associates and insulating themselves from other views. Apart from a few bright spots, if they are in dialogue with voters from the “other half,” the tenor of those conversations is hostile.
The nation is divided in a nearly 50-50 split of voters and their ideologies, the vitriol is fueling post-election anger, and while the nation drowns in content written about why that happened, there’s a lot less on healing it.
Yet if the complexity and rich history of 1.2 billion individual Africans exists somewhere between the first female African head of state in Liberia and that vestigial power of a colonial South African world? So too are the narratives and nuances of millions of Americans feeling caught in their cultural conflicts and post-election crisis.
The United States has known more than its share of gun violence, or ongoing protests against the banking industry, globalization and currently, oil industry pipelines affecting indigenous peoples. But it’s been 50 years since Americans have seen significant electoral violence, or that of the Civil Rights and Vietnam War era.
Sharing African wisdom and experience
What’s more, it’s been more than 150 years since Americans knew a civil war, now relegated to the history books, that tore apart not just their states and nation but families and friends, neighbors and colleagues. Now, as many discuss their unbridled contempt for the opposition, some are looking to flee altogether, and that’s brought some stinging critique from the global community.
“These reactions make one pause and wonder how long these same people would last under the Arab and African dictatorships and occupiers the US has propped up and maintained positive ties with over the years,” argues Malak Chabkoun, writing for al Jazeera from the United States.
“Worse than that,” she later adds, “we are quick to judge what Arabs and Africans should and should not do while living under dictatorships as we are sitting comfortably in the democracy we love to shove down other countries’ throats.”
It’s a humbling rebuke to Americans, but it’s also a hopeful reminder. Africans from Rwanda to Ethiopia, in Kenya or Cote d’Ivoire, have known far greater suffering – in the past, and in the present – and learned to forge a peace that moves beyond their race, religion and political strife.
What to expect from a Trump America means there are lots of questions, but perhaps Africans may be able to answer some of them that Americans can’t.
Do you have a peacemaking story to tell, or advice for American communities navigating their anger and fear? Please send it to Africa Times via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll feature some of them here. Be sure to let us know how to contact you too.
Image: Donald J. Trump