By Okello Oculi,
The notion of the United States of America as an ‘’underdeveloped country’’ was irreverently presented by Ira Sharkansky to the1972 International Political Science Association meeting in Ottawa, Canada. He angrily denounced those American scholars who were telling lies by presenting the country as a post-industrial society – regarding it as cynical propaganda. His arguement was simply that the attributes that Euro-American scholars use to label African, Asian and South American countries also characterise states in the southern United States.
These attributes include: high levels of illiteracy in a society; use of pit latrines by households rather than toilets flushed with water to common sewage system; one telephone for a whole community instead of phones inside each household; monopoly of power by a single-party that uses force to prevent competition by other political parties; the presence of one road across vast territories instead of a network to villages, small towns and cities, rigged elections and widespread poverty.
The attributes are regarded with contempt; and to intellectuals and politicians in most ‘’Third World’’ countries, it is a way of proclaiming the superiority of western cultures and beliefs; including their politics. As an example, it was pointed out that in the 1960s, black Americans were prevented from registering to vote by police charging at them with fierce barking dogs. Others noted that members of the American Congress blocked federal benefits from reaching African Americans; while over three million young persons rot in prisons to work as cheap labour for companies linked to officials who run prisons. These cannot be attributes of democratic politics.
When V.S. Naipaul, the Trinidadian-British writer and Nobel Prize winner, travelled across the Southern States, his book depicted the poor whites as depraved and poverty-stricken who turn to high consumption of alcohol to drown their despair. Their ‘’Hill-Billy Country Music’’ is typically melancholy and marked by self-pity. Their violent racism is stoked by gun-sellers, local business, Pentecostal religious leaders and politicians who rule them to divert them from fighting their local oppressors. It is little wonder that his book was ignored by publicists in the United States.
Ira Sharkansky had accused American scholars of hiding the festering ‘’underdevelopment’’ of America’s Southern States: notably, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, Texas, and Iowa. In the 8th November, 2016 elections, the ‘’underdeveloped’’ exploded as a volcano rumbling to racist, jingoistic, anti-gay/lesbian, anti-Mexican and anti-Moslem drums beaten by candidate Donald Trump. A white wife of a rural farmer told a reporter that she and her husband had never bothered to vote until they heard Trump. They rushed out to register to vote. They have hit back at the ‘’post-industrial people’’ in America’s cities by electing the man who heard their centuries of cries for development.
Analysts have noted that 39 per cent of Trump’s votes came from people without college education. 35 per cent of his votes came from women who resented Hillary Clinton’s high education and series of high status moments, including: being a First Lady in Arkansas State and in Washington; being the third most powerful federal cabinet official as Secretary of State (or Foreign Minister); becoming a presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party. Women with low education are dependent on husbands who either lost their jobs when a factory they worked in migrated to China or Mexico; or whose textile products are driven off the market by cheaper imports from China. Small business owners are afraid of going bankrupt, while their children cannot pay for college education. Hillary Clinton as former Senator and Secretary of State is seen as one who colluded with foreigners to ruin their lives.
The implications of Donald Trump’s victory for Africa are varied. For Libyans and Egyptians, there is gladness that Hillary Clinton has fallen, cursed by fingernails dripping with blood from the so-called ‘’Arab Spring’’ of 2011. Trump also accused Hillary Clinton of supporting Boko Haram in Nigeria. As a big businessman himself, Trump most probably was among bosses of the 85 multinational corporations which a United Nations Committee accused of supplying guns and funds to militias slaughtering villagers and stealing valuable minerals out of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. As president, his campaign call for the re-colonisation of Africa may merely extend these exploits.
Trump may also extend Hillary Clinton’s strategy of supporting conflict in an African country rich in resources and willing to welcome help from China. President Bozize in Central African Republic made the fatal error of walking on a red carpet in Beijing while his country held vast deposits of uranium, gold, diamond etc. Clinton also pushed a foreign policy of destroying BRICS by knocking off the presidents of Venezuela and Brazil; relentlessly seeking to depose Jacob Zuma in South Africa, Putin in Russia and inciting an ISIS branch in India. Unlike Clinton’s use of the charming smile to hide her claws, Trump is bluntly racist and openly proclaims merits of ‘’America first’’.
Trump has benefited from the record of successes by liberation movements in Africa. Samora Machel in Mozambique; Augustinho’s Neto in Angola; Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Amilcar Cabral in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde each ignited the anger of poor and oppressed rural peoples to raise volcanic fires of mass struggle for independence. His last speech in Michigan told the crowd of supporters that voting day was their ‘’Independence Day’’. Unlike Africa’s liberators’ call for socialist justice and human solidarity, Trump told his white racists to chase an African-American family out of the White House.
His credit is, however, in showing Africa’s dictators and looters of national resources – for the benefit of their immediate family, clan or ethnic group – that a moment of volcanic eruption sits in their horizon, patiently knowing and waiting. For an African continent struggling to build political systems that allow for free and fair elections that throw out rotten incumbents, it is hoped that Trump will not travel the route of past American rulers who protected racist white rule in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, and dictators who served their imperial interests at the expense of the development of African peoples.
Prof Okello Oculi, the author, was educated at Stanford and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, all in the United States. His views might have been experientially informed. Oculi is the Executive Director of the continent-focused Africa Vision 525 Initiative, Abuja