Democracy Americana and its Waxy Bowels
By Okello Oculi
The presidential and congressional elections in the United States on 8th November, 2016 have ignited convulsions which must drop shades of shame and stench for the country’s diplomats to throw perfumes over what South Americans once coined as the ‘’ugly America’’. Since the presidency of George Bush, American officials and media have strutted across Africa as warriors and paragons of ‘’holy democracy’’ after their truce with former communist Soviet Union broken by viruses of nationalism. Those rotten dictators whose blood-drenched sleep and greed the diplomats had for decades financed and defended, were in the early 1990s, abandoned to drown in the rage of their degraded peoples. From Daniel Arap Moi in Kenya, Botha in racist South Africa, Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), Samuel Doe in Liberia to Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, their fall fell.
The new disciples of democracy became dictators ordering African governments to limit tenure by the sacred iron law of ‘’two term limits’’. Leaders of liberation movements once vilified for receiving weapons for their struggles from communist China and the Soviet Union, were harassed for feeding their freedom by seeking to get back control of minerals; and giving landless peoples land previously grabbed by European settlers. Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe became the cheeky substitute for the much hated Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran.
The current rage is against Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo whose ‘’crime’’ is inviting China to construct roads and railway lines across a vast country whose transportation network had decayed during thirty years of Mobutu’s regime. Mass demonstrations in Kinshasa – believed to be funded by foreign powers with records of animating similar uprisings against communist governments in Ukraine and Poland – have fuelled demands for elections in 2016.
The American presidential election campaign has rich lessons for Africans struggling to build democratic governance. For a start, its anchor on the ‘’Electoral College’’ consisting of ‘’electors’’ (or delegates) under command from their states to cast their vote for the candidate who won majority votes in the state. The notion was based on the fear of France, Britain and Spain – as former colonial powers after 1776 – influencing the popular vote by the masses casting their votes in ‘’direct elections’’ and, thereby, determining who would become president and vice president. According to Alexander Hamilton, this small number of ‘’electors’’ will be ‘’most capable of analysing the qualities adapted to the station of president’’. The crafty elites of hostile Europe would not dupe such a ‘’talented few’’.
The other reason was that the rich businessmen who crafted the American constitution were fearful of the socialist storm sweeping through Europe by denying the masses of voters the chance to choose their president. The third vital reason was fear of giving African slaves the status of full citizenship with the right to cast their votes. The rule also made women’s right to vote politically irrelevant since they would be counted in the census to allocate the number of electors from a state without the necessity of candidates fighting for their votes.
The current formula for allocating the number of members of the House of Representatives is one per 711,000 persons. California with the highest population is entitled to 55 members. These are added to the 2 senators that each state sends to Congress. The total of the two constitute the ‘’electors’’ from the state. In the November 8, 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by 200,000 votes, but was elected by 100,000 votes cast in the states of Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The votes cast for Clinton in these states were rolled up to Trump by the ‘’winner-take-all’’ rule (adopted by most states since 1824), for directing the votes of electors from a state. The hoped power of independent deliberation by each elector was engineered away. The voice of the people became more distant from the presidency.
In rejecting direct election for their president and vice president, American political and business leaders were avoiding dangers and obstacles in their way. In 1796 John Adams of the Federalist Party was elected President; but Thomas Jefferson of the Democratic Republican Party was elected as Vice President. The presidency consisted of unlike poles which did not attract each other. The other main fears were of foreign manipulators of ordinary voters; fear of freeing African slaves in the Southern States, and fear of socialism which was on the rise in Europe.
It is perplexing that American officials are hostile to responsiveness by African leaders to peculiar conditions under which they are struggling to build democratic governance. Such condition were tribal fears stirred by colonial district officials determined to weaken powerful nationalist movements taking over power from them; and damages caused by post-colonial debts and military coups engineered by Euro-American leaders.
A big hurdle for American diplomats in Africa is this raw ‘’iodine’’ thrown at Africa’s wound by candidate Trump: ‘’We need to get the Africans out, not the Blacks (African-Americans), the Africans, especially the Nigerians. They are everywhere. I went for a rally in Alaska and met just one African in the entire State. Where was he from? Nigeria. He is in Alaska taking our jobs. They are in Houston taking our jobs. Why can’t they stay in their own country. Why? I will tell you why. Because they are corrupt. Their governments are so corrupt, they rob the people blind and bring it all here to spend. And their people run away and come down here and take our jobs. We can’t have that! If I become President we will send them all home. We will build a wall at the Atlantic shore. Then maybe we will re-colonise them because obviously they did not learn a damn thing from the British’’. It is remarkable that the media focused on the wall on the border with Mexico. Anyhow, it is the sort of harsh punch typical of a member of a mafia racket in New York City used to seeing the venality of Africa’s rulers.
Candidate Trump was being selective. Millions of Jews fled from German and Polish barbarians who roasted 6 million of their kin in gas chambers. Irish immigrants escaped from famine after their farm lands were robbed by English aristocrats. German socialists ran from certain death after a failed socialist revolution in 1848 and took refuge in states of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Italian immigrants did not reach America as mafia millionaires from Sicily. Africans have ran from a variety of illnesses in a familiar American legacy and should get their fair share of warts and glories of ‘’the land of the brave’’ whose trek towards democracy is currently gripped by hysterical panic about their economic future.
Trump also failed to shout at his business clan for deliberately promoting the corruption of Africa’s politics by urging their governments to either effect military coups, or assassinate leaders committed to building African replicas of Japan and Singapore. The ‘’raw material curse’’ of Africa has consisted of arousing the most vile and murderous passions in Euro-Americans looking for subsistence for their race. He is, however, to be commended for mocking Africa’s ‘’house Negro’’ elites. Those at fault must read Franz Fanon’s book: The Wretched of the Earth, for a non-hysterical, non-xenophobic and more perceptive rebuke.
Donald Trump the millionaire had – like European and American intelligence operatives – made it his duty to study the writings and strategies of leaders of African liberation movements. From Amilcar Cabral, Agustinho Neto and Samora Machel, he learnt the importance of listening to the groans and pleas to God by little people in villages and urban slums for food to feed their children and parents. Cabral had insisted that people do not fight for theories in the heads of politicians. They fight for cures for their illnesses; end to lashings by tax collectors, and robbery by debt-collectors. Trump heard groans of jobless Americans displaced by immigrants paid slave wages, and promised to drive out immigrants , and the African-American family occupying the White House. Most pledges sounded uncivilised and stupid but they were deliciously brave, frank and long overdue to his supporters.
The lesson for African politicians is that people do not eat screaming sirens; gleaming coffins for burying their hopes for independence, and glittering attire on family members of government officials. It is hoped that this crude bluntness will be the stuff of his dialogue with corrupt and treasonable African leaders and not cynical and hypocritical platitudes inherited from Cold War diplomacy.
Tony Blair in Britain and Sharkozy in France preceded Trump in yearning to re-colonize Africa. Blair intoned that the poverty of Africans is a scar on the ‘’conscience of humanity’’, while salivating with satisfaction as profits stolen by British companies and fraudulent African officials flowed into British banks and businesses. What is worrying is not so much that Trump ‘’will make good of his promise’’, but that African leaders and peoples will sit and wait for a humane American democracy to cooperate with Africa to build development on the continent.
Mwalimu Julius Nyerere asserted that African politics must reflect traditional familyhood (‘’Ujamaa’’), anchored on mutual obligations to work and share food and livelihood. Politics must never be a ‘’civil war’’. Candidate Trump’s campaign rhetoric was poisonous, vulgar, demeaning of his targets, including disabled persons and women. The angry eruption of protests in cities across America after his victory discredits his politics; and recommends Nyerere’s dictum. As a demonstrator told a reporter, the mass and vitriolic support Trump has aroused from the bowels of American politics stinks; and is far from canons of a civilized democracy. African diplomacy must react creatively by, among other things, helping to build African-American Power as a positive force inside jingoistic, rapacious and poisonous ‘trumphood’.
Prof Oculi heads the Abuja based Africa Vision525 Initiative