Madiba will be our Trump card when the Donald’s orange flood reaches our shores


It’s worse in the United States than it is anywhere else. Also, he’s going to struggle to get things done and on the list of (mostly terrible) things he wants to get done, anything to do with the African continent will be way, way down on the list.

That was the emerging good-news consensus this week among the academics, analysts, commentators, strategists, forecasters and pundits who were scrambling to come to terms with the looming presidency of Donald Trump – which almost none had seriously anticipated.

Based on his campaign, agreement has it, Trump would be apocalyptically bad for Africa as a whole and for South Africa by default.

His isolationist economics would disrupt the tenuous flows of trade that provide much-needed foreign currency. His inward-turning politics would see the US abandon its supposed attempts to spread and strengthen democracy, moving towards a Chinese model of mercenary self-interest sans the morality.

His bigotry, if institutionalised, would see the US treat Africans with the paternalistic disdain that was the rule under apartheid.

His exclusive focus on domestic economics would imperil the billions of dollars in direct aid, trade credits and in-kind support that help prop up entire regions – and would eventually hamstring the multilateral agencies dealing with refugees and medical crises as their budgets become, at the very least, uncertain.

The damage would not be limited to direct American activity.

This week, speculation was rife that at least some of the vast global flows of philanthropic spending that seek to support, say, human rights would be redirected to the US, where minorities suddenly face the threat of organised discrimination, racial profiling and mass deportation.

The “good” news this week was that the US was in greater turmoil than any of its client states or partners.

Polling showed that the proportion of all voters who said they feared a Trump presidency on voting day (a third) was quickly growing as the population started to consider the consequences.

Seemingly independent and spontaneous protests and riots erupted, even as President Barack Obama, vanquished challenger Hillary Clinton and the entire (now opposition) Democratic Party apparatus called for unity and calm.

On Thursday, insider reports suggested that the Trump camp had been caught off-guard by the strength of opposition in a country that prides itself on a long history of peaceful handovers of power.

As his election campaign machinery was switching to preparations to govern, the domestic crisis of a country deeply divided – and which Trump worked hard to polarise – was apparently dominating strategy.

By the time the Trump administration gets into gear, in early 2017, it will find itself somewhat hamstrung, the more optimistic strain of analyst predicted. Much of what Trump has promised, such as racial profiling and the targeting of American Muslims, is illegal or unconstitutional, or both.

Promises such as punitive taxes for US companies that run offshore manufacturing operations will run into fierce and well-financed lobbying resistance, and run contrary (at least in the short term) to the constituency interests of some of Trump’s loyal senatorial supporters.

Regardless of his other troubles, analysts cautiously predicted, the whole of the African continent will be right at the bottom of the priority list for Trump’s administration, with the possible exception of the US military presence in North Africa. Africa never featured in Trump’s broad-stroke discussions on foreign policy.

The size and scope of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) system of tariff breaks, now under distinct threat, is dwarfed by the three-country North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has sworn to kill. Funding for critical health projects such as HIV prevention did not feature during Trump’s campaign, with all his ire focused on the US’s “Obamacare” health system.

Eventually, though, Trump’s effect will be felt in Africa too. In which case, South Africa has one last card up its sleeve: Madiba.

“Nelson Mandela and myself had a wonderful relationship – he was a special man and will be missed,” Trump said three years ago, in one of the only comments he ever made even vaguely related to Africa that was not sneering, dismissive, ignorant, bigoted or flatly negative.


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Phillip De Wet
Guest Author

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