Zakes Mda on Trump victory: Africans must take their own lead, not look to the US

"There is no American president who is good for Africa. Obama was not good for Africa,” Mda said.

"There is no American president who is good for Africa. Obama was not good for Africa,” Mda said.

Be it a United States under Donald Trump or one under Barack Obama, the result is all the same for Africans, says renowned author and playwright Zakes Mda.

Mda, a professor at Ohio University, says he, like many others, was shocked by the US election outcome that saw underdog Trump triumph over Hillary Clinton.

“We seem to forget lessons from history. Voters did this before. Hitler did not do it by himself.
He was put into power by voters,” said Mda.

On the implications of a Trump presidency for Africa, he declared: “It is high time Africa stops looking at America and asking if this or that president will be good for Africa. Africans must do things that are good for Africa themselves. They must not expect America to do things that are good for Africa.

“Americans will always do things that are in their own interests. Their constituency is America and the Americans. There is no American president who is good for Africa. Obama was not good for Africa,” he said.

African leaders, he said, needed to stop looking to the US for development on the continent. “It is high time that African presidents learn to be good for Africa … They must be good by not being [President] Jacob Zuma.

“They must look at the interests of the people, not of their stomachs and those of their families. They should not be in the pockets of international capital of whatever – not only the Guptas, but of all stripes,” Mda told the Mail & Guardian.

The award-winning author of novels such as The Madonna of Excelsior warned that Trump’s victory was a lesson to politicians around the world not to overestimate voters.

“We all lied to ourselves [that he will never win]. He [Trump] appeared an idiot … we thought Americans will never vote for someone like him. We overestimated the voters.”

Until election day on Tuesday, former US secretary of state Clinton was seen as the frontrunner, with polls showing she was leading the race for the White House by 4% to 6%. But it would appear most of the polls were conducted in urban areas and not rural areas, which are regarded as Trump’s stronghold.

The Clinton campaign team also appears to have underestimated the extent of the anger of Americans who were clearly frustrated by Obama’s administration. Clinton is seen by many as part of the political establishment.

Many of her campaign staff also seem to have misjudged the effect of FBI director James Comey’s announcement that the agency had obtained new information relating to her use of a personal email server – just two weeks ahead of the crucial presidential elections.

Even after the FBI announced it had found no evidence of wrongdoing two days before the election, Clinton failed to address the scandal during her final round of campaign rallies.

Mda said Trump’s rhetoric on jobs, terrorism and immigration had appealed to Americans. But, he added, except for doing away with the controversial Obamacare reforms, designed to make healthcare affordable, he did not believe many of the things Trump promised during his campaign would translate into policy.

Mda predicted the US president-elect was likely to stick with the country’s current foreign policies, with its stance on the Middle East remaining unchanged.

“When it comes to foreign policy, Americans will continue to do the things that they do … They will continue to support Israel against Palestine wherever they are, because that’s part of the national interest of America. That’s part of the military-industrial complex that determines things like that. It does not matter whether [the president] is a Republican or a Democrat,” said Mda.

He said Middle Eastern countries would have different approaches to the new US president. “The media in Egypt has congratulated Trump. They want someone with dictatorial tendencies.”

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004.
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